THE DAY OF RECKONING
Okay, I went to bed with the results of the Georgia midterms’ run-off still wide open. Figured it will take the counters another twelve hours or more to get a tally that the Repubs can’t take to court and hold up for months. But it didn’t soothe me to lie there in my squirrel cage of a bed wondering what sort of numbers were ticking up or down. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s re-elected governor, went to bat for poor Hershel Walker, but even he couldn’t quite make himself believable, even to the hard-core base. Everyone knew he loathed Trump for trying to find some other candidate to unseat him. Even for a pol, that’s hard to swallow and smile for the cameras. Warnock can be spell-binding in the pulpit, I’m told. But in the glare of the political stage, he comes off as tame, careful, eager to win over a crowd but not willing to step over the edge of rhetoric into no-man’s land, which hardly ever holds back a Republican with fire in his gut and nothing in his brain.
My wife couldn’t sleep and began padding around in the other room after finishing a novel she had been gorging on for the past week. She stopped heading for the bathroom when I called out to her, and in a matter-of-fact voice said, “Oh, by the way, the Democrat won.” She knew I was coming apart with angst over a Senate torn down the middle with Manchin and Sinema eager to play hard-to-get for years ahead if Walker won the vote. But he didn’t. This flooded into my blood-shot eyes as she stood there in the dark. The world was melting along its polar edges as I took in the news. I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that this contest in Georgia came down to whether the white race was going to run America like a plantation for six more years, and make way for Trump’s campaign to come back to power, or whether Warnock would take up the banner and lead us into diversity as if it were a real thing. But there stood my wife, pale and gauzy in the dark hall, telling me things were going to work out. That the danger had passed. We were headed onto the high road of sanity and political stability.
I recalled hosting my old one-time friend Morris Berman one summer evening to a lecture in a neighbor’s house in my village in southern France, where quite a few English couples showed up, along with a few Americans who heard we were putting on a controversial speaker. Berman had written a trilogy on the fall of America, and said many times over that nothing could save it from perdition, and nothing should. We were a collection of hucksters and grifters, and never became a real society. All this is published in black-and-white, so I’m not telling tales out of school. But I had written in my invitation to the event that Berman held out tacit hope that something might reverse our terrible fate, even if he couldn’t quite say it. But after I introduced him, he took the moment to say I was full of baloney and that nothing could save us. I gulped. I might even have run outside to get some air, if it weren’t incumbent on me to smile and carry on with hosting. So he gave his talk, a diatribe on the iniquity of the country, and it sounded like words of an old Puritan minister railing against the evils of greed way back in Concord days. It was well received, and smugly so, since the Brits had nothing to be proud of in their four-hundred year long reign of corruption and theft under the banners of empire. But I let that pass as well.
So, here it was on the eve of what might prove a prophecy of doom that would make Berman smile to himself and think of me as that timid idealist who had arranged this talk. So when my wife said, “The Democrat won,” I slid off Santa’s lap and landed on the cold wooden floor of reality with a lollipop in my hand. That doesn’t happen to me often. I had a certain quiet joy bubbling in my gut, like when I stood in front of Art Buchwald’s modest tombstone in Martha Vineyard a few weeks ago. The man could write fast and furious, with the stub of a fat cigar in his clenched teeth, and weave just enough of a thread of irony or biting Jewish humor into his words to make you smile and feel relieved at hearing truth without any truthiness. I lay in bed until three sorting out my thoughts about Georgia, about Trump’s agonizing downfall as a wannabe tyrant, as a ruthless crook of the real estate biz, a good student of his father Fred who showed him how to stiff his builders and engineers at every turn. As Trump’s niece, Mary tells it, the whole Trump clan was poison from the start, and when T’s grandfather came to America, he was on the run after being expelled from Germany for corruption. Nothing good came of this blood, Mary said, who subtitled her biography of her uncle, “The Most Dangerous Man in the World.”
Of course, I wouldn’t put it past this flim-flam man to find a way to get around his troubles. The Trump Organization may now take the place of the Enron Corporation and Madoff’s pyramidal villainies in the minds of some readers, and who will be thwarted from starting up new development deals with the banks, but I feel the glow of something hopeful forming in the sky, shining through the dismal wintery rain clouds and dampness that passes for New England autumn. Maybe this ragtag nation with all its faults and flaws can somehow blow a little life into the old nag and get him to pull the democratic cart once more. I noted how the cops who defended the U.S. Congress on January 6 were honored by the leaders of both parties, but that the cops only shook hands with Shumer and Pelosi, and not with McConnell and McCarthy. Wow. I had to pry my tongue loose from my clenched teeth when I saw that.
I’m happy for once. I can put on my hat and sally out into the drizzle with a pleasant grin on my face. My feet will go down the walk to the car as if I had escaped gravity for a moment. I may even have felt like playing golf on the moon with the astronauts, just to enjoy the thrill of bouncing up and down in my pressure suit and watching my ball sail off as if I were Tiger Woods. Just throw a sop to me once in a while, a little hand-out of hope when I thought there was nothing more to beg for.
Maybe winter won’t be so hard, this year. Biden can fight off the endless investigations of his son Hunter and his damned laptop! He won’t have to take Benghazi seriously anymore; that ship has sailed. He can huddle with Shumer and get some serious work done. Today I read in the Times that the Repubs are having to perform a painful autopsy on the midterm results. But will they discover that all the oddballs and cranks Trump tried to stuff into the Congress didn’t quite shine? He got his revenge on liberalism by his shrewd maneuvers of the Supreme Court nominations. Now we have a disgraced court that makes every sane person wince when Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito get their pens moving in a decision. But I can’t stop dancing in the mirror and tipping my imaginary top hat like Fred Astaire.
I might even build a snowman this year, or roll around making a snow angel in the front yard. I might make bacon and eggs for my wife’s breakfast, and sit there watching the PBS Newshour with gleeful absorption. I might even send Morris a note to congratulate the country on coming to its senses after a plague of conversions to the dark side. I smell brownies in the oven, but I could be mistaken. They might even be my mother’s cinnamon rolls, the kind she made each Christmas morning before she died. I hear my father winding his pocket watch before clearing his throat to give out the presents under the tree. Gloomy gray days could not dim the luster of a season of renewal. I felt it in my bones. If I had a pair of suspenders on, I’d snap those galluses in a sign of my newly inflated optimism. Send in the clowns! Pop the cork of that Dom Perignon, I’m thirsty for some long-awaited just desserts. It doesn’t happen often, but when the sun shines through the rain clouds, you know you are ready for Vegas.