It’s probably not that safe for me to be on the internet today the day after the day after an election. It helps that I have the day off, a day where I can catch up on much needed sleep, do my laundry, putter around the house, hunker down with Netflix, and reflect on the state of the world. Or maybe not. Having the day off gives me too much time to sit on Facebook and watch the world yell at each other.
But it’s my day to post on Segullah, so here I am. And here are my thoughts. And they are mostly about my dad. He died this spring, and so now I feel like I can blog about his career in the United States Senate, which isn’t something I’ve ever felt like I could do. It’s also never something he wanted me or my siblings to do, so the internet is pretty free of Bennetts opining about Utah politics. Feel free to dismiss me in my indulgence and go read something else, I won’t be offended.
I was a teenager when my father first ran for Senate, and was a senior in high school when he won. His first campaign was a little mind blowing—my dad’s face on a bus? It wasn’t something we were used to, and while in comparison to national politics his campaigns were pretty tame, it still hurt to have his name dragged in various ways through various puddles of mud.
The summer after my freshman year in college, I waited tables at a restaurant down by the Grand Canyon called Jacob Lake. It was an amazing summer and the people I worked with were among the best people on the planet. I had a great time. We would do the kinds of things Mormon kids do when there is nothing to do, like play stupid games and make up skits and play volleyball and basketball and have Christmas in July. One of the things we would do was to ride in a cattle car and go out into the forest for an activity in the dark of night. We would play tag or capture the flag. On the 4th we set off makeshift fireworks. I’m still amazed nobody was set on fire.
I know traveling in a cattle car sounds sort of creepy but when you have a bunch of young Mormons crammed together in a open cattle car on the back of the truck, it’s less creepy and more hymn singing-y. (Not even joking.)
One time, there were two girls who came down to visit one of the workers. I forget the details, but we were all standing in the cattle car chatting about Provo. One of the girls said, “Ugh, I hate that Provo has such bad air. And it’s all because of stupid Geneva Steel!”
For those who aren’t familiar with the particulars of Provo, Utah Geneva Steel is a steel plant in Utah county that was blamed for a lot of the air pollution in the early 1990’s. Wikipedia tells me that at its peak, Geneva Steel was the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi and produced 60% of the steel used in the Western United States, which is actually kind of a cool little factoid, if it’s true. At the time of my father’s election, it was owned by his primary opponent, Joe Cannon. My father beat him and Democrat Wayne Owens to win the seat in 1992.
Listening to these girls talk, I said, “Aren’t you glad that the owner of that place isn’t in the Senate?” I smirked, thinking I was super clever, because they didn’t know who I was, and I was expecting to get a nice rant about my dad.
“Oh my gosh, he would be better than the guy who is in there now! Bennett for Senate? That guy looks like a ferret!”
The other girl laughed and said, “He totally does! He is a ferret! Ferret face! Ferret for Senate!”
The two girls fell over each other laughing. I stood there, my anger gathering. I didn’t say anything, just watched them. Their friend overheard them and stepped in quickly and said, “Um, I wouldn’t say that just now.”
I snarled and said, “Neither would I” and I dramatically pushed my way past them to move to the other side of the car. I heard their friend whisper to the two girls, “That’s Senator Bennett’s daughter.”
I started to cry.
The girls came and found me, calling “Heather! Heather BENNETT! Heather BENNETT!” and apologized in tears. Instead of accepting their apology, I railed at them about how their stupidity and ignorance was what was wrong with this country, and I walked away again and refused to speak to them further. When they came into the restaurant the next morning and got seated in my section, I refused to serve them, instead asking one of my fellow servers to take the table. I didn’t yell at them again, but over my dead body was I going to be nice to them. They ate without comment towards me and left.
I never told my dad this story. But it’s not because I am afraid his feelings would have been hurt because somebody compared him to a ferret (he probably would have laughed about that). It was because he would have scolded me for being so harsh to those girls. He would have told me their feelings were more important than mine, more important than his, and that I should have been gentle with them, kinder to them, that supporting Joe Cannon didn’t make them bad people and calling him a ferret was not a big deal. He would have expected better of me. He always, always expected better of me.
This election has me reeling. People I respect and love have voted for something I can’t understand. They claim to separate the platform from the man, but I don’t understand how they can do that, and it makes me angry. Really, really, REALLY angry and upset and confused and snarly. I confess I am not at my best. If the world of Trump supporters came into my proverbial restaurant, I would refuse to serve them.
And my father would be ashamed of me.
My father worked with people who disliked him all the time. He worked with people he disagreed with all the time. He worked with Ted Kennedy, he worked with Chris Dodd, he worked with Barack Obama, he worked with Hillary Clinton. He says Al Franken is a super awesome guy and was one of his favorite people in the Senate. Joe Biden called him Bishop. Every time I entered my father’s political world, I was always surprised at how congenial and polite political enemies could be. I would express my surprise to my parents, and their answer was always the same. “These are our friends. We see them every day. Why shouldn’t we get along?”
So I’m trying, TRYING to take my cues from them. The people in our lives, they are our friends, we see them every day. Why shouldn’t we get along?
The other defining characteristic of my father’s tenure in the Senate was his optimism. If he were alive, he would not have voted for Donald Trump. He said as much before he died. But if he was in the Senate today, he would do his best to work with Trump, and tell us all that everything was going to be okay. He would say, “We survived Carter, we can survive Trump.” (I was only five when Carter was president so I don’t totally know what that means, but he said it a LOT, so Carter must have been pretty bad.)
I know a lot of people reading this may also be thinking, “We aren’t going to ‘survive’ Trump–Trump is going to be GREAT! It’s exciting!”
I hope you’re right. I truly, truly do. Americans are insanely, stupidly, wildly optimistic. I hope our optimism can carry us through, and we can all get along as we move forward.
*bonus points for those who hummed Hamilton while reading this entire post.