You can feel the tension. Strolling down the street, shopping at the corner market, stopping for a bite at the local tavern, friends and neighbors greet each other as usual but avoid the elephant sauntering around like he owns the place.
It's best not to talk politics this close to the election.
But when an impudent columnist asks the next fellow in the grocery line -- "Have you voted yet?" -- and his answer hints at a Trump ballot, neighboring eyes cast downward, while sparks sizzle in their human casings.
A brief frisson has transpired. Chuckling nervously, we plunge through the door into a cool, sunny breeze, thinking: Thank God this will be over soon.
No one knows, but a sense of dread has attached to the "Day After." This is because after 18 months of rabble-rousing and anger management (not in a good way), we've created a sort of Potemkin nightmare of partisan division and revolutionary strife. Never before has this country been so divided,goes the usual chorus of pundits and commentators.
Except, that is, for every other election year since voting began.
Our Founding Fathers, for all their cleverness, were hardly soft-spoken. The Civil War needs no editorial comment. The 1960s weren't exactly a paddleboat cruise down the Mississippi.
In other words, our politics have always been thus, though with one significant difference. Whereas Paul Revere had to ride several hours on horseback to deliver the news that the British were coming, we never stop receiving news of everything, everywhere in real time that passes before we can stand athwart history and gasp, "Oh, my G0D, no!"
Through media in all its forms, we exhaust and are exhausted by the insignificant. To tune in is to believe that Western civilization is nearing collapse, regardless of who holsters up and swaggers into the White House next January. Which is precisely what you're supposed to think. You're supposed to think everything is falling apart. You're supposed to believe that life has never been worse.
Donald Trump was right when he said the system is rigged, but not in the way he meant. It isn't rigged against him. He's part of the ecosystem of media, political consultants, producers, politicians and propagandists that are rigged against The People -- and it's working just fine. Everyone's in on the same game, which is essentially to ensure that The People gobble up what they've been serving -- and what they're serving is resentment, fear and anger.
Sure, people were upset about stuff. But what we feel now was mass-produced by a propaganda industry that profits most when people are worked up.
You want a good money tip? Invest in outrage.
As Nov. 9 dawns, Americans are sure to be mad as hell. Those happy with the victor will be re-angry soon enough when they realize they won't be getting what they were promised. This is the good news. Thanks to the brilliance of our tripartite government, nobody gets to be dictator. And despite what nearly everyone seems to believe, our "broken government" works pretty well most of the time.
If Trump wins, he'll be held in check more or less by the House and Senate because that's the way our system of government is set up. Not even Republicans are eager to follow Trump's lead.
There won't be a wall. He won't impose any religion-based immigration restrictions because even Trump isn't that lame-brained. He'll dress up and behave at state dinners and be funny when called upon. He'll even invite the media to the White House holiday party. He won't nuke Iran for rude gestures, or assault women. He and Vladimir Putin will hate each other, respectfully.
If Hillary Clinton wins, she's not going to suddenly become a lunatic. As a senator, she worked across the aisle and earned the admiration of her colleagues. She'll manage the military because she, like Trump, honors the troops and they know it. She'll make sure her Supreme Court appointments will protect Roe v. Wade, but otherwise, the jury's always out. Former Justice David Souter and Chief Justice John Roberts both demonstrated the box-of-chocolates rule: You never know (exactly) what you'll get.
The same, alas, can be said about both Clinton and Trump. Whatever they've projected or promised won't be reflected in the reality of the presidency. It never is. Whatever they may wish to be, the president is only one-third of the equation -- granted, with an armed force.
On a happier note, either way -- cue Gloria Gaynor -- oh, yes, we will survive.