Guest opinion: Historic election affects people in unexpected ways

E.S. Browning
Special to The News-Press
Published 11:15 am ET, October 30, 2020

This election is having unexpected effects on people. Me, for example.

I’m a former reporter for a large national newspaper, happily retired in Southwest Florida, until recently immersed in a book I am writing about my parents. This summer, I put the book project aside.

I realized that if I didn’t do something to try to prevent Donald Trump’s re-election, I would always regret it. I volunteered with the local Democratic Party.

Soon I realized that hundreds of other people were doing the same. Local Democratic leaders told me they had never seen anything like it. The Democratic leaders stopped counting the volunteers when they surpassed 1,000. In previous elections, the party hadn’t had more than 200 volunteers at a time — if that many. Now people were showing up from all walks of life — retired bankers, business people, diplomats, chauffeurs. Many are still employed, volunteering in “spare time” they don’t really have. Some have simply cut back on sleep.

If you ask the volunteers why they are doing this they say they don’t feel they can do otherwise. They are doing it for their children or so they can look at themselves in the mirror.

The former head of Vermont’s Ski Areas Association, a lifelong Republican and now a Florida resident, is making phone calls back to Florida while visiting Vermont, helping get out the Democratic vote here. A retired banker from Ohio is doing something similar.

Their efforts will probably affect the election, which is important, but this is important in another way, too. One of the many unusual things about Donald Trump is that he has managed to unify a lot of people in opposition to him. People who weren’t interested in political activity before feel the need to get involved now. They are discovering that their efforts are improving their lives, quite apart from whatever good they are doing. They are getting a sense of pride and accomplishment from something they hadn’t done before.

Lawyers have stepped forward to help ensure that the voting is conducted fairly. People are handing out literature, making phone calls, putting up signs and offering to drive people to the polls. The Democratic Party here can’t afford to pay people for this. Everyone is a volunteer.

It isn’t just a Florida thing. In Charlottesville, Virginia, my sister and her husband wrote so many postcards to voters that they exhausted their list of recipients. My brother-in-law started phoning people in North Carolina. This kind of thing is happening across the country, involving hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more.

Donald Trump’s presidency has created a lot of bad things — deep national divisions, a resurgence of open intolerance for others and a weakening of the basic national institutions that make our country great.

It would be ironic, but fitting, if the reaction to him helped create an antidote for some of these damaging things. In many different ways ordinary Americans have begun working together against some of the worst abuses. Some examples: the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March, the renewed push for racial equality, the urgency people feel about voting and the increased need people feel to keep up with the news. Who knows? Maybe, without intending it, Donald Trump has spawned a new national movement — not to support his damaging actions but to do things that will truly make America great again.

E.S. Browning was a reporter for 44 years in Europe, Asia, New York and Florida, including 37 years with The Wall Street Journal.