With age comes a lot of things, most of which are deemed negative by our culture. There comes slower metabolism, a changing hairline, and diminished opportunities to accomplish any meaningful goals. But with age also comes a few gifts, specifically wisdom and perspective.
I won’t pretend that I have acquired much wisdom at this age, but I do think that I tend to make fewer impulsive decisions of consequence at this age than I did when I was younger. But having lived many years, I do feel like I can relate a lot of new things to past experiences. This growing sense of perspective allows me to take things in stride more and not react to everything.
As I write this post on Thursday morning, Vice President Biden needs only six more projected Electoral College votes to clinch the presidency and defeat Trump. A lot of people seem are understandably anxious about the result, but as we’ve been hearing since the summer, there’s going to be a lot of mail-in ballots and it’s going to take time to count them. Officials are calling for patience. We likely won’t have a projected winner until later today or even tomorrow, which is three days after Election Day.
While I am also anxious about getting a result quickly, I am drawing on my memory of the 2000 Election to shepherd me through this time of uncertainty.
The 2000 US Presidential Election was one for the ages. As you know (or at least should know), it was an extraordinarily close race: one decided by the state of Florida, 537 votes, and its 25 electors, who put George W. Bush in the White House. We’ve been living with many of the consequences of that election to this day.
I was in 24 years old at the time, living in Santa Barbara1, and remember that I was applying for graduate school. I remember having a small TV set perched on a table next to my desk, where I was typing up a statement of purpose as part of my application package. Because I lived on the west coast, I was able to catch more of the Election Night drama than most people on the east coast were willing to tolerate. I watched as the networks called Florida for Gore, saw then-Governor Bush dispute that, and then witnessed the network anchors eat their words and claw back Florida as undecided.
Not having a presidential election called by bedtime on Election Day was unusual. I have a fuzzy memory of my dad coming back from voting one year. He was frustrated that the broadcast networks had called the winner of the race when he was in line waiting to vote. The broadcast networks could easily project a winner at the time because those races were not that close.
But that’s not the case in 2000. The uncertainty dragged on for weeks. Part of me felt exhilarated because I was living through a historic moment. I only really became aware of history in the 1990s, and let’s face it, that was a particularly stable, secure, and uneventful decade for Americans on a macro level. But the last couple of months of 2000 were dominated by counting the ballots in Florida.
We all know how things turned out. The counting and recounting in Florida went on. We learned the terms “hanging chads” and “dimpled chads” as ways to divine voter intent. Think about how much history hangs in the balance because some people can’t follow directions. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court stepped in to stop the recount so that Florida could send a slate of electors by the date proscribed in the Constitution.
As they say, you know how the rest of the story turns out…
None of this is to say that history will repeat itself. This appears to be a very different situation. It does not appear as if this race will come down to one state. Also, I’m heartened at the moment to know that Biden has multiple paths to victory—he only needs one of four states to win, three of which are quite likely. Trump, on the other hand, needs all four of them, and that doesn’t appear likely given the projected totals. In 2000, Bush and Gore each had only one path, and it was through Florida.
However, in the back of mind, I do worry that something unprecedented could happen. That is, after all, the precedent of the Trump presidency: it’s all unprecedented because no one has had the poor judgement to do this shit before.
We could see many lengthy court battles, several instances of intransigence among Trump and key members of his cabinet to ignore the results of the election, we could see state legislatures send competing set of electors precipitating a constitutional crisis. And if Biden only has 270 electoral votes secured, could there be a faithless elector or two? Some of these things have happened before, but a lot of is… say it with me… unprecedented.
In the meantime, we all anxiously wait. And for me, my hair will get only more gray as we grind through each day towards December 14 (the date the Electoral College votes) and noon on January 20 (Inauguration Day).
- I was living in Goleta, which at the time wasn’t even in its own city. ↩