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Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Nasty Woman Who Can't Seal the Deal

Okay, quick review: Three weeks ago, one of my students (Brian) filmed me saying that Trump is a demagogue, and BAM, I was put on two weeks leave. I could only go back to my job teaching 20th Century American Government and Politics at the local Community College if I promised not to say anything partisan. I argued that by NOT speaking out against Trump, I might alienate any of my students who happened to be immigrants, Muslim, Hispanic, African American, or anti-sexual assault. “There’s never been a more dangerous, divisive candidate in our lifetime,” I told Dean Hughes. “The normal rules of teacher impartiality just don’t apply.”

“I’ll decide what rules apply,” he testily replied. “You’re not to talk about your own political views.”

And I did my best. I really did.

Then, yesterday, I gave a lecture on the Electoral College.

It was part of the curriculum -  not something you can just “skip over” when teaching a course in American Government and Politics.

Brian sat in the front row, smirking and sighing the entire time I spoke. I resisted responding, resisted rolling my eyes, resisted digging my nails into my palm or giving off any sign that he was bugging me. I had been resisting such things all week. But the girl who sat behind him was also bothered by his behavior, and when she kicked his chair I couldn’t help but smile.

Brian spun around. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because you’re so annoying! Stop disrespecting our teacher.”

“Chill out,” he answered. “I’m not disrespecting anyone.”

“You totally are,” she said.

“Okay, let’s move on,” I interjected. “Anyway, even though the electors aren’t legally required to honor their pledge, there have been very few cases when they haven’t complied with the will of the people.”

Brian barked out a laugh. “In other words, the system is rigged.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. The Electoral College exists to ensure that we won’t have rigged elections. It’s a safeguard.”

“Bullshit,” said Brian. “They’ve already decided who’s going to president, and if crooked Hillary and her people fail at all their voter fraud, the Electoral College will still make her president even if it’s obvious that Trump got more votes.”

“No, that’s not how it works,” I said.

He jumped on my response. “Trump is right. There’s no way he should make that lame promise to concede. There will be riots if even he doesn’t win, and I hope they get the pathetic liars like you."

I knew I should just pretend I hadn’t heard him, but my response escaped before I could reign it in. “Brian, if that’s what you think, I suggest you move to Burma or North Korea, because what you’re suggesting is more befitting of a dictatorship than a democracy.”

“Excuse me?” He whipped out his cell phone, held it up, and very obviously hit record on the video camera app. “Do you care to repeat that, now that your job is on the line?”

Had it honestly come to this? A bully in a Make America Great Again baseball had all the power? If that was the case, maybe I needed to rethink my job. Maybe I needed to rethink my entire life.
Suddenly I was fueled by my boiling blood. I stepped in closer, so that his camera phone would clearly capture what I was about to say. “Propagating ideas that our election is rigged, or that the losing candidate shouldn’t concede and give way to the peaceful transition of power, is un-American. Our democracy was founded on the idea of justice, and this year it’s been threatened by a misogynist who mocks and slanders anyone who threatens his massive ego. He gains followers like you by spouting off his misinformed authoritarian propaganda, and it’s ugly and it’s wrong.”

I stepped back and looked Brian in the eye. “Got it? Or do we need a take two?”

His eyes narrowed into a glare. “You are so fired.”

“Fine,” I shot back. “Then I suggest you leave. That will give you a head start on reporting me to Dean Hughes.”

He leaned back and just sat there, in this silent, aggressive way.

“Go!” I nearly yelled. “I don’t want you here, especially if this is my last class ever. I’d rather go out happy.”

Brian stood, ever so slowly, and walked to the back of the classroom and out the door.

Then the most amazing thing ever happened. Two thirds of the class burst into a spontaneous, standing ovation. The other third rose as well, but not in applause. They stood to follow Brian out the door.

That was Friday morning.

Friday afternoon brought the infuriating, muddled headlines that Comey had “reopened” the Clinton email case, and even when that was proven not to be the case, all the news outlets seemed more interested in speculating about how devastating this bit of non-news would be for the Clinton campaign than in correcting the facts. I could feel Brian gloating, even if he (thankfully) wasn’t near enough for me to witness it.

I’d heard nothing from Dean Hughes by the time I got home on Friday evening. I felt unsure how to funnel my nervous, angry energy, so after we put the kids to bed I went downstairs and got on our treadmill, thinking I’d just run off all my aggression.

Monty came and found me. “Don’t you want to watch Lawrence O’Donnell?”

“Not tonight.” I answered through heavy breaths. “I’m not in the mood for politics.”

He gave me a wry smile. “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

I’d filled him in on everything at dinner, so his joke seemed a little out of place. Wasn’t it clear why I felt out of sorts?

Obviously not. “Is everything okay?” Monty asked.

“Yeah.” I sighed, hitting the down arrow on the treadmill so I could slow to a brisk walk. “I’m just trying to get my mind off things.”

He raised an eyebrow and moved forward, like he was reaching for me, but his arms fell short. “I could help you with that.”

I felt myself stiffen involuntarily. “No thanks,” I replied.

“Okay.” He frowned. “I get that you’re worried about your job, but did I do something wrong?”

I rubbed my eyes, wishing I could make this situation go away. But no, when I focused back on Monty he was still there, waiting for a reply to a simple question that I didn’t know how to answer.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “The other night you…” I took in a breath and clenched both my hands, trying to keep my voice level. “The other night you said ‘Evelyn’ in your sleep. It was the same night you’d talked to her on the phone for so long, when I asked if you have feelings for her and you said no.”

His eyes widened, but otherwise, I could see him making the conscious effort to keep his face relaxed. “I said her name in my sleep? Are you sure?”


“Look, I don’t know why that happened, but believe me, there’s nothing -”

I briefly held out my hand, palm flat, several inches from his face. “Don’t,” I said. “I don’t want an explanation. That’s why I didn’t mention it sooner.”

He regarded me, his mouth hanging open ever so slightly. “I’m not having an affair with her, Luce.”

I flinched and looked away. “Did I say that you were?”

“No, but -”

I straightened my back, squaring my shoulders. “I get that you could have an affair if you wanted to. Lots of men in your position would, being out of town for work so often, knowing they could get away with it. But I’ve always trusted you. Maybe I’m naive.”

Monty reacted as if he’d been slapped. He took a moment, staring at his feet “What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing. Seriously, don’t say anything more. You’ve already made it worse.”

“Fine,” he snapped. Moving away, he mumbled under his breath. “That’s so like you - tell me I did something bad but don’t give me the chance to make it right.”

“Yeah, well, you’re obviously married to someone with some serious flaws.”

He shook his head like it wasn’t worth his energy to respond and then he walked away. I knew I should follow, that we should, in fact, talk this out, but I couldn’t make my body agree with my brain. Moving at twelve miles per hour on that treadmill, I was paralyzed with fear.

I knew I was lucky, with every apparent advantage going for me. Yet despite it all, I couldn’t seem to secure my own, personal victories.

I’d become a nasty woman who just couldn’t seal the deal.

The image at the top of this post is from a website that sells political posters. You can buy it as a poster by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sex, Lies, and Shackles

On Sunday night Monty and I watched the debate, but as he was in D.C. and I was in Des Moines, we had to put our phones on speaker to have a joint-viewing experience. We shared observations and occasionally I glanced down at my cell, where it sat on the couch next to me, taking the place of my actual husband.

“Martha Raddatz is kicking ass,” his tinny voice said at one point.

I agreed. “Do you like her as much as Judy Woodruff?”

Monty has admitted to thinking Judy Woodruff is attractive, in a sexy-librarian sort of way. “You know how special Judy is to me,” he joked. “But don’t you think Martha is doing a great job?”

“Sure.” Neither of us mentioned Anderson Cooper at all.

I thought Anderson was fairly invisible that night. Now I realize that A.C. deserves major props, that he is responsible for perhaps the biggest moment in the entire campaign, perhaps the biggest moment of any campaign. But it took me a couple of days to come to that conclusion.

On Monday I woke at my usual time and got the kids ready for school. Yet after I dropped them off I had nowhere to be, not since I was put on a two-week leave for telling my students that I was unequivocally anti-Trump.  The Clinton campaign field office only needed volunteers on weekends and evenings, so I came home and caught up on all the laundry, cleaning, and household stuff I needed to do. Meanwhile, the media went crazy for undecided-voter Ken Bone and said maybe he was the real winner of the town hall on Sunday night.

There was little mention of Trump’s multiple lies, of his whining over perceived inequities, of how he stalked Clinton on stage, of how he called her the devil, of how he said she has hate in her heart and threatened to put her in jail. Instead, Chris Matthews said Trump was more “on” and other moderators seemed happy to call the debate a tie.

On Wednesday Monty got back from D.C. “Are you going stir-crazy from not being able to work yet?” he asked, giving me a tight hug.

“Sort of,” I answered. “I wish I was teaching, but maybe it’s good that I’m not. With all my knowledge and experience about the history of our democracy, I still don’t understand how as a nation, we have sunk so low.”

“At least she’s ahead in the polls.”

True, I told him, but the ramifications of Trump “taking off his shackles” could be severe. Trump doesn’t even act like he wants to win anymore. He’s itching to lose so he can use it as proof that the whole system is rigged, so he won’t concede the election, so he can call Hillary’s presidency into question from day one, while he, Roger Ailes, and Steve Bannon go off to start their ultra-right wing media company that roughly 40% of voters will be built-in audience members for.

I went on and on and Monty was a patient listener, agreeing with me on most of my points. Finally, I took a breath and asked if he was still working on getting aide for Haiti, even though his job is to write policy for family planning initiatives and women’s health in underdeveloped countries.  “We’ll see,” he said. “Evelyn doesn’t give up easily. Once she gets an idea for something, she latches on.”
“Right,” I said. Evelyn, Monty’s long-lost ex-girlfriend, had recently started working with him in D.C. and while I was trying to get used to the idea, I wasn’t there yet. So what I didn’t say, but merely thought, was has she gotten the idea to win you back? 

He glanced at the clock. “It’s about time to pick the kids up from school. I’ll go.”

Later that night, after dinner, bath-time, and putting the kids to bed, I wandered downstairs. Monty had disappeared into his office a while ago and I wondered what he was still working on. When I got to the ground floor, I could hear him talking on the phone, laughing.

And something about his soft-tone made me sure that he was talking to Evelyn.

I went back upstairs and watched Rachel Maddow while I waited for him to come back up. That was when I learned about the new allegations from two women who said that Trump had molested them.
And that’s also when it hit me.

“Have you ever done those things?” Anderson Cooper’s insistent question during the debate had backed Trump into a corner, and in the middle of a rambling response, Trump finally conceded, “No, I have not.”

Thank you, Anderson, for forcing the issue. Because it’s obvious why these women, and several more in the last week, have come forward.

Nobody likes to be lied to.

Finally, Monty came upstairs, and as soon as he walked into our bedroom, I asked, “Were you talking to Evelyn?”

He plopped down on the bed. “Yeah. Work stuff.”

“Work stuff, huh?”

He nudged my knee with his foot. “What? You don’t believe me?”

I turned to look him in the eye. “Tell me you don’t still have feelings for her.”

Unblinking, he responded. “I don’t still have feelings for her.”

I let it go at that. But later, in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came back to bed, Monty was murmuring in his sleep.

 And I swore that he mumbled “Evelyn.”

Things said in private, unintentional words meant for only one other set of ears or maybe for no one’s ears at all, are all the more powerful when overheard. Funny how one little word could slice right through my heart, could confirm my suspicions and alter everything. Now I can say from experience:

No one likes being lied to.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hot Mics and Lonely Nights

I was put on paid leave for two weeks after my Trump-supporting student, Brian, accused me of giving him a poor grade, due to our divergent political affiliations. He’d recorded me on his cell phone, blatantly coming out against Trump, and used that as “proof” that I am biased against students who want to make America great again.

Some would argue that two weeks of paid leave is like a free vacation, but I was having trouble seeing it that way. A letter would go in my file and I’d carry the stigma of being reprimanded for the rest of my career. Maybe I could have groveled, offered a sincerer apology than the “I’m sorry if I upset anyone” concession I made when called into the Dean’s office. I could have just changed Brian’s grade to an A, but his paper was poorly written, using unfounded claims like Obama is a non-Christian Arab whose made the country unsafe. Forget about Brian’s misuse of “whose” – if he can’t back up his claims with actual facts, he should feel lucky with the C-.

“I’m not so worried about Brian’s grade,” the Dean told me. He’d read Brian’s paper and agreed it wasn’t “A” material. “But the cell phone footage does worry me. You can’t be so transparent about your political beliefs, Lucy. Otherwise, you risk alienating your students and belittling them for their conservative views.”

“What about alienating or belittling females, homosexuals, Hispanics, Muslims, or any other demographic that doesn’t happen to be white, straight, and male?” I sat in a chair opposite his desk, my back ramrod straight. “If I pretend to support Trump, I run the risk of alienating and belittling them.”

Dean Hughes shook his head, his mouth twitching and his hands shaking, sort of like Tim Kaine during the debate. “You shouldn’t pretend to support either candidate. You should remain neutral.”

“In most cases I’d agree. But not this year. Silence is just as bad as condoning everything that Trump stands for.”

“I see.” Dean Hughes clasped both hands together to ease their quivering. “Then I think you should take a break. We’ll get you out of the classroom for a little while, give you some time to cool down.”

I knew he was trying to be magnanimous, but I left his office fuming. Time to cool down? I felt dismissed, like Megyn Kelly after that Republican primary debate, when Trump attributed her hardball questions to her being on her period.

Still, I doubted myself for about an hour or two, wondering if the Dean Hughes was right and I was wrong. Was I too polarizing? Should I consider representing all views, even the ones I found deplorable?

Then I checked the headlines.

Holy Crap.

“This is a total game-changer!” I spoke to Monty on the phone, since he was still in D.C. for work and would be for the next several days. “It’s like when they found out McGovern’s running mate, George Eagleton, had electric shock therapy. There’s nothing else that’s bad enough to compare it to.”

“I’m glad you’re so happy,” he said. “The timing is great, like you’ve been vindicated,” Monty referred to my enforced-leave, which I’d started our conversation by telling him about.

“Yeah, of course the irony is that Trump’s apology is almost exactly like the one I gave to Dean Hughes, ‘I’m sorry if I offended anyone.’ And we were both busted by a recording. I should feel bad for Trump, but I really, really don’t.”

There was a pause and the clicking of a keyboard. “Are you still working?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “Evelyn is obsessed with the hurricane victims in Haiti, so I promised I’d look into outreach.”

“But that’s not even your department’s area.”

“Right, but if it’s possible for us to do something, we should. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, of course.” I swallowed roughly. “Is she there with you right now?”

“No. She had to pick up her son at daycare.”

“Oh.” If I asked how it was going for him, working with his ex, would that sound prying and suspicious? I didn’t want to risk coming off as critical towards Evelyn, as she battled AIDS, conquered single-motherhood, and spent her extra time worrying about Haitian hurricane victims. No. I could only criticize her if Monty criticized her first, and even then, I had to be careful not to prompt him.

But suddenly everything I had to talk about seemed trivial. I felt like Gary Johnson, unable to identify anything the beyond the borders of my own little world.

“I should let you work then. Good luck with the outreach.”

“Love you,” he said. “I’ll call tomorrow. Skype with the kids.”

“Sure. Love you too.”

We hung up and I spent the rest of the night glued to MSNBC, wondering if Trump would drop out. Today he says that he’s staying, that there’s zero chance he’ll quit.

I guess that’s one more thing he and I have in common.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Anyone's Game

On the last Monday in September, I looked at the polls, saw that Trump was gaining on Clinton in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and thought, “He’s going to win. He’s actually going to win.”
But I couldn’t immediately pack my bags for Canada because I had to go teach American Government and Politics, where Ryan (the most vocal Trump supporter of all my students) immediately raised his hand yet didn’t wait to speak before I called on him. “Did you hear about that teacher who made her class compare Trump’s speeches to Hitler’s? The story was on Fox News. This guy recorded her on his cell phone and after he proved she was trying to indoctrinate her students, so they fired her.”
I looked at the clock. Two minutes into class and I already was wishing it was over. “What’s your point, Ryan?”
He shrugged, his face beaming underneath his Make America Great Again baseball cap. “I thought you’d think it was interesting. Everyone talks about the liberal bias of the media; what about the liberal bias of our educational system?”
I lifted my chin and squelched down the hot ball of resentment that had formed in my stomach. “I don’t think there’s a liberal bias with either the media or with public education. If anything, both institutions have to go too far to prove the opposite.”
“But you admit that you’re for Clinton.”
“No.” I stepped out from my podium and walked in front of it so I could stand closer to Ryan. I couldn’t let him get the best of me.  “As your instructor I won’t say who I’m voting for, but I will admit that I’m against Trump.”
Ryan burst out laughing. “That makes you a hypocrite! And I’m so tired of women like you trying to turn Trump into a bad guy.”
“I don’t have to try! With the stuff he says about immigrants, minorities, and women – I can’t even pretend to have an open mind about him. He is a ‘bad guy.’”
“Better be careful,” Ryan sneered. He held up his cell phone. “I might be recording you.”
I stepped even closer. “Go ahead.”
What was I thinking?
I should have been more careful. Instead, I forged on with class and then went home to watch Hillary and Trump debate. My mood lifted dramatically as I realized that maybe packing my bags for Canada wasn’t necessary, not yet. And I could learn something from Hillary about how to stand up to a bully.
The week that followed was great, full of late-night Tweet rants and shocking revelations about Trump’s taxes and his “charitable” foundation. I was no longer afraid to look at FiveThirtyEight or at the news headlines, but perhaps my giddiness came too soon. Yesterday, after I gave my students grades on their first formal essay, Ryan approached me.
“Why’d you give me a C-?”
I gathered my papers, trying not to flinch as he stood over me. “It’s all in my note. Your thesis wasn’t supported and your arguments were weak.”
“You mean you don’t agree with my argument,” he retorted, waving his cell phone in my face. “I’ve been recording you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ryan leered at me. “I have proof that you’re biased. You gave me a bad grade because you hate Trump which means that you also hate me. I have the evidence on my cell phone, and unless you change my grade right now to an A, I’m going to the Dean.”
I stood as tall as I could and looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m not changing your grade.”
He just smiled and waved his cell phone again. “Good. Because I think the Dean will want to see this.”
Then he strode off and my stomach sank.
I told myself not to worry, this is community college, not high school, and I’ve done nothing wrong. But last night, as I watched Kaine and Pence duke it out, Pence evading and pirouetting past accusations about Trump with ease, I had to admit that I was worried.
When delivery is more important than the truth, it’s anyone’s game.