(Some of what follows is speculation.)
It’s early November 1972. Two young Yale Law School students share an apartment in New Haven, Connecticut. They spend a lot of time buried in their work, poring through casebooks in libraries, writing briefs and other papers, engaging in skull sessions with fellow students. But they are also planning to get married—maybe not as soon as he would like, but soon.
One night, they’re at their kitchen table, books spread around, papers on the floor. A radio sits on the counter. It’s tuned to a Top 40 station, maybe Lucky 13 WAVZ from New Haven or WDRC from Hartford, maybe some station from Bridgeport or Waterbury or New York City.
As the work goes on, the radio plays the hits of the day. The Spinners are #1 in New Haven with “I’ll Be Around.” Curtis Mayfield, from her hometown, has his biggest hit in years, “Freddie’s Dead.” Elvis and Chuck Berry, favorites of his because what Southern boy doesn’t love Elvis and Chuck Berry, are riding high with “Burning Love” and “My Ding-a-Ling.” He finds “My Ding-a-Ling” very funny; she rolls her eyes whenever it comes on, partly at the song itself, but also at the fact that he actually likes it.
On this night, their radio plays a couple of politically themed hits: “Elected” by Alice Cooper and “Convention ’72” by the Delegates. He thinks “Convention ’72” is clever; she doesn’t have time for that nonsense. The couple is very much interested in politics, by the way. They worked for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in Texas last summer, but they know the score: McGovern is going to lose to Nixon in next week’s election, and lose badly.
They have already discussed moving back to Arkansas, his home state, after law school, so he can pursue public office. It will be easier for him to run than it will be for her, at least right now. But they both believe that there’s nothing he can do that she can’t. Women are empowered in the world of 1972 like never before, and every sensible person knows that’s the way it’s going to be from now on. As it happens, there’s a song on the radio celebrating that very idea: “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, which has just broken into New Haven’s Top 10, and which will reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of December 9, 1972.
Political opinion follows. Read at your peril.
That I am voting for Hillary Clinton will not surprise you. I would have voted for her regardless of who the Republicans put up against her, except maybe Abraham Lincoln—but a vote for her against Donald Trump seems especially important. One of the reasons is to strike a blow for forward thinking and the idea of a better shared future. (The kind of thing Helen Reddy sang of in “I Am Woman,” actually.)
Trump talks about making America great again, but there is no optimism in it. To him, America is a broken dystopia, a condition that can only be ameliorated by the application of blunt-force trauma, at home and abroad. (“The beatings will continue until morale improves”—an approach that has never worked and never will.) He never asks for sacrifice or a shared commitment to higher ideals. He speaks only of “I” and “me.” He wants nothing from his supporters but their votes, and he promises nothing but himself in the Oval Office. He has no idea what he’ll do once he gets there, beyond smashing the crockery. After that, no one knows. Not even him.
Hillary, meanwhile, is the best-qualified candidate for president since Richard Nixon in 1960, vetted by nearly 25 years of hostile media scrutiny—and still standing. If she doesn’t represent the very best America has to offer—and I don’t think she does, frankly—she certainly doesn’t represent the worst. Donald Trump does.
This election should be a slam-dunk, and a joyous, history-making event, the country’s first female president succeeding the country’s first black president. But Trump and the GOP, who either can’t see or don’t choose to see Trump as the monster he is, have turned it into a horror show whose consequences we will not escape even if Hillary wins.
Back in that New Haven kitchen 44 years ago this week, with law books spread around and Helen Reddy on the radio, it’s possible that Hillary and Bill imagined some future November like this—but not like this.