The day begins with a hangover. Not the Morning After fog that follows a 14.5% New Zealand Pinot Noir from Mount Difficulty, but the dopey-sleepy feeling that comes from listening to the World Service all through the night. A Day After-the-Election hangover.
Despite all the predictions, I thought things would turn out better. Election night was spent with old friends from California. It’s a friendship that stretches back three generations. My husband’s grandfather and Ralph’s father were both plant collectors with a shared passion for camellia family. But, much as I love camellias, it’s the business begun by Ralph’s father that fascinates me. A pioneer in the field of music publishing, Ralph Sr was the sound engineer at the first recordings of Mamie Smith’s Crazy Blues and the earliest sessions by Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong.
He had a rare musical intelligence, recognising the importance of the blues, but also the value of the indigenous ‘country’ music. In the 1920s, he set up Southern Music Publishing, acquiring copyrights of classics such as Georgia on my Mind, Will the Circle be Unbroken and You are My Sunshine.
His son runs the business, now called Peer Music, with 32 offices in 28 countries. His world stretches far beyond the wheat fields of Suffolk, and he worries about my provincial optimism. Ralph and Liz aren’t yellow-dog Democrats, but intellectual liberals and fiscal conservatives, a category I’ve edged into over the years.
And, of course, Ralph is right. At the Morning-After breakfast, he never says ‘I told you so’, only that at least Harry Reid defeated the Tea Party favourite who believes that American cities are run by Sharia law and Hispanics look like Asians.
It feels weirdly familiar, what Joe DiMaggio called ‘Déjà vu all over again’. Only a few months ago, the General Election in Britain revealed a country ‘more divided than ever’, and resulted in a Coalition Government. Compared with a Republican Congress and a Democrat Senate, the Coalition feels like a civilised and intelligent utopia.
After Ralph and Liz drive off, I go online to see the full extent of the damage. It looks grim. The last email is from my friend Susie in Maine: ‘What a bummer. We got a Creationist Tea Party governor in Maine who won by a small margin-38% to 36%-over Eliot Cutler, an old friend running as an Independent.
A smart guy with a great and varied background-he helped draft the Clean Air Act back in the 1970s, worked in the office of the Budget during the Carter years and as a lawyer in DC, opening an office for his firm in Beijing three years ago. Instead of Eliot, we elected Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville, Maine, who’s the general manager of a chain of discount stores.’
After cringing over the loss of the ‘one-of-us’ Mr Cutler, I Googled the Governor-elect. The eldest son of 18 children who grew up speaking French in bleak poverty, Mr LePage left home aged 11 to escape a violent father, and lived on the streets for two years. At 13, he got jobs washing dishes and loading trucks, somehow managed to get into college at 18, eventually earning an MBA from the University of Maine.
I’m not saying that I could vote for Mr LePage. I’m just saying that there are two sides to this story, and until we can admit that, we’ll never find a common humanity. Every election of our lives will be a stalemate.
A century ago, Emerson wrote that ‘there are always two parties: the Establishment and the movement’. Now that the Tea Party has joined the Establish-ment by getting supporters such as Mr LePage elected, I’d like to see a new movement emerge. We’ve endured this sunless
battleground too long and we need the sunlight of reconciliation. Meanwhile, You are my sunshine keeps ringing in my ears. And the refrain: ‘Please don’t take my sunshine away.’