New Hampshire voted a lot in 2020: January’s First in the Nation Presidential primary, March’s town elections, September’s State primary, and November’s general elections.
H.L. Mencken found a “national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in.” I guess politics was fun back then. I sometimes felt he’d accurately prophesized the state of the nation from 2017 to 2021 when he wrote:
As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
Anyway, this is what I saw during the campaigns. My first exposure to some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls was at the Hillsborough County Democratic Committee’s annual picnic in August 2019. The weather was hot and sticky and, preoccupied with seeing friends, I paid little attention to the speakers.
Later in 2019, at the Democratic state convention, I witnessed nine hours of speeches from all of the hopefuls. At least I’d seen and heard them in the flesh. I disagreed with some. I found none repellent. I found Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang intelligent, charming, and good-humored, with a knack for weaving facts into their arguments without sounding wonky.
But the finest orator of the lot was Marianne Williamson, author and activist, who knew the issues, had perfect diction, made impeccable use of gesture and eye contact, and unlike some candidates, understood that part of keeping the audience’s attention involves vocal modulation.
I took little part in the presidential primary beyond voting, attending a caucus to select a slate of delegates to the national convention. and posting two candidates’ campaign signs on our front lawn. My wife supported one hopeful and I another.
Then came town elections. I’ve always followed the advice of Edouard Herriot, four times Prime Minister during the French Third Republic: I am ever “at the disposal of my friends and in the service of the Republic.” So I ran for the Antrim Town Planning Board. I was elected on March 10th; took the oath of office at Town Meeting on March 12th; and was advised on Friday the 13th that no town boards would meet before May, if then. The job had no salary. Now it had no duties. For the moment, that seemed to balance out for me. It also meant that the pandemic had suspended the expression of the will of the people through those elected to govern their institutions.
Like most of my neighbors, I was for a time focused on public and personal health. I saw sanitary products disappearing from the supermarkets and small distilleries taking up the production of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
That last became unavailable in the Hillsborough County Jail despite the pandemic. Inmates with too much time on their hands and perhaps some memory of chemistry class had managed to extract a potent beverage from the sanitizers. No one apparently considered whether that forbidden expression of intelligence required a ban that only helped spread the virus among the inmates and correction officers.
At the September State primary, I was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for Hillsborough County Treasurer. Someone had to fill the spot on the ballot. Besides, I enjoy campaigning door-to-door. I didn’t then realize that the Democratic Party establishment would prohibit personal campaigning. The Republicans suffered no such inhibitions.
I found myself in a three-cornered fight against the invisible Republican incumbent and Richard Manzo, an articulate and good-humored Libertarian. I found the Libertarian probably the most intelligent political opponent I’ve had in four decades of campaigning.
Like many of my neighbors, I placed signs on my lawn. One of my fellow activists gave me a very large Biden-Harris sign, which we erected together.
Despite the right’s rants about privacy and property rights, at least one cowardly local had no compunction about trespassing on my land to deface the sign with streaks of white wash. I left it up, if only to illustrate the quality of some who disagreed with me. Unashamed, the fellow apparently returned and defaced the sign with a St. Andrew’s cross in red and the word “No” in giant letters. The St. Andrew’s cross is the preeminent device on the Confederate battle flag. The vandal had done the same to every Biden-Harris sign over the five miles between my house and Antrim Town Hall.
Happily for the coward, he hadn’t encountered my enraged wife. She’s the kind of classics scholar who can quote Propertius while knocking down ruffians with her Penang lawyer. That’s a very heavy walking stick used in Penang, Malaya, for the swift resolution of personal disagreements. She’s pretty good with it.
The local newspapers were full of letters condemning “cancel culture” and complaining that Republican signs were being stolen. With regard to the former, I noted that a Republican state representative, James Spillane of Deerfield, had made a Facebook posting:
“Public Service Announcement: If you see a BLM sign on a lawn it’s the same as having the porch light on for Halloween. You’re free to loot and burn that house.”
The Republican Governor, House Leader, and State Committee chairman expressed no condemnation of him. Mr. Spillane was re-elected in November, which may say something about the Second District of Rockingham County.
In my campaign trips throughout Hillsborough County, I noticed that Republican signs remained in place and no Trump signs were defaced or stolen. Perhaps the 45th President of the United States was not the only Republican spreading fairy tales.
October was unseasonably warm until its 30th day, when I awoke to find it snowing. It snowed again on Election Day morning, wildly gusting clouds of flakes while I was en route to campaign outside the polls at Antrim Town Hall. Happily, the storm ended while I was on to polling places in Hancock, Hillsborough, Greenfield, Peterborough, and Bennington.
That day, the invisible Republican incumbent County Treasurer was re-elected. Mr. Manzo, the Libertarian, polled more votes for Hillsborough County Treasurer than his party’s gubernatorial candidate had in the entire state. Clearly, other people also found him impressive.
I felt more regret over the defeat of several decent and kind friends whom I’d met through politics than I did for my own.
Despite Trump’s destructive temper tantrums, by the Sunday after Election Day, the results were clear to any sensible adult. I re-read Daniel 2:21 from the King James Version:
“And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:”
It seemed to fit the situation. Then I remembered something else.
Some decades ago, I spent time in Portugal, which became and remains my second favorite country. I love its people, landscape, and history. For the first time in my life, I was among a different people using a different language. They were kind, pleasant, and only gently amused by my struggles with spoken Portuguese. They were neither better nor worse than the people among whom I was born and raised.
Yet I returned to the United States far more conscious of being an American.
I began hanging out the Flag on public holidays. I’ve never been a flag waver. This was just a quiet gesture to honor my country and my ancestors who chose to make their lives here. After 2016, I stopped. I sometimes considered purchasing and displaying the 48-star Flag I was born under in President Eisenhower’s time, the flag of a country that, with all its flaws, didn’t torture children.
So on the Sunday afternoon after Election Day I went to the barn, found the Flag, put the staff in its holder by the front door of our house, and let a light breeze open its folds.
Thus I beheld once more, as Webster said, “the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured.”
I’d drafted this essay by New Year’s Day 2021. Trump had only heightened his unfounded and unsupported claims of election fraud, his henchmen spread them further, and the mosquitoes of the far right and the alt-right left their fever swamps to carry infection across the nation.
The result was the Sixth of January. As I watched the mob put the Republic in duress, I remembered a play I’d seen years ago, one character shouting of an opponent: “This is what he wants! Nothing short of it will satisfy him! Violence, rebellion, treason!” I saw the words become real on my screen.
I observed interesting things in the broadcasts. My thoughts at the time are now supported by evidence sufficient to support arrest warrants and indictments.
First, for a supposedly undisciplined mob, many knew where and how to breach the Capitol. That bespeaks leadership and planning. Now we know there were both.
Second, I saw a shameless contrast between the militarized response to last summer's unarmed Black Lives Matter protestors and the helpless, undermanned police response to an enraged mob that we now know the police commanders knew were coming. Supposedly, “the optics” of a military presence outweighed the safety of the Capitol. Optics hadn’t been a problem when unarmed black protestors faced overwhelming military and civil force. On the Sixth of January, weapon-equipped whites rushing the Capitol were... dare I say... welcomed?
I was unmoved by the subsequent string of resignations of Cabinet Secretaries and White House staffers. They knew they'd be off the payroll in two weeks anyway.
I think many in the Democratic Party’s establishment—I can't call them leadership, leaders have some idea of where they’re going—saw Biden's election as a return to the good old days, when a liberal was merely and only pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Other questions of economic and social justice were overlooked while the party establishment sucked up to Wall Street in search of campaign contributions and future job contacts. In 2020, they evaded recognizing a revolutionary situation. Others paid the price.
As I saw a terrorist trying to strike the American flag over the Capitol to run a Trump banner up in its place, I recalled that in early January 1861, the old Mint in New Orleans was threatened by a mob of secessionists seeking to seize its store of coins and bullion. Secretary of the Treasury John A. Dix, a tough old soldier, wired a terse order to the Treasury agents on duty there: If any man attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.
Regrettably, General Dix was not on duty on the Sixth of January.
One photograph depicted a moment of vulgarity so profound as to be almost sublime. The Ulysses S. Grant Monument in Washington is considered one of the most important in America. Certainly, it’s among the largest. Each group of sculptures represents a particular part of the Army of the Potomac. One group represents the Union's horse artillery.
Like the Duke of Wellington, Grant used horse artillery at the front, its mobile firepower weakening the enemy before advancing his infantry and cavalry. The artillerymen and their horses were usually first to be exposed to enemy fire. It was no job for cowards or weaklings whether man or horse.
The sculptor Henry Shrady spent the last 20 years of his life creating the entire Monument. He even studied biology at the American Museum of Natural History, dissecting horses to gain insight into equine musculature and movement. His work honored the valor and spirit of both horses and humans with magnificently skilled craftsmanship.
The photograph showed this sculpture desecrated by insurgents with their silly political banners and racist flags. One fellow, astride a sculptured horse, waves a Trump flag. Near a caisson’s wheel, a woman takes a selfie. She’s one of three people taking selfies on this monument. Perhaps they record their presence on this day as the most important event in their pathetic, delusional lives. Few images so capture the essence of that day: ignorance and an unmerited sense of entitlement empowered by force.
When Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the First Republic on the Eighteenth of Brumaire, L’An VII (November 9, 1799), he led his grenadiers into both houses of the Corps législatif, the national legislature. He was first through the doors. The legislators knew why he had come. If one man with a pistol had been unimpressed, his shot might have changed history beyond our capacity to imagine.
Trump, who assured the mob he’d be with them at the Capitol, sent them on their way and retreated to the safety of the White House to watch events unfold on television.
Bonaparte, whatever his flaws, had the courage of his ambition. Trump's unmanly cowardice has long been self-evident. The best proof of his incapacity is that he failed.
Our First Republic prevailed and, God willing, shall endure.