I left New York City for Wisconsin just as hurricane Sandy was barreling up the East Coast, and I returned in the middle of the norâ€™easter that came to salt the wounds that hadnâ€™t yet healed.
That means I was in Wisconsin to observe the aftermath of both the election and the hurricane. It was the first election I spent outside of New York in over a decade, and, despite being in a place that rallied behind a lesbian senator and prides itself on its artisanal cheeses and beers, the sense that I wasnâ€™t in Brooklyn was palpable.
Romney/Ryan signs dotted most of the manicured lawns of the bedroom communities in Ozaukee County, one of the most republican enclaves in the state, indeed the country. Cedarburg, where I stay with my in-laws sits smack in the center of the county, and happens to be the place where John McCain and Sarah Palin chose to launch their 2008 presidential campaign, which didnâ€™t even think about coming close enough to Brooklyn to see its forearm tattoos.
When ensconced inside Cedarburgâ€™s city limits one begins to understand why its citizens gripe about the federal government. Look around and youâ€™ll see a community that seems from every vantage to have figured things out. Not in some kind of sinister, Ayn Randian, elitist disengagement either, but in a real, communitarian, bucket brigade, do unto others way. A way that leads many of those who donâ€™t leave the place to wonder why a bunch of bureaucrats 1000 miles away should be shaking them down for money to pay for social and cultural programs that they manage just fine on a community level.
In Cedarburg, if you needed food, you could walk up to any restaurant and theyâ€™d give you a meal. Thatâ€™s welfare. If you were sick, the doctor would see you. Thatâ€™s medical care. If you were pregnant and 16, the community would politely shame you and gossip about you for the rest of your life, but would also see to it that your child was cared for. Thatâ€™s social services. Thatâ€™s also the police.
My dad-in-law â€“ who happens to be named Sandy â€“ is one of a majority in his community who if allowed would shrink the entire federal government into a 24-hour help desk whose phone number was buried so deep on the website that you’d have no choice but to use the on-line chat to reach them. But as he watched New Jersey and New York plunge into darkness and not immediately light back up, I watched his conviction waver. And as he watched his beloved Chris Christie lay olive branches in front of Barack Obama, I thought I saw a little pan-American Esprit de corps bubble up from inside and pierce his usually impenetrable exterior.
Seeing Christie and Obama together, he muttered, â€œThis must be a dire situation because itâ€™s not easy for someone that big to kiss an ass.â€
We stayed up late talking about Jacksonian versus Hamiltonian democracy as the disaster unfolded over cable news. We didn’t agree on everything, but it was wholly amicable. I gave him a copy of Naomi Kleinâ€™s book â€œThe Shock Doctrineâ€ which he didnâ€™t immediately throw into the fire or back at me, a gesture as tender as a hug if you knew the man.
He liked it when I riffed about how the mediaâ€™s job is to locate scapegoats where they can and to create them when they canâ€™t. I did a shtick about natural disasters in Chris Rockâ€™s voice and then played him Rockâ€™s bit about why people blame music and video games when kids go on shooting rampages at public schools.
â€œWhat ever happened to CRAZY!!??â€
“What ever happened to BIG, POWERFUL, IMPLACABLE, UNAVOIDABLE, NATURAL FUCKING DISASTER!!!?”
He roared like a kid telling dirty jokes on the playground. He said all journalists were like hyenas but with less loyalty, and then told me an old one about a blind stewardess and a couple of donkeys for good measure.
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to galvanize people.
The day after the election, I caught Sandy out in the front yard taking down the Romney/Ryan and Tommy Thompson signs. He like the rest of the town was emotionally hungover from the political orgy of the past few nights. In fact, earlier in the day I actually saw a guy crying at the gas station about the election. It could have been for other reasons, but I assumed he was pissed about either Romney or Paul or Tommy. After gathering and tossing the campaign signs in the trash we went inside where the 24 hour news droned on. It was Fox News and the subject was the fiscal cliff and the end of the Bush tax cuts.
Sandy Â yelled over one the pundits, â€œBE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!!â€
â€œOf the hostâ€™s hair?â€ I added sarcastically.
â€œOf the SOCIALISTS!!â€
â€œYou mean of our democratically elected federal government whose taxes are roughly a quarter of its gross domestic product?â€
â€œA quarter given is a quarter wasted and redistributed!! Protect my shores, deliver my mail, and get the hell out of my life!! And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!!â€
Hurricane Sandy was back and no bucket brigade could stop it.