Prairie Lights: Thoughts on the imminent, we think, election


Ed Kemmick

Is it really still October?

Starting about six weeks ago, time slowed down in a way I’d never experienced before. There were some stories I wanted to finish before Election Day, but every time I’d try to remind myself how many weeks I had until then, my first thought was wrong.

At least once I was off by two full weeks. Every other time I missed it by a week. And each time I realized that the election was more distant than I’d imagined, I felt the same sense of weary dread—mixed with a guilty delight.

The delight was related to waking up every morning, grabbing my phone and Googling “Trump.” In the past three months I’m sure I have read more words about Trump than there are in “Moby Dick.” Much as I enjoyed Melville, I’m afraid I obtained more pure enjoyment from reading about Trump. It was a different kind of enjoyment—guilty, as I said, and a bit degrading—but welcome to the modern world.

You never, ever knew what he was going to say or do next. Of course, neither did he, as far as anybody knows.

I think the time started lagging because my brain was still wired for a regular election year. It measured how much election-related data I was taking in and told me a lot more time had elapsed than actually had.

You’d think all that reading about Trump would have given me some insight into his appeal. Nope. If anything, I’m more baffled by his rise than I was last year at this time. I understand what makes him so fascinating to read about, but so what? I wouldn’t vote for Captain Ahab, either.

And even if I could understand why a considerable number of people believe that living in these pastures of plenty is unspeakably awful, what does it mean to hope that Trump, the man with no plan, will “shake things up”?

I can remember as a kid being so bored in the depths of a Minnesota August that I would actually wish for an asteroid strike, or a plain old Midwestern tornado, just to shake things up. It was a harmless fantasy because I knew that my daydreams could not influence the course of natural events. This year, card-carrying adults are voting for the asteroid.

One advantage we have in Montana is our relative isolation. We can talk all we want about our supposed cachet and about having Billings appear on the cover of Outside magazine, but in fact most of the country is blissfully unaware of our existence.

For most people, “Montana” is a vaguely suggestive concept, unmoored to any geographical coordinates (witness the Reform Party candidate for president who stopped in Great Falls on Friday and said his favorite Montana city was Idaho Falls). (Nope! A reader pointed out, correctly, that the candidate actually stopped by Helena. Helena, Great Falls, Idaho Falls—it’s so hard to keep them all straight.)

For better or worse, the presidential election is unlikely to have much effect on Montana, unless you believe that Hillary Clinton—is it too early to refer to her as the presumptive president?—will singlehandedly seize all our guns or personally padlock the doors on the Colstrip power plants.

And at least we’re not California. I just got back from Sacramento, where two of my daughters and my only granddaughter now live, and where I got a close look at how complicated voting can be. Besides all the national, state and local races on the ballot, California voters will be asked to make up their minds on 17 propositions next week.

In Montana this year, we have just four ballot initiatives, which are similar to California’s propositions. And this being Montana, one of our initiatives would ban trapping on public lands. California being California, one of the 17 propositions would require the use of condoms and other protective measures during the making of pornographic films.

Californians will also vote on whether to ban the death penalty and plastic bags, and whether to legalize recreational marijuana use.

It’s amazing to think that California, that ultra-liberal outlier perched on the geographical and psychological fringes of the United States, is still voting on whether to repeal the death penalty at this late date. But California is a patchwork of mostly progressive urban islands in a sea of conservatism and Tea Partyism.

Wait, were we talking about Montana again?

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