Opinion | Potlucks, Bass Pro Shops and lab-grown meat: 5 writers capture the 2024 election (2024)

This election cycle, we’ve invited talented writers from around the country to reflect on how the political contests are manifesting in their communities. We’ll be publishing accounts from these writers at key moments leading up to Election Day. This is the second entry from these writers. See their first entry here.

Dave Barry: You can find us Floridians hiding in our bathtubs

As we draw closer to the election, the mood down here in Florida — yes, I speak for all of Florida — is tense.

For one thing, we’re in the summer months, when our state has essentially the same climate as a sumo wrestler’s armpit. It’s a season of sweltering heat, of mosquitoes large enough to have tail numbers, of lizards and snakes slithering everywhere. And that’s inside your house. It’s even worse outside, which is why nobody goes outside except golfers and paramedics responding to fallen golfers.

On top of that, we’re in hurricane season, which because of the Global Climate Emergency Disaster Crisis now runs from June through the following June. This is an especially uneasy time for Floridians because we are constantly being reminded by helpful government agencies that we could die. For example, as a resident of Miami-Dade County, I recently received a hurricane-preparedness guide from the mayor’s office. The section titled “STAYING SAFE” includes this advice:

“Get in the bathtub and pull a mattress over you to protect yourself from debris if your home begins to come apart.”

Here’s the thing: I have enough trouble just putting a fitted sheet on my mattress. My mattress is a king, and it strenuously resists my efforts to sheet it, very much the way a wild stallion refuses to be broken to the saddle. I seriously doubt that I’d be physically capable of herding that thing into the bathroom in a timely manner, especially if the house was coming apart. I’m wondering whether I should buy an emergency backup mattress and just keep it on the bathtub full-time.

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My point is, Floridians are under a lot of stress, and not just because of hurricanes. We’re also threatened by a threat so threatening that the state legislature recently passed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed, a bill banning it.

I refer, of course, to lab-grown meat. To quote the official press release issued by the governor’s office (I am not making this up):

“Florida is taking action to stop the World Economic Forum’s goal of forcing the world to eat lab-grown meat and insects. ... ‘Today, Florida is fighting back against the global elite’s plan to force the world to eat meat grown in a petri dish or bugs to achieve their authoritarian goals,’ said Governor Ron DeSantis.”

That’s right. Perhaps in other states, agents of the World Economic Forum are free to barge into the homes of innocent civilians and force them to eat insects and lab-grown meat. But that’s not going to happen in Florida. Not on Ron DeSantis’s watch, dammit.

Forgive my salty language, but as I say, we’re under a lot of stress down here, what with the hurricanes and the global elites and the fact that our pizza sucks, according to the 14 million New Yorkers who moved here in the past year. Floridians have a lot on our plate, and to be honest, we haven’t been able to give much thought to the election. But we know it’s coming, and when it gets here, we’ll be ready for it.

In our bathtubs.

Dave Barry is a novelist and a former humor columnist for the Miami Herald.

Angela Garbes: A referendum on taxing Washington’s billionaires

Summers in Washington state play out on its waterways — floating the Yakima River, camping on the Olympic Coast, kayaking Puget Sound. And for some of America’s wealthiest: boating on Lake Washington.

The lake, just east of Seattle, boasts its share of famous billionaires — Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Jeff Bezos (though Bezos, who owns The Post, primarily lives in Florida). But if you think such a concentration of wealth is a good thing for the state’s finances, think again. That’s because it has no income tax.

Washington is part of the “blue wall” and has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1988, which is not likely to change in 2024. Still, the state’s tax code is far from progressive. In fact, it’s the second-most-regressive in the country, behind Bezos’s Florida.

The issue could play an important role in the state this November. That’s because two tax-related initiatives — one in Seattle, one statewide — will be on the ballot.

The first measure, known as Initiative 136, would impose on Seattle employers a 5 percent payroll tax on employee earnings in excess of $1 million, as a funding stream for mixed-income housing. Throughout the spring and early summer, organizers approached residents at more than a dozen of the city’s farmers markets, grocery stores and Pride celebrations to discuss the initiative. At the annual Georgetown Carnival, backers of the initiative chatted up voters amid the tarot card readings, a kid’s face-painting station, and kettle corn and lemonade stands. “Want to help us build affordable housing?” the signature gatherers asked. “Let’s tax corporations!” The campaign gathered enough signatures to earn a place on November’s ballot.

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The second initiative, which has already gained a spot on the ballot statewide, moves in the opposite direction. It would repeal a capital gains tax that the state legislature passed in 2021. Last year, only 4,000 people were subject to the tax, which applies to the sale or exchange of certain assets by individuals who have annual capital gains of more than $250,000. Yet the provision generated $900 million for child care and education.

Republicans support the repeal measure because, according to state Rep. Jim Walsh, it’s the way it’s always been. “Washington has a long tradition, both legal and cultural, of prohibiting a state income tax,” he said. “Every other state that has a capital gains tax considers it an income tax.”

Walsh is right about one thing: Washington voters have long resisted such efforts. Between 1934 and 2010, 10 attempts were made to adopt a personal or corporate income tax. All of them failed.

But that doesn’t mean efforts to tax the wealthy are doomed. While the feeling here about the presidential election is still one of malaise, there’s a buzz of curiosity amid Washingtonians about how these initiatives will fare. They will show just how many neighbors are liberal in the streets but conservative behind closed doors.

Angela Garbes is a nonfiction author based in Seattle.

Melissa Fay Greene: Black Georgians have become kingmakers. But will they all vote?

“Do you think your vote matters?” an Atlanta professor recently asked a focus group of African Americans in Dougherty County, Ga.

The mostly male subjects from the majority-Black county in the Cotton Belt sounded dejected.

“The people in power are White and higher class,” one said. “Our issues, you know, don’t get solved.”

Four years ago, the votes of Black Georgians — one-third of the population — mattered mightily. They were kingmakers, flipping Georgia for Joe Biden. Whether they deliver the swing state again this fall is what everyone wants to know. Black women, loyal voters, will return. But will Black men navigate the state’s new voting impediments without a Barack Obama or Raphael Warnock on the ballot?

From near and far, the voting patterns of Black male Georgians are being tracked as closely as the migrations of Amur falcons, whose numbers thrill ornithologists from Siberia to Angola. “Look at the horizon — they’re coming!” could arise from either set of onlookers.

One observer is Kevin Sparrow, assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University, in partnership with the nonprofit Justice for Southwest Georgia (JSWGA).

“What do you look for in a candidate?” Sparrow asked the volunteers.

“My parents always said, ‘Pick the least dangerous person,’” said George Fox, 76. “It wasn’t ‘Hey, who’s the best candidate?’ Back in the day, it was ‘Who’s the least likely to do something dastardly to us?’”

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As part of a field experiment, Sparrow showed them four text messages designed to spur Black turnout in the May primary.

“TOMORROW is Election Day. For information, please visit …” didn’t offend anybody.

But another did. “DO YOUR CIVIC DUTY — VOTE!” it exhorted.

“Well, that’s irritating,” Fox said. “Don’t be telling me what to do. Because I’m already going to do it.”

“It’s not engaging,” said Chris Sloan, 31. “What about ‘Come on down to the polls’?”

The third message offered a map that would display, after the election, the names of who voted and who stayed home, as a form of social pressure.

“In my experience,” a 28-year-old commented dryly, “a lot of people don’t appreciate their information being out there.” A man who revealed he’d once been a voter with a good job but was now unemployed, unhoused and unregistered protested, too: “I’ll feel shame.”

The last message urged African American voters to stick together.

“No,” said Fox. “Because each African American got their own problems.”

The JSWGA sent text messages at random to 7,000 local Black adults on May 20, while a control group of the same number received none. The next day, citizens voted (or not) for the U.S. House of Representatives, county commission, sheriff and school board.

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It wasn’t a high-stakes election, and turnout was low. But Sparrow was able to cross-check who voted against who received which text message.

The texts had zero effect on Black women, perhaps because they didn’t need them. But all the texts positively influenced Black men, who voted at higher rates than nonrecipients.

What’s the lesson? When Sparrow had asked, “Do you think your vote matters?,” it was practically like asking, “Do you think you matter?” Focus group members had said no.

Evidently, when texts pinged the phones of a random sample of local Black men, it meant something. However briefly, somebody somewhere thought they mattered.

Melissa Fay Greene is a nonfiction author based in Atlanta.

John Grogan: A potluck to save democracy

My friends Dan and Ronnie live in an old stone farmhouse a half-mile down the road from my own 18th-century stone home. This is Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, the battleground region of a battleground state, and these old homesteads dot the landscape, monuments to our nation’s founding.

Like me, Dan and Ronnie celebrate their home’s roots, its creaks and quirks and all the reminders around them of the past. You can’t live in one of these relics without feeling the ancestors who came before — tossing hay from the barn loft, kindling fires in the hearth and, yes, taking up arms for independence.

And now, here we are not too many generations later, with our nation’s fledgling experiment in democracy on the line. Mindful of that, Dan and Ronnie, both retired educators, threw a potluck picnic recently to rally Democratic volunteers. I’m not much of a joiner and not much of a volunteer, but I do love a picnic and I am worried for the future of this country.

Honestly, I expected the turnout to be primarily graying boomers like myself. I was surprised to find a diverse group: retirees, moms with toddlers, tattooed working guys, newly launched twenty-somethings, a gaggle of teens from our local high school’s Democratic club. A man named Allen sported a magnificent, braided beard and told me he spends his weekends vying in facial-hair competitions. Who knew?

As we mingled over fried chicken and potato salad, I felt something I have not felt in some time: community with a shared purpose.

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Talking with these Democrats, young and old, doe-eyed and jaded, I came away with one strong impression. They were not here so much out of love for President Biden (though they generally support him) or to advance the party’s policy positions (though they generally agree). They are stepping forward to do whatever it takes — knocking on doors, engaging nonvoters, trying to change minds — for one existential reason: to save our fragile democracy from what well could be its unraveling.

Many expressed bafflement that so many of their neighbors could support the return of a man who, by almost any measure of decency, behaves horribly and singlehandedly steered the nation into four years of chaos that did not end until the Jan. 6 sacking of the Capitol was finally put down. Does no one remember? Were no lessons learned?

As I pulled out of Dan and Ronnie’s driveway, feeling newly optimistic about this place I’ve called home for 25 years, I was confronted by what these volunteers will face when they begin knocking on doors. Directly across the road stood a series of homemade pro-Trump yard signs. “SHAM TRIAL, SHAM VERDICT,” one read.

I later asked Dan about his neighbor.

“Nicest guy in the world,” he said. “Would do anything for you.” He paused a beat and added, “We just never bring up politics.”

John Grogan is a nonfiction author and former columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Charles Yu: Finding refuge in retail

We got one. Our town finally got a Bass Pro Shops. And not just any. A jumbo. It feels Peak Civilization to walk into a building called “Outdoor World” and get blasted in the face with air-conditioning.

Families stream through the doors. The mood as we enter is giddy, kids bouncing with nervous energy like they’re in line at Disneyland. There’s an anticipation of spectacle. It does not disappoint.

Entering the structure, a feeling rises up in me, vaguely familiar. I’m reminded of a casino or a convention center. There are no rides or characters in here, but, spiritually, this is a theme park, a highly designed environment engineered to entertain. To hit pleasure centers of the brain with accuracy and efficiency. To present a fantasy. It says: You’re small, nature is vast and wild, but we can tame it. Look at our shelves and aisles and displays! Look at our fish tank! Bass Pro Shops makes sense of the world for us.

We leave our small boxes to come to this big box to be together with strangers for a little while. To marvel at the bounty and variety. To forage for resources and gather supplies in a well-lit, climate-controlled space. In here, there’s no weather we can’t control. No looming existential threats, political, meteorological. Fall seems far away. The election seems far away. Bass Pro Shops isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. It dissolves our differences. It dampens our anxiety. It says: Don’t worry. Don’t worry about later. Don’t worry about over there. Everything’s fine. You’re fine, I’m fine, we’re all fine. It’s always dry and cool here within the walls of Retail World. Summer Vacation World. Citizen-shoppers, with our membership cards. You’re not alone. You’re part of something bigger.

We move onto Costco to gather food. I hear a woman, then I smell her, then I see her. When I do see her, the scent makes sense. She’s wearing so much perfume, it should be radiating from her in wavy lines, like in a cartoon. Perfume Woman is excited about something. She leans into the lady giving out samples and says, “He’s coming.” Sample Lady is momentarily confused.

“Who is?”

“Trump.”

“Oh.”

“Huntington Beach.”

“Right.”

“I gotta get down there and see him.”

There’s an awkward moment between them. Presumed chumminess from Perfume Woman gives way to a new understanding: Sample Lady is not her friend. Although it’s unclear whether they even knew each other at all, or if Perfume Woman was simply assuming that everyone in Costco, or Irvine, or the country, would be as excited as she was. No matter. She’s on to the next sample station, her enthusiasm undiminished. She’s giddy with the buzz of a shared experience. We might vote differently,Perfume Woman and me. We might not agree on a single, solitary issue, but in here, in this moment, we’re the same. Participating in a communal ritual: the harvest at Costco. It feels comforting, it feels good.

We bring home our bounty, stack it, store it, look upon the abundance. Grilling with another dad, while moms and kids chat excitedly about summer plans. We’re both very concerned. We’re all thinking of our kids. And their kids. Everything is not going to be fine. It’s already not fine. We know it. Our kids know it. What do we do about it? We sip our beers, carry plates of burgers inside, where it’s cool.

Charles Yu is a novelist and screenwriter based in Irvine, Calif.

Opinion | Potlucks, Bass Pro Shops and lab-grown meat: 5 writers capture the 2024 election (2024)

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