Waking Up

Photo courtesy of Tycho

I have often described the election of 2016 to my friends as like getting kicked in the face while sleeping. It was a day, for me, in which the world turned upside down. I had started that day with meeting up with some students from the Prep at the local airport to take a tour of some airplanes. I finished that day with voting for Hillary Clinton. Despite my support of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, she was the standard bearer of the platform with which I identify the most.(1) This support for the platform had made me appreciate the idea of progressive values even more when thinking of the policies of FDR or JFK, and now I was voting for someone who accepted those principles (especially when compared to the alternative). In addition, I also had the opportunity to vote for the first female candidate for President from any major party. I took my daughter with me into the voting both and told her what a historic moment this was, and I let her push that red button.

My wife and I put the girls to bed and started the long haul of watching the election returns coverage. As the night dragged on, we were optimistic that Hillary would win. And then the results started to get ever closer in Florida, then Ohio, then Wisconsin. We went to bed that night thinking that surely she would win by a much narrower margin than we had thought. At about 2am, I (instinctively?) woke up and checked Facebook. My thesis director from college had posted something about Michigan and commented “He’s going to win.” I immediately turned on the television and saw the headline “Donald Trump Elected President of the United States.” To this day, I can’t adequately describe how I felt in that moment. All I know is that when I woke up at 2am that night, something woke up in me. I knew the world had turned upside down and all the plans I had for finishing my pilot’s license during the summer were gone. I knew that the local Democratic forum I had created on Facebook back in late October would mean even more than it originally did. I knew that I was going to have to get more involved in politics. I knew that would probably mean running for office, whether wanted to or not. I came to quickly realize that if no candidate represents your values, your choices are get the race or stop talking. And I’m not willing to concede my ideas about good government anytime soon.

After a. lot. of consideration and conversations with my wife and friends, I decided to put my name into the local race for Borough Council to be decided in November. This is a serious decision not only because it greatly affects one’s family; not just in terms of time, energy, and money during a campaign, and (if you win) during a term in office, but also because you make your family very public. And no one wants to spend that time away from one’s family, but I reasoned that not running would possibly have a more negative impact on our future in this community than me missing a few nights during the month. The local Democratic committee gave me and my running mate the nomination in March, and we’ve been campaigning hard ever since. I know the election is a ways off, but we are facing very well-known opponents who are as well-funded. So, we have our work cut out for us, but based on feedback from friends, we are already causing people to take notice.

There are a host of issues that have compelled me to enter this race(2), but one factor is that I can no longer allow conservative candidates to run unopposed. People often say that political philosophy doesn’t make a difference at the local level. And that is true to only to a point; there is no “progressive” or “conservative” way to ensure potholes are filled. But there are approaches to governing in which a particular understanding of government does make a difference in terms of how issues are framed and understood, and debated (e.g. taxation, public schools, roads, economic development, public safety, government accountability, etc.). For example, if Republicans follow their dogma that “all tax increases are unwarranted”, then presumably, our town will never enact all-day kindergarten which would provide much-needed relief to thousands of young working parents with small children (Yes, I live in a northern NJ town that still* doesn’t have that in 2017). If we want progressive values to be reflected nationally, that process begins at the most local level. If we want democratic values to be reflected nationally, that process begins at the most local level. “All politics is local.” And regional. And national. The influence between levels of government is relational. Municipalities influence counties which influence states which influence nations which influence the world. And, as we are unfortunately seeing here in my community in various incidents of trickle-down racism, vice versa. This is not to say that our opponents in this race are bad people at all; quite the contrary. They no doubt strive to govern according to what they believe to be right. I just disagree with some of their votes and believe we can do better as our campaign slogan states: “Let’s build a #betterborough.”

Finally, I believe the 2016 election has made me appreciate in a very deep and profound way the inherent value and Constitutional protection of the freedom of the press. Trump was and is a relentless bully when it comes to the press. He even went as far as calling them the “enemy” of the American people very soon after his inauguration.(3) How more members of Congress cannot call him out for these insults on foundational American institutions is incredulous. I have come to regard as sacred those institutions who have as their only task the accurate recording of the truth in the form of actual events that affect society. Whatever happens in November, I know that I have been forever changed; I will be deeply involved in politics for the rest of my life. I may even pursue truth-telling in more professional contexts. The people in that profession inspire me. In particular, I am appreciative of journalists at the Washington Post and CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson. These and other news outlets are essential to our democracy as they seek to report the facts and engage the cultural conscience with matters of public record. They have become even more important in the age in Trump.

The age in which I woke up.


  1. The Democratic position on abortion remains a tug-of-war of extremist ideologies in which both sides refuse to accept the findings of science and common-sense ethical considerations. ↩︎
  2. Check out www.lacecole4caldwell.com to follow our campaign and learn about how you can help. ↩︎
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/business/trump-calls-the-news-media-the-enemy-of-the-people.html?_r=0 ↩︎