It’s Not Easy Being an Optimist in Maine
We have late-spring storms and high-stakes Senate races. But we also have lobster and Patty Griffin.
By Jennifer Finney Boylan
Contributing Opinion Writer
Oct. 14, 2020, 5:04 a.m. ET
The optimist, according to an old joke, believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears that the optimist is right.
Mainers are accustomed to second-guessing good news. Which is what you’d do, too, if you’d experienced enough late-season ice storms. This year, over 200,000 of us lost power in the wake of a furious blizzard. In April.
Maybe this is what gives so many Mainers a dark turn of mind. There’s a story about the time Mark Twain gave a reading at a bookstore near Bangor, to a crowd that mostly sat there in stony silence. Afterward, Twain heard a couple talking. The wife said, “I think he might have been the funniest person I’ve heard in my life.”
The husband replied, “I’ll tell ya, he was so funny, it was all I could to do keep from laughing.”
Maine voters aren’t laughing this fall. Everything feels too high-stakes. Our Senate race — Senator Susan Collins versus the Maine House speaker, Sara Gideon — might well decide whether the Democrats take back that chamber.
But it’s not just the high stakes that have us on edge; it’s also the race itself. This month, the Wesleyan Media Project described the Maine Senate race as the most negative in the country. (One of the nicest of the negative ads says, “Gideon had her cake — and ate it too!”) A Bangor Daily News poll released last week found Ms. Gideon and Senator Collins within a single point of each other. Last month, in an act that one lawmaker called “political terrorism,” unknown persons in Bowdoinham burned a sculpture of a donkey. And over in Rockland, two police officers were fired after beating porcupines to death with their nightsticks.
The porcupine slayers don’t appear to have been politically motivated, but the story feels very 2020 to me. These are dark days, man.
Last Monday, in hopes of finding a little escape, my wife and I drove out to Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island. Our route took us through both of our state’s congressional districts — the reliably blue First, which went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the rural and more conservative Second, which went for Donald Trump. I tried to get a sense of how the 2020 Maine vote is going to go by counting yard signs. My poll gave an edge to Joe Biden and Ms. Gideon — but just barely. (There was also one sign still up for Bernie Sanders, an act of defiance I found very on brand.)
A Trump-Pence sign in Trenton had been edited by someone with a can of spray paint; the candidates’ names had been overwritten with a big orange “$750” (the amount of taxes Mr. Trump paid in 2016).
As we drove toward the coast we also saw lots of ghosts and skeletons and gravestones, evidence that many Mainers take Halloween almost as seriously as Christmas. In one yard a pair of zombie hands rose out of a tomb. Not far away was a sign: “TRUMP.”
It was impossible, in looking at that display, not to wonder whether the president, too, might somehow rise from the near-dead. It’s happened before, of course. Four years ago — almost to the day — we were all reeling from the “grab them by the pussy” tape. How confident I was then that Americans would find this kind of talk repulsive! How sure I was that we were just weeks away from electing our first female president! I was wrong, of course.
The pessimist says, “Things can’t get any worse.” The optimist says, “Oh, yes they can!”