Nassau County, New York, where I currently live, is a purple place: while it has trended Democratic-blue in recent years, it had long been a Republican-red stronghold — the kind of suburbia that the President has warned will disappear if Joe Biden is elected and “those” people get a foothold. If anything historically defines Nassau County, it is that its agricultural past of small-scale potato farming was supplanted in the mid-20th century by a real-estate boon defined by “redlining”, or making sure that “those” people — blacks, latinx, immigrants, the poor — stay within their geographic corrals.
Things have changed significantly in the past 20 years or so. Local Republican government had been dogged by scandals and mismanagement, and on a national level, a Republican regime presided over the 2008 Great Recession, the severest economic downturn since the 1930s. Its residents began voting Democratic. At present two of Nassau’s House districts, the third and fourth, are represented by Democrats. The second district, containing a small slice of Nassau but mostly located in the adjacent county, Suffolk, is represented by a Republican who is retiring: the 2020 race is a close one. But many towns and villages are run by Republicans, and the county is pretty much split down the middle, with 383,709 registered Democrats, 331,282 Republicans, and 36,717 Independents as of 2020. With this kind of demographic, elections can go either way, and often do.
I early voted last week at one of the dozen or so designated polling sites in the county: any resident of any section of Nassau could vote at the site of their choice. Because of the pandemic, and the critical nature of the election, I assumed the turnout would be high, but I was surprised at just how high the turnout was. Lines snaked around the parking lot, and it took about two hours, from start to finish, for me to sign in and cast my ballot. Everybody was masked-up, distancing from each other, and polite — save for one interesting incident. Someone in a large truck, bedecked in jumbo-tron screens on all 4 sides, was cruising up and down the lanes of the parking lot, showing images of a black, male, urging voters to reject his putative “radical-left, pro-BLM, anti-police” agenda. The crowd jeered at him for electioneering, and a polling official, finding the truck hemmed-in on a one-way lane, unable to move, scolded the driver to remove himself from the premises or face arrest. After motioning the honking cars behind the truck to back away, the truck slowly crept away. If the driver of this truck, outfitted with conspicuously pricey and extravagant displays, was intent on “owning the libs”, his efforts failed miserably, and with broad disapproval from the voters on the queue.
Two things caught my attention about the voters. First, the crowd was diverse and evenly distributed between social archetypes: khakis and blue jeans, men and women, old and young, white, black, brown, and all shades in between. It was quite remote from the vignettes of suburbia that the present regime was trying to paint. It was a hopeful sign.
Another interesting observation: to get some cardio exercise in, I try to take a 3 to 5 mile walk each day around my locale, frequently varying the path taken. Most houses do not display campaign signs; there are few Biden signs, and slightly more Trump signs. But what stood out for me was the predominance of houses with signs endorsing the Republican candidates for Congress and State Senate, with Trump signs conspicuously absent. Again, a hopeful sign.
But maybe not. I would caution all those who anticipate a Biden blowout to consider two important caveats. First, polls are meaningless if those polled do not actually show up to vote, one key lesson of the 2016 election. It seems likely that 2020 will be different from 2016: early voting seems to confirm that observation. But seeming does not necessarily make it so. Second, it is foolish to think that what looks like a decisive rejection of Trumpism by most Americans genuinely foreshadows a return of Liberal Republican Democracy into the hearts and minds of Americans, both Right and Left. There are many reasons for a political realignment on this scale, and some of the conditions for one certainly exist. But count me skeptical on that score. I could be mistaken — I hope I am mistaken — but this election probably isn’t the kind of world-historical political earthquake that followed on the heels of the elections of Lincoln in 1860, or Roosevelt in 1932, or Reagan in 1980. It feels less like a shift in national consciousness to me than alarmed damage control.
There is nothing wrong with damage control. It can be well justified, even urgent — as it is this year. But if damage control is the normal, electoral condition, it is a sign that something is indeed wrong, less in need of reform than replacement.
Vote, please. See you all on the other side of this.