The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On a hump day for the ages, Americans try to act and feel normal

(Tara Jacoby for The Washington Post)
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Vanessa Council needed something to take her mind off the unbearable wait for election results, and she decided it would be the chickens that live inside her phone. The morning of the election, the 28-year-old graphic designer from Northampton County, N.C., downloaded a game called Egg, Inc., which allows users to immerse themselves in the life of a chicken farmer.

“The more chickens you have, the more eggs you have, and the more eggs you have, the more trucks you need to ship the eggs,” says Council.

By noon Wednesday, as incoming ballot tranches scrambled maps and minds, Council reached a level of the game called “Quantum egg.”

What does that mean? Doesn’t matter. Any math beats electoral math.

America went to bed on Tuesday night without knowing who the president would be, and woke up not knowing when they would find out the answer. And so people held their breath and tried to do normal things to get through a very abnormal day.

Susie Shaffer, 69, of Silver Spring, Md., scrubbed her freezer.

“Cleaning out a closet or scrubbing a floor, you know, the gratification is immediate, which is I think is what I need right now,” says Shaffer. The longer the count takes, the cleaner her house will get. With some results not expected until Thursday or beyond, she paced herself. “I’ve told my sons they can’t rake the leaves,” she says, “because I need to save that for later, if necessary.”

President Trump falsely claimed victory against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Nov. 4, but key swing states are still tallying ballots. (Video: The Washington Post)

Shelley Laabs Weber, 41, of San Antonio, wrangled her kids into virtual school, while furtively checking her phone every few minutes. All day long, she had a song called “The Next Right Thing” stuck in her head. It’s from the movie “Frozen 2,” one of her kids’ favorites, but the lyrics are pretty grim.

Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb . . .

But first, the day. “Today, the next right step was feeding my children tacos and sending them to school like everything is normal and like the adults aren’t all freaking out,” she says.

Wednesday was Lexi Goldwyn’s 24th birthday, not that anyone in D.C. noticed. Her mom called her early in the morning to talk about the election.

“And then she hung up, and then she called me right back and was like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t even wish you happy birthday,’ ” she says.

Yes, we were warned. Experts talked for days about how, due to the large number of mailed-in ballots and states’ varying timelines for counting them, a long wait was probable.

Still, it was hard to prepare for the feeling of uncertainty.

Jessica MacNair, 39, a therapist in Falls Church, Va., planned weeks ago to take Wednesday off, and advised several therapists in her practice to do the same as they attended to their own angst.

“It’s not always best practice to work with people who are mirroring your issues,” MacNair said.

And yet her phone kept buzzing. Not with news alerts, but texts from clients asking if she had openings for that day, or anytime soon.

“People just aren’t coping very well,” MacNair says.

Others in politics weren’t faring much better. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List, spent election night at the White House, and characterized the time since then as “not relaxing.”

“I’ve spent the last 16 hours making calls to our top donors, to our endorsed candidates, congratulating some very hard fought victories,” Dannenfelser said via email. But the uneasy wait would go down smoother with some fizzy, alcoholic refreshment. “Plan to have a White Claw soon,” she added.

Retired Air Force four-star general Michael Hayden, meanwhile, was feeling slightly more optimistic Wednesday than he was Tuesday night about a Biden victory. The former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency was among the prominent Republicans who had endorsed Biden.

The Pennsylvania native is keeping a hopeful eye on election results in his home state, but he didn’t plan to turn any TV news coverage back on until later Wednesday evening. His wife, he says, wants to start Season 2 of “Schitt’s Creek.”

The outcome may come a day late, but nobody knows for sure when the uncertainty will be resolved. So Lisa Honan, 39, a project officer with the Environmental Protection Agency who lives in King of Prussia, Pa., spent much of Wednesday putting up Christmas decorations and trying not to think about the careers of her and her husband, who works for the National Park Service.

“It’s a good thing I’m medicated for my anxiety normally,” Honan sighs. “That helps.”

Over in Queens in New York City, performance artist Christen Clifford, 49, had planned a whole list of activities to get through the wait: a walk in Forest Park, talks with friends, a yoga session, some plants to repot, donations to make to a local food pantry.

A long, long list of stuff to keep her mind and body occupied. How was that working out for her?

“Well,” she reported, approaching midday. “I’m still in bed.”