This bitter battle won't end on election day
When it's all over. Oh, when it's all over.
The weekend after the election I have three invitations to parties, each in their own way heralding the end of an election that has had a gestation period longer than an elephant. One being thrown by British friends will introduce Americans to Guy Fawkes night - an occasion celebrated to mark the thwarting of a dastardly plot by an insurgent outsider who tried to put a bomb under the establishment (why does that theme feel familiar?).
The other two are a "thank god it's all over" party.
On my way up to Detroit on Monday, I bumped into one of the senior US network political commentators, and we were chewing the fat. He said that after the Trump rally he was driving to Wisconsin to be on the network breakfast show the next day. Long day, I commiserated. He said "Yeah, and it's been like that every day these last 18 months."
Now he was warming to his theme. "And I tell you what, I'm not going to be one of those guys in a few months' time who will be talking nostalgically about what a blast it was covering this election. It hasn't been. I'm never doing this again." This is someone who has covered every election since 1992 for his news organisation.
I don't feel like that. Sure, I share some of the tiredness. I left Washington, DC early this morning, and I started writing this on the plane coming home - we landed at Reagan National Airport close to midnight. And no doubt the same awaits me tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. But I make absolutely no complaint.
It has been an amazing election to cover. Unpredictable, unknowable, unforgettable - and sometimes, yes, unfathomable.
- Clinton emails - what's it all about?
- Clinton FBI probe: What we know
- The Weiner and Abedin marriage
- Predict the president - play our game
- Our full election coverage
It has taken the professional journalist class out of its comfort zone - today literally when Trump rally attendees started shouting and bawling at the press for no apparent reason. I don't know why they don't just go medieval, and have some Trump-branded stocks at each event where a few journalists can be pilloried and have rotten vegetables thrown at them. And metaphorically too, as we have sought to explain to our audience the roiling anger of so many Americans towards the establishment - whether that be political, media or financial.
The next week is, I suspect, going to be as exciting as any in my 30 plus years as a journalist. Election day is always magnificent wherever you are - the day when the politicians stop speaking, and it is the turn of the people. For all the sophistication there is in polling and big data and targeting, and getting out the vote - no one knows anything for certain until the votes are counted. And who would dare to make rash predictions about this race?
And this is where my unease sets in. Believe me, I want to party the weekend after next. I want to have a beer in one hand and a canape in the other discussing all the normal things we'll do now the election is over - the reintroducing of ourselves to our loved ones, the long walks with the dog, the lazy brunches reading the arts section of the New York Times - not just the news and commentary. The time to sit and be. And no longer getting on flights to swing states.
But do you believe on the night of 8 November all will be done and dusted - the 2016 election wrapped in tissue paper with a neat ribbon and bow? That whoever wins will be congratulated by a gracious opponent? The loser disappearing quietly into a late autumn mist of swirling leaves and weak, slanting sunlight? Proclaiming my time in the limelight is done? The harsh words traded forgotten, the bitter threats extinguished, the rancour run its course, the poison drained? Oh, believe me, I'd love to think so.
This is the election that has brought us the email scandal, the Donald Trump-grabbing-women's-genitalia tape, then the procession of women claiming he sexual abused them. We've had his refusal to release his tax returns, the drip, drip of Wikileaks, claims about Clinton Foundation fundraising and the Hillary Clinton campaign's inability to communicate clearly when she collapsed with pneumonia on 9/11. And that's just the past few weeks.
No, this isn't going to go away because this is an election that won't heal the differences cleaving at American society; this is an election that has widened them.
Just say Hillary Clinton does win (still the likeliest scenario given key swing poll data), there are likely to have been some 50 million Americans who not only voted against her (that is normal), but who fervently believe she is a criminal who should be locked up. And at Trump rallies they chant of little else. Governing is going to be far from straightforward. All the talk of the election being rigged only adds to that sense of corrosion.
So, in my judgement the fireworks will continue long after 8 November. Maybe I should stick to soft drinks at my weekend of partying.