Donald Morrison: Knock, knock, a midterm memoir

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MIAMI — Remember the midterm elections? They seem like ancient history, lost in the news of recounts, Jeff Sessions' firing as attorney general, the mass shooting and wildfires in California, the president's visit to France and his decision to invade Iran.

Just kidding about that last one, though the post-election astonishments — cynics would call them presidential distractions — do seem to be coming at us like snowflakes on the Turnpike.

So return with me to those thrilling days of yore — a week ago — when we all breathlessly awaited the blue wave. Or the red wave. Or that caravan of rapists and murderers storming the border with their baby strollers and stuffed animals.

As a journalist, I have tried to avoid direct involvement in election campaigns. Still, I always suspected I was missing something, that those frantic political operatives I covered were the ones having all the fun, not me. Then Fox News' Sean Hannity appeared alongside Trump at a recent rally, and I thought maybe I could knock on a few doors myself without mortgaging my soul.

Conveniently, my wife had a distant acquaintance running for Congress in south Florida, and I got invited along. I'm glad I went. Not only did the candidate — former University of Miami President Donna Shalala — end up winning, but the whole experience was a blast. And I learned more about the state of America today than I could in a year of Sean Hannity shows.

Our first day on the hustings, my wife was assigned to a heavily black neighborhood of crumbling apartment buildings and aging cars. The streets radiated neglect, defeat, fatigue. But not the people. Though many of them had voted early, they still wanted to talk. And talk. A frequent theme was their dissatisfaction with the way America was governed and their red-hot hope that this election would be different. And how, if it weren't, they would fight on.

MEDICAID AND VOTING

A more troubling discovery was that some of our new acquaintances were sick, or caring for ailing relatives, and weren't sure they would get to the polls. Florida is one of 18 states where the ruling Republicans have refused the Affordable Care Act's option to expand Medicaid.

That night, I stumbled across a report in a local newspaper about how expanding Medicaid increases voter turnout. The article cited evidence that access to health care makes poor people not just healthier but also wealthier, and hence more likely to vote.

The second day we were in a mostly Latino precinct, where the streets were slightly leafier, the cars newer, the potential voters younger. We were armed with a script in Spanish, but most of our prospects spoke fluent English and seemed to have steady jobs.

Just one problem. Behind too many doors we could hear kids playing and adults talking, but when we knocked silence, not even a floor squeak. The door stayed closed. Clearly, these people were afraid of something — ICE maybe? Many of them were foreign-born, but my wife was working from a list of legal, registered voters. What, we asked ourselves, has this country become?

We spent our final day in a prosperous, racially mixed neighborhood. Nearly all the prospects we met were friendly, including folks who supported the other party. We even had a nice chat with the young condo-committee member who threw us out of his building for having talked our way past lobby security (using what my wife calls elderly white privilege). Still, he thanked us for our civic efforts.

We should have thanked him, and the scores of other fellow citizens we met. If I gained anything from my brush with electoral foot soldiering, it was a realization that Americans are unexpectedly, irrepressibly, overpoweringly nice, especially when confronting each other face to face. We're better people — kinder, less divided, more open-minded — than our politicians, our press and certainly our social media lead us to believe.

That is why, next election, you just might find me knocking on your door. I know we'll have a good chat, regardless of any differences. After all, we're Americans.

Donald Morrison, an Eagle columnist and Advisory Board member, covered elections for Time Magazine.


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