Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
The day after the 2016 election, my children came to me with questions. They were seven and nine, and we didn’t watch televised news. But they knew about Trump’s racial insults, in part because other children repeated them. They knew he had mocked people who were ill or disabled or simply women. They heard his voice for the first time when he bragged about grabbing pussy. “But will he keep hurting people?” my seven-year-old asked when Trump became president-elect.
I tried to reassure her, but knew the truth: my children would absolutely be hurt by this president. I knew their healthcare would be under attack. I knew our international relationships would be far more precarious. I knew a failed businessman with six bankruptcies was a bad choice for the economy. I knew the refusal to address climate change could mean exponentially more damage in the years ahead.
And here we are. Storms, wildfires, and drought are ravaging the United States. Our public discourse has been distorted by misinformation campaigns. We are more vulnerable than ever to cyberthreats from adversaries, such as Russia and Iran. The greatest terror threat we face is from armed white nationalists within our borders. The president’s tax returns reveal that he’s deep in debt, a weakness with profound national security implications. He’s racking up our debt as well, adding $3.9 trillion to the deficit in a single term. And that was before the coronavirus.
Now my girls are thirteen and eleven. My younger one had her first day of middle school in her room. My older one describes what it’s like to learn algebra when the video chat keeps dropping. They go to school a couple of days a week, in masks and at a distance. They hardly see their grandparents. And like many parents and teachers, my life has been upended as we adjust to remote learning in this new America.
What a president says or doesn’t say, what he denies or withholds, supports, or suppresses, can mean life or death in our own communities. And this administration’s appalling response to the virus has meant the deaths of over 210,000 Americans and counting. This is not true of any other developed nation. In other countries, where competent leaders have been guided by science, children safely go to school.
Here, the president hosted his own super-spreader event. The White House has refused to participate in contact tracing or to release the timing of test results. No one had the decency to inform people who were exposed to the virus. Instead, President Trump broke quarantine to go joyriding and stage a photo op. These are acts of staggering cowardice.
I don’t want this to be our country’s story any longer. Most of our children can see the president is a bully, and they understand their world became more dangerous on his watch. But they’re not old enough to vote. So we, all of us, have to do that for them.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to Vote Save America.
Nalini Jones is the author of a story collection, What You Call Winter, and the recipient of an NEA fellowship, Pushcart Prize, and O. Henry Prize. She currently teaches at Columbia University and is working on a novel for Knopf.