The rain began to fall as I walked across the parking lot. Five news vans were parked outside the door, and dozens of folks who seemed out of place milled about. Samantha gestured for a spot at the end of the table, and we settled in to watch the single greatest spectacle of arithmetic play out across the nation.
Four years prior, we were camped out at a different bar but for the same purpose. These events simply are not made to be taken in alone. At that juncture, an election that I argue ended on a cold New Hampshire evening earlier that year was finally coming in to focus.
The script Tuesday night was the same: we ordered chips and dip, a few beers and watched states be reduced to red and blue bits, switched to and fro with drawn out projections. The only difference is that we were south in Murfreesboro supporting friends of ours in a highly contested race.
But elections are made to have winners and losers. On that night, the home team came up short. I can tell that many folks have grown weary of all this talk of politics. But just like voting, we owe it to ourselves to discuss the stuff that matters -- not just the men and women we elect, but what it is they have even elected to do. We have to do the hard task of listening to each other, even when we disagree. This whole democracy thing is not for the lazy.
There has never been a shortage of my personal opinions, some of them rather ill-informed. But while I am often a neophyte on many complex yet important issues, there is still an attempt to use a bit of discretion when sharing them. As I watched county by county results come in, I spotted the same voting patterns across the region and similar to what happened on the national stage. The rural counties voted overwhelmingly for one party, while suburban and population centers voted the other. The trends in demographics were obvious, but I cannot help but think it is overstated. Perhaps not in the final result sense (as it was obviously a deciding factor), but in how we view the "city versus country" debate. I am convinced that there is no difference in our values and what we see as right and wrong. Our only differences lie in our approaches to solve the same problems.
Analysts also point to the gender gap in this election and in particular to the expansion of the number of women at the national level. Not only do I believe this is a positive development, but an essential one. The dark comedy that is having a group of old white guys sit around and decide issues affect women's health for no other reason than to score political points was a familiar scene on our televisions each night. At no time in history were parts of the female anatomy more featured on the nightly news. Candidates one by one fell into a trap of language (or poor understanding of science) with an astounding ignorance of violence against women or that they are in fact the decision makers over their bodies. It was perhaps fitting that so many were elected to replace them.
I looked down at the table, then up again at the television screens overhead. The sports bar had been transformed into an election headquarters, with each screen devoted to a different news network instead of the typical basketball games and highlight reels. It was 9 p.m. and the candidate had not yet come down from the "war room" upstairs. Two close friends of mine worked on his campaign, so I was there as much to support them as I was the candidate. It became clear early that this was not going to be an easy night, and as the nation went one direction, Tennessee as it often does opted for a different one.
A few announcements went out over the crowd that the final results would likely not be known that evening. Four years of preparation apparently was wasted on election commissions across the state that we either incompetent, negligent or just outright sinister in how they handled poll openings and ballot availabilities. But that is a topic for another time once session restarts in January. As fundamental as voting is to our very way of life in America, you would think by now we should be really good at it. Decades of lip service that folks should go to the polls apparently ignored that the polls should be open and efficient when they get there.
The concession speech, though it was not billed as such, came around 10 p.m. We had already walked to the hotel lobby and began to text our friends that we were going to go on back to Nashville. The entourage rounded the corner shortly there after. It was striking in that moment how they walked, with each step nearly in rhythm. There was a task to be done, and the collective of operatives and the candidate were now prepared to get down to it. The race was over, it was time to go talk to the folks who had brought them there.
Elections only work because somebody at the end of it will lose. What they worked to do was to not only be elected, but to do the job that they were seeking. The work did not end with the loss, nor did the work of the supporters. We all have returned to our homes, jobs and families. But the work we do to defend those three very important things is far from over.