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.