We point out that it’s not looking so good for Trump these days. His rally in Tulsa was so poorly attended it almost wasn’t a health hazard. Assorted prominent Republicans have suddenly discovered the courage not to be toadies. The polls are not his friends. And the Supreme Court has held, three times in a week, in favor of human decency.
Our boys remain unconvinced. They chuckle indulgently at our tentative hope and promising polls.
I’m surprised by their pessimism, but I shouldn’t be. They are 17 and 19. Their entire political education has been a steady drip of disappointment. My eldest still wears the Bernie T-shirt he received for his 15th birthday in 2015; that primary was perhaps his first taste of hope turned sour. In the spring of 2016, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stole President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court vacancy. And one morning in the fall of 2016, I hid in bed and begged my husband to wake the kids for school; I couldn’t bear to tell them Trump had won.
I did try to reassure them that it might not be so bad, that Trump might turn out to be less of a right-winger and more of an outsider. He had promised universal health care; he had promised to tax the rich. I didn’t believe those promises (or that he would build a wall or bring back coal), but I did believe he might be willing to stray from the extreme Republican script.
And, anyway, how much political clout could be wielded by any man who mocked a disabled reporter, bragged about sexual assault and sneered at a revered war hero and POW? It was upsetting that Americans had voted for this joke, but that’s still what he was to me: an obscene, racist, childish joke.
Well, of course, the joke was on me. From Trump’s election on, everything he did proved to my children that forward motion was temporary, that progress could be revoked. In 2013, they saw us happily sign up for Obamacare; since then, they’ve watched us worry as Trump dealt the program potentially fatal blows and tried to kill it for good. They experienced that amazing, conservative-state-defying moment in 2015 when Obergefell v. Hodges recognized that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry; they have since witnessed Trump’s persistent and often successful attack on LGBTQ rights.
On climate — their No. 1 issue — they saw Obama sign the Paris agreement and set new emissions standards. Too little, possibly too late, but still something. And then, just months later, the United States formally un-agreed with the agreement; in the three years since, Trump has managed to roll back 100 environmental rules, including emissions standards. It’s not all rallies, golf and tweeting, people!
My kids don’t think progress is slow but inevitable; they don’t see the arc of history bending in a benevolent direction. So they were not surprised that the old man who often got lost in the middle of his sentences ended up being the Democratic nominee. Problematic history on busing to end segregation? Check. Patronizing behavior toward women? Check, again. Why wouldn’t the process end this way? How joyously they would have voted for Elizabeth Warren or Cory Booker or Bernie Sanders! Instead, they say they will dutifully vote the not-so-bad white guy. The lesser sexist.
They grant that Biden, uninspiring as he is, may still hold a commanding lead going into the election. But that doesn’t mean he’ll win. That’s what I didn’t understand four years ago, why I wasn’t too worried about losing that Supreme Court pick: I thought Hillary Clinton was going to be elected — I knew she was going to be elected (the polls!) — and I was just waiting for things to turn out the way they should.
My kids expect the opposite. They expect things to go wrong on Nov. 3. What voter suppression doesn’t quash, the electoral college will distort. One way or another — something to do with Attorney General William P. Barr, perhaps? — my kids expect Trump to be reelected.
If he is, we’ll owe them more than dinner. We’ll owe them an apology.