Dawn Potter: Letter from a Red County; or, The Election: A Love Story
Let me tell you about my friend.
She helped me raise my babies, at a time when I was lonely and overwhelmed and bewildered and not at all good at being a mother. Since then, she has suffered deep grief over the murders of three of her family members, a horror perpetrated by her own son-in-law. She has reacted to those deaths with nobility and grace. She has been on a mission to provide local police departments and domestic-violence shelters with funds for basic necessities for victims of similar terrors. But she is not comfortable with the label of activist. She is a gentle person–frail, self-effacing, sweet, and wryly comical, a woman who loves birds and flowers, Christmas cards and potluck suppers. And she is brave. The last time we went for a walk together, we saw a bear. We laughed and made big eyes at each other and then turned around and went home. She wasn’t scared, so I wasn’t scared. And yet the bear could have broken her, with an accidental swipe.
My friend also has a Trump sign in her front yard. The sight is painful, horrifying, almost obscene: akin to imagining Michelangelo’s David spray-painted with a swastika.
The town I live in is the sort of place that would make good fodder for a long-form New Yorker exposition of rural white working-class angst. Jobs have vanished, patriarchal structures are eroding, opioid addictions are ravaging families. There is misery; there is disbelief; there is deep loneliness. Someone must be to blame.
New Yorker articles make good reading. But I happen to live here. And my friend has a Trump sign in her yard, and we cannot talk about it. We cannot. Our friendship is predicated on a pivot of love: on “I see you, and you see me.” Argument does not enter into this realm.
My friend is not aware that New Yorker articles even exist. She does not read poems. She does not really read anything at all, except during Bible-study class. What my friend does is to bring me a small dish of homemade custard, because she knows I am living alone. She presents me with a dress, once worn by her dead daughter. She muses over the details of my sons’ babyhood. She shows me where the peregrine falcon is nesting.
I am voting for Hillary Clinton, and I sincerely hope she is victorious. I believe that Donald Trump is a menace to our nation. I see this election as a stark choice. But friendship is also a stark choice. When we commit to loving our neighbors, we commit to difficulty and ambiguity. That in itself is a stark choice.