The late Theodore H. White, the prose poet of our national elections, wrote what remains the most lyrical and magical evocation of the meaning of this day.
“It was invisible, as always. They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do … all of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens, it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, without knowing the shape of the whole.
“What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power on the world – the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so – all committed into the hands of one man.”
So White wrote describing the morning of November 8th, 1960, fifty-six years ago today. Those words can still stand, with one obvious exception. Today he would have written, “one man or woman.” Today, tens of millions of people are voting for someone who was a thirteen-year-old girl in Illinois on that day in 1960. She was first lady of Arkansas when Teddy White died of a sudden stroke thirty years ago, and I don’t know that he ever heard of her.
As a New Yorker, however, I imagine he must have heard of Donald Trump. There’s no one today with White’s literary powers to make sense of this election, so we just may have to do it ourselves. Presidential candidates in every election always say their race was one of the most momentous or historic since the creation of the universe, and much of the time, it isn’t.
The world will little note nor long remember much about the election twenty years ago, for example, when Bill Clinton was easily reelected over an aging Bob Dole. But they will remember this one, all right. What I want to remember about this race is not the Access Hollywood videotape or what Bernie Sanders called her “damn emails.”
I want to remember President Obama, at a rally in the final days of this campaign, gallantly defending the rights of AN elderly Donald Trump protestor at a Clinton rally.
There’s something else I always remember too. A few years after Teddy White wrote the words I quoted, three college students were tortured and murdered in Mississippi for trying to get black folks registered to vote. Their names were James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin and Michael Schwerner, and because of them, I never fail to vote.
Nor should you, and maybe not even mostly because of the Presidential election. Somewhere today, some young candidate we’ve probably never heard of is running for some office and tonight, will get his or her brains beaten out, as Bill Clinton did in 1974, and George W. Bush did four years later, and Barack Obama did in 2000.
But they all came back. There are dozens of other races and issues on the ballot where you live, from mass transit to the state legislature, and if you haven’t voted, there’s still time.
Those who care about this country will be happy that you did..
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.