That uneasiness breaking into alarm that I felt this January: I have felt it before. The arguments about whether a “fringe” candidacy could go far, perhaps even into office: I have heard them before. The arguments about puritan posturing on whether one could vote for some loathed other candidate: I’ve had them all before.
But many of you haven’t. So I want to let you know what this is like the second time, on a national stage, with far more at stake. In this post, I’ll reflect on “Expatriate” from my current perspective. In a follow-up post, I will more specifically address the present danger.
It has been years since I reread that essay-recast-as-monologue, “Expatriate.” In last month’s rereading, three aspects of it stood out, one still strongly in memory, one dimly so, and one a surprise.
It was prescient. I griped about the media trope of crazy-Louisiana. Even then, the data about the geography and demographics of Duke’s support gave the lie, or perhaps the willful refusal to see, to that narrative isolating the white nationalist racism to my home state. It was everywhere. The ‘91 Louisiana gubernatorial race could have prompted national reflection and critique. It did not. Instead, it only prompted bemused mocking of Louisiana and its people. At the easy mockery instead of hard self-examination, I was furious — still am. Not that I intended to predict anything; it would have been great to have been wrong.
Thus the first aspect, strong in memory. We make the same mistake now by isolating or disabling discourses of “those people,” “crazy,” and “stupid.”
Stupid brings me to the second feature that struck me. I see my own internalized stigma, that belief that Louisiana voters were simply stupid. 1991-me wanted to protect herself from its contamination. This embarrasses me now. Younger self showed no awareness of social contexts that might lead to the measurable aspects of the claim, e.g. educational levels among the lowest in the nation. I failed to interrogate sheer intelligence as the definitive index of value. This is what embarrasses me now.
Feeling that embarrassment sprung on me the new insight, the surprise: I have never regretted voting for Edwin Edwards.
Not for a fucking nanosecond. So deeply that I didn’t even notice my lack of regret until a few weeks ago.
Not-regretting comes in two varieties. One is the post-decision self-check: “I didn’t like doing this, but I did it. Do I regret it now? Nah.” The other kind is when one doesn’t even do a self-check, doesn’t even notice the lack of a self-check. Not only did I not regret voting for Edwards, but it was this second kind of not-regretting — and I only noticed these twenty-five years later, when a similar situation arose on the national stage.
Let me underline something about that old essay-monologue: when Duke cast his hat in the gubernatorial ring, I was not registered to vote in Louisiana. I was a grad student in Chicago, living there at least nine months a year. Which state I voted in was entirely up to me. So it’s not that I was already registered in Louisiana and faced an unpleasant choice: I chose to register in my home state, when I had never done so before, precisely to do what bit I could to prevent a Duke victory.
Yeah, it was only one vote. But it was mine. It was what I could do.
To complicate things a bit: one can say that my little bit helped bring Edwards to a fourth term. The main upshot of that term was the legalization and expansion of casino gambling in Louisiana — something I abhor. It came with Edwards’ usual cronyism and possible mob ties. Louisiana’s poorest continued to fare poorly, and the educational sector continued to slide, as they both have continued to do under Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures. This was not good.
But what would a Duke governorship have done? It would have put overt white supremacy and anti-Semitism in power. It would have legitimized overt white supremacies in Louisiana and elsewhere. It would have increased their power, and not just in one state. It would have aided in the creation of a future in which overt racism and anti-Semitism had more power, more public attention, and more ability to continue building its power. Had I written this post just five years ago, I would have added: it would have hastened the devolution of the Republican Party from a protect-wealth party to a foster-hate party. But, well.
So I registered and voted, once in the primary for Buddy Roemer — a wonky center-right guy, then recently crossed over to the GOP and thus not my preferred party, but without Edwards-level corruption — and once in the runoff for Edwin Edwards, the epitome of Louisiana faux-populism serving crony capitalism. The first vote was not painful for me, but the second was. I did it to stop a former Klan pooh-bah from becoming governor.
Just one little vote. It was what I could do. I have never regretted it.