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.
“I’m your wall between the American Dream and chaos,” Trump warns a crowd in northern Minnesota, deriding “far-left riders” rampaging across Minneapolis and the state. This is his convenient spin on the civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder. Since I live in a neighborhood that was intimately affected by this unrest, his distortion feels personal, if entirely predictable.
I think back to that week, trying to recall the actual fears I had. Fear from watching a man be murdered on camera. Fear that the cops wouldn’t be charged. Fear of the increasing presence of men with guns in our neighborhoods, from the police to individuals to the national guard. Fears born out of confusion: Who was in the unmarked trucks speeding around our streets? Was the gas tanker that we watched drive into a group of peaceful protestors on the I-35 bridge really an accident? Who was the heavily disguised man seen in a widely circulated video smashing windows while other protestors asked him to stop?
That last question was answered two months later when the police arson investigator identified the man as a member of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang, stating in an affidavit: “Until the actions of the person your affiant has been calling ‘Umbrella Man,’ the protests had been relatively peaceful. The actions of this person created an atmosphere of hostility and tension.” With prior convictions for domestic violence and assault, he was also connected to the harassment of a Muslim woman at an outdoor restaurant in Stillwater in June.
That man comes to my mind when Trump returns to northern Minnesota for a campaign rally, pivoting his fearmongering from protesters to refugees, our state’s large Somali community in particular, and representative Ilhan Omar personally.
As Trump nonsensically states that Biden will turn our state into “a refugee camp,” I think also of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd. A resident of Oakdale, not Minneapolis, who was registered to vote in Florida, not Minnesota, Chauvin was an outsider to the community he policed, and even before killing Floyd, his ability to keep the peace had been questioned.
There is so much to be done to create true safety in our communities, so much that goes beyond the presidency. But let’s make it easier on ourselves by electing a president who doesn’t thrive on the ruse of law and order, who doesn’t tell a white supremacist group to “stand by” one day and then claim he “will make America safe again” the next.
I have to admit something: I’m not sure if these words will matter at all. I struggle to understand what might move someone who is still undecided at this point. Attempts to persuade feel futile, even naïve. Throughout the past four years, facts have seemed to matter less and less, so much so that sometimes nothing seems to matter. And that is itself a threat to law and order: the nihilism and solipsism that arise from total distrust in each other and our institutions.
So, I’m writing anyway, against the idea that we live in completely unbridgeable realities with separate sets of facts and fears, toward the idea that most of us just want to be safe — again or for the first time.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to the Philando Castile Relief Foundation.
Lisa Dusenbery is a writer, editor, and fact-checker.