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723: Squeaker

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Prologue: Prologue

Announcer

A quick warning, there are curse words that are unbeeped in today's episode of this show. If you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website, thisamericanlife.org.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Kim Hood

Raise your hand if you are in Georgia, ready to start curing ballots and fight for every vote.

Ira Glass

1:00 PM Wednesday, the day after the election-- Democrat volunteer Kim Hood runs a training on Zoom for 500 other Democrat volunteers who are going to go out and cure ballots in Georgia. "Cure" means tracking down voters whose mail-in ballots had a problem with the signature or whatever, and they've been rejected so they don't count. Curing is the word they use for fixing the ballots. Another word you hear a lot-- "rescuing."

Kim Hood

All eyes in this country are on Georgia right now. Everybody, shake it off. Get rid of that excess energy and all those nerves. We're about to channel it. Normally, this is a super polished training, but it is-- I have not been to sleep.

Ira Glass

You can see how they could feel like all of this could come down to them. In Georgia, it was so close-- so close all week-- between the president and Joe Biden. Out of nearly 5 million votes cast, at times, the candidates were just 1,100 votes apart. And the trainers explain to the group that there are over 5,000 votes out there that they can cure, mail-in ballots and provisional ballots. So after the training, people fan out, get on phones, knock on doors.

Marla Cureton

Hi. Is Trevor home?

Ira Glass

Trevor is at college, the woman says. It's Wednesday night in the Atlanta suburbs. Marla Cureton is the volunteer who stopped by to find Trevor.

Marla Cureton

Oh, OK. He came up on a rejected absentee ballot list. And so we're just tracking down and seeing that people are able to resolve their--

Ira Glass

"So his vote's not counted?" the woman at the door says.

Marla Cureton

Well, it's not over yet. He has until Friday at 6:00 to cure his ballot.

Ira Glass

Marla gives her a packet of materials and explains he basically just has to sign an affidavit and photograph that and his photo ID and email them into the county. Back in the car, Marla describes how she ended up deciding to volunteer for this after seeing President Trump win so many voters, state after state, just the night before on election night.

Marla Cureton

A lot of us women of color, African-American women like myself, had a lot of anger to express this morning. Even when we realized, we were like, we think Biden is going to pull this out. We believe this. But my god, it shouldn't have been this close. And what does that say? And there is a lot of anger to get out about that. And a lot of the women who are white allies also, it's just like, we were just, in our hearts, we realized we never thought it would be this close. But by the time noon and 1:00 PM came around, it's like, OK, we'll come back to that later. We've got to get these votes.

Ira Glass

It's tedious work. A volunteer named Erika Meyer who's doing this by phone told me that, in her three-hour shift on Wednesday, she reached maybe one person for every 10 calls she made.

Erika Meyer

It's definitely mostly voicemails.

Ira Glass

How many ballots did you fix?

Erika Meyer

Five.

Ira Glass

In three hours?

Erika Meyer

Yeah. It's not a very big return on investment.

Ira Glass

How do you feel about that? Does it feel like just a drop in the ocean? Do you feel like-- does it feel important?

Erika Meyer

I kind of swing back and forth on a pendulum of political despair. [LAUGHS] Sometimes it feels like-- especially if I have a successful conversation with a voter, then you're like, yes! That was so great. Then you kind of ride that high for a little while. But when I look at the clock and see how much time all these calls have taken, and this-- yeah, as you say, a drop in the ocean.

Ira Glass

So there's a big Zoom training that the Democrats did in Georgia today for volunteers curing votes. And during that training, they said that before you help the voter, be sure the voter is voting for the Democrats. Were you told that in your training?

Erika Meyer

I don't recall hearing that. But I do know that in our script, one of the first questions is, were you supporting Democrats on your ballot?

Ira Glass

And if they say no, are you supposed to hang up?

Erika Meyer

Thank them for their time and hang up, yeah.

Ira Glass

Would you be able to do it? You know what I mean? It's like-- really, there's no pretense that this is about democracy and counting every ballot. At that point, it's just about winning.

Erika Meyer

I mean, if somebody said I voted for Trump, but I'm really disappointed that my vote isn't going to count, I couldn't sleep at night if I knew that I had suppressed their vote.

Ira Glass

So you would help them.

Erika Meyer

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Yeah?

Erika Meyer

We can't say we want it and then not do it.

Ira Glass

Have you had to do that?

Erika Meyer

Well, I had one person yell at me, "Trump 2020," and then hang up, so I didn't have to do it. [CHUCKLES]

Ira Glass

Well, today on our program-- after an election week full of uncertainty, even after news organizations looked at the results and called the election for Joe Biden, there's still MORE uncertainty. President Trump has not conceded, he's called the vote counts fraudulent, so today we have stories of people all over the country living through this weird-- I don't know what to call it-- gravityless limbo of uncertainty that we have all been floating through since Tuesday. Speaking for myself, checking the news compulsively.

The Washington Post called the day after the election this Wednesday "a hump day for the ages." All of us wondering, how is this going to end? Our fellow citizens going through that. Stay with us.

Act One: Virginia

Ira Glass

Act One, Virginia. So Mike Giglio is a reporter who's been following militia groups for the last year, interviewing the men in them, including lots of guys who've been bracing for civil war. Over the last few weeks, when President Trump repeatedly encouraged his supporters to go to polling stations and, quote, "watch very carefully on Election Day," Mike wondered if any of these groups and those guys he knew would heed the call. Here's Mike.

Mike Giglio

When I called Joe Klemm, the leader of a militia in Virginia called the Ridge Runners, he told me that's exactly what they were getting ready to do. So I joined them for a pre-election training session in the Appalachian Mountains one chilly Saturday morning three weeks ago. Joe wouldn't tell me the location over the phone, so I met him and about a dozen other guys in camo at a McDonald's and followed them to a large farm. They start the day standing at attention behind an abandoned building with their AR-15s.

Joe Klemm

Parade rest! Morning, gents. Glad to see you all here. Thank you all for coming out. Just real quick, we're going to go over a couple of things today.

Mike Giglio

That's Joe. He's a muscular 29-year-old who looks exactly like the former Marine sergeant he tells me he is.

Joe Klemm

Just want to kind of bring this all to the forefront of all of your minds with the election on the way. We will need to stay vigilant. Right now, we're all-- I've been collaborating with a lot of the other group commanders in the area. Each group is going to have a set number of polling sites that we're going to be responsible for. Each polling site is going to have two, hopefully three, gray men operating at that site.

Mike Giglio

Gray men-- that means men in plainclothes trying to blend into the crowds at the polling stations. Joe tells me what they're looking for is groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, who they believe could disrupt the election, intimidate voters, or commit fraud. They get this from the president. Trump and right-wing media have been raising these fears without evidence for months.

Everyone in Joe's militia is white. The question of whether militias are synonymous with white nationalists always comes up with groups like this, and they almost always reject that label. All of the places that Joe imagines might be hotspots on Election Day are nearby cities with lots of people of color. But he and his members insist they're not racist.

Before January, when Joe started the group, most of these guys didn't know each other. Joe's one the most intense people I've met in the militias. And when he talks, people tend to snap to attention. He tells me stories about fighting as a black ops soldier and losing friends and killing enemies. I check with the Marines, and they tell me they have no record of his service. Joe claims that's because it's classified.

When I ask people what drew them to the group, they talk about Joe, his charisma. Here's a member called Savage.

Savage

I went to a muster in Whitesville for a group. And that group just basically wanted to stand around and talk. And there's nothing wrong with that. But don't call yourself a militia if you just want to stand around and talk politics. Joe's group, when he came up and delivered his thing, they talked about training. And I mean, who don't want to get out and shoot rounds downrange for fun? You know? Who doesn't want to train and be a part of something?

Mike Giglio

A lot of the day, it seems like the guys are just here to bond and have fun. Joe leads the men through six hours of drills, starting with the PT and then moving to shooting positions and room clearing.

Joe Klemm

So, it's initial contact. So, contact front, 200 meters.

Man

Contact front, 200 meters.

Joe Klemm

Bang, bang, bang.

Man

Bang.

Joe Klemm

Bang.

Man

Bang.

Joe Klemm

Bang. Moving!

Man

Move!

Mike Giglio

They're running a drill here where the idea is that they learn how to cover each other. When I spend time with these groups, I'm always wondering how seriously they take the idea that they might really engage in violence. On the one hand, they're giving each other nicknames, slapping each other on the back, and saying, "bang."

But at the same time, they really do believe the country's in danger, that they might need to turn their guns on their fellow citizens one day. And they buy into all the unsupported claims Trump makes about liberals bent on election fraud and violence and the need to stop them. And they think they're the ones to do it.

Nearly all the militiamen I've spoken to this year believe that Democrats committed massive voter fraud in 2016, and they've been doing it again this year with mail-in ballots and early voting. Joe is worried the 2020 election could be stolen.

Mike Giglio

Did it matter to you that Trump said that?

Joe Klemm

Well, yeah, of course it did. Because considering all the access to information that he has that we don't, if he's dropping these little tidbits, there's something that people like me need to pay attention to.

Mike Giglio

So you think that he's basing that on real information?

Joe Klemm

I do.

Mike Giglio

You think it's possible that he's playing politics?

Joe Klemm

I don't think so. He seems like more of a straightforward kind of guy. I think that he's not the type of person to play politics.

Mike Giglio

Sometimes I wish the people in these militia groups could hear how much they sound like people I've covered in countries that have come undone. I spent a lot of time in Eastern Ukraine in early 2013 with the pro-Russian activists who eventually plunged the region into a war.

They would go on social media and tune into Russian propaganda and convince themselves that their countrymen were out to destroy them. They'd tell me that bands of Nazis were coming from Kiev to kill them. I was struck by the way people had to convince themselves that the other side was absolutely out to get them, was bent on their destruction in order to take that step into real violence.

It's not that I think that what happened in Ukraine will happen in America. But talk of violence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mike Giglio

So the stakes for you-- are the stakes just an election? Like, if Trump loses, OK, maybe we can win again in four years?

Joe Klemm

No, I really believe that anybody who gets in after Trump, if they're liberal, is going to be the downfall of America for sure. This election is going to be some sort of a turning point, for good or bad. It's going to be a turning point.

Let's roll out.

Man

Calling in.

Mike Giglio

It's Tuesday morning, Election Day. Joe and some of his guys are split between two pickup trucks. I'm in the backseat of Joe's. Everyone with me is dressed in battle gear, and they're armed to the teeth. Joe's wearing a bulletproof vest with four or five ammo clips strapped to it and a pistol in a holster.

In the passenger seat, Matt, a lanky guy in his 30s, has a big knife strapped to his own body armor in addition to all the ammo clips. And he's wearing a pair of noise-canceling headphones with skulls on them. Both of them have loaded AR-15s in their laps. The plan is to do as the president suggested-- drive to every polling station in their county in Virginia and look for problems. Joe leads the way.

Joe Klemm

So we're just looking for any signs of people up to no good, possibly trying to deter people or intimidate anybody.

Mike Giglio

I'd asked earlier what kind of people they were looking for, and Joe said thugs. When I asked what that meant, he said people from Black Lives Matter, from Antifa. I wasn't sure how he'd know whether a person was a member of a group like that or whether there were even that many of them in this part of the country.

Joe Klemm

Well, first of all, Antifa would be dressed in all black, probably. BLM would be just-- they would have all kinds of BLM signage and things like that.

Mike Giglio

We pull up to a polling station and sit in a parking lot. Just out there in the open, there are people milling around and then a bunch of guys with guns just watching them.

Man

You want to pull and change location to right over here by that white vehicle and the picnic shelter?

Joe Klemm

Yeah, I was just thinking that. Sounds good. Go ahead and move.

Mike Giglio

Doug, the gray man, gets ready to go in. He's in his 40s with a beard. He also has an easy demeanor, which is probably the reason they picked him for the job. He's wearing jeans, a fleece, and sunglasses. And you'd have to look closely to notice that there's a wire running down from the back of his hat, which is connected to a radio so he can be in touch with the guys. We hang back in the pickup while Doug goes in. After a few minutes, he casually walks back to us.

Mike Giglio

So what did you see there?

Doug

Just people talking. There's probably 40 voters in there. More people showing up all the time. Everybody was in a good mood, cheerful. Just looked around, come back out, made a 360 sweep of the building, outside of the building.

Mike Giglio

Nothing at all that was suspicious?

Doug

Nothing, no.

Mike Giglio

And we're back on the road, with Joe leading the way. At pretty much every polling station, when Doug walks in, this is how it goes.

Doug

Howdy, howdy. How are y'all?

Poll Staff

Come on over this way, guys.

Doug

I've already voted earlier today.

Poll Staff

Oh, OK.

Doug

I'm just here checking everything out.

Poll Staff

Oh, OK.

Doug

Thank y'all.

Poll Staff

You're welcome.

Mike Giglio

Most of the day is driving, driving and waiting, waiting and driving. It's a big county spread across winding mountain roads. We drop in and out of cell service, and sometimes Joe gets turned around when his Google Maps goes on the fritz. Matt, the guy in the passenger seat, is good at filling the idle time. He's ready to sound off on just about anything.

Matt

I don't know if y'all have watched The Sopranos, but Tony used this-- I mean, the definition of a narcissist.

Mike Giglio

He talks about cars.

Matt

If I had to pick one muscle car, I would probably go with either '69 Charger RT or the '71 Hemi 'Cuda.

Mike Giglio

The good old days.

Matt

Like, we used to argue about like football, talk shit about sport. People don't even do that anymore. They're arguing about this or that or whatever.

Mike Giglio

His love handles.

Matt

Even as skinny as I am, they like to pop out outside.

Man

Yeah, they don't freaking want to go away either.

Matt

No, dude, it's just like--

Man

Man, I've been working out like crazy. I eat right. I don't do a lot of sugar and nothing like that, but.

Mike Giglio

The confrontation they suited up for never happens. We don't see Antifa or Black Lives Matter or anyone blocking the polls or intimidating voters or committing fraud. At our last stop, we do see someone lingering outside a polling station. I walk up to the entrance with Doug and see a woman sitting nearby. She's an older white woman with a bag that has a blue sticker for Mark Warner, a Democratic senator. Doug walks right by her with a polite hello, and then we're inside having another awkward conversation with the poll workers.

Poll Staff

Hello, how are y'all?

Doug

Nice to meet you. Y'all had a pretty good turnout today?

Poll Staff

There's been a huge turnout evidently everywhere, which is great.

Doug

Good deal.

Poll Staff

Yeah, people should vote, right?

Doug

Yes, ma'am. Absolutely.

Mike Giglio

When we walk back outside, the woman is still there. And I notice her eyeing Doug, a little suspicious that he walked in and out so quickly. She asks him if he needs help.

Doug

I've already voted. I was just talking to some people. [CHUCKLES]

Mike Giglio

Doug goes back to the car, and I decide to go and talk with the woman. She's Janet Tate, a die-hard local Democrat. She says she comes here every election to hand out campaign literature. She's allowed to do that just outside the white line on the pavement. Like a lot of people, Janet had been anxious about being out on Election Day.

Janet Tate

I'm pleasantly surprised. My daughter was worried about me a little bit, but I'm like-- I'm old, and I just-- I think it's important.

Mike Giglio

I mentioned that I saw her watching Doug.

Janet Tate

But he was a little odd when he comes kind of zooming in and out. But he was nice.

Mike Giglio

This group is a militia group, actually.

Janet Tate

Oh, they were pretty nice. [LAUGHS] I said they were nice.

Mike Giglio

Joe and the heavily-armed guys in the car are probably exactly the kind of people her daughter was worried about. But Janet tells me she's not going to be intimidated.

Janet Tate

I'm like, what are they going to do? Shoot me? My daughter really was worried. Like, don't do it. So.

Mike Giglio

She thought maybe a group like that would--

Janet Tate

Well, she just didn't know what to think, so-- but I-- I don't know. I'm not going to live in a country that I feel uncomfortable going to my polling place and doing normal democratic things. It's like, I could bring my bear spray. [LAUGHS] It just seems ridiculous.

Mike Giglio

I head back to the truck. I tell Joe that the woman I was talking to is a local Democrat and that she told me Doug seemed like a nice guy. He's really struck by that. He jumps out of the truck, still in his full battle gear, and suddenly determined to meet her.

Joe Klemm

So I just want to come and shake your hand. I really appreciate you being out here and helping these people that come out here.

Janet Tate

Oh, thank you.

Joe Klemm

And I mean, obviously, we're, like, two opposite sides. But I think it's great that people who have differing views can be civil and just get along.

Janet Tate

Right! I mean, I've been doing this since 2007. Yeah.

Joe Klemm

Cool.

Janet Tate

And there's usually--

Mike Giglio

If Janet's intimidated by Joe with his body armor and ammo clips and pistol, she doesn't show it.

Joe Klemm

Well, yeah, we've been kind of patrolling around all day, so.

Janet Tate

I think it's a little excessive, but-- [LAUGHS]

Mike Giglio

They talk for a few minutes. He's so big, but Janet just smiles and looks him in the eyes. She even picks an argument with him about the electoral college. At the end, they do a little high five.

Janet Tate

A little off. I'll do better.

Joe Klemm

Let's do better. There you go. That's better. All right. Good deal. All right, we're going to head out of here. You enjoy the rest of your night.

Janet Tate

Oh, thank you.

Mike Giglio

When Joe gets back to the car, I notice that he's energized by the encounter. It was the only time of the day I saw him drop his warrior persona. "Great day," he tells me.

Not long afterwards, the guys packed it up and went home. They had found no evidence of fraud, no intimidation or disruption. And they never got a chance to protect the vote or engage the enemy. And it was a relief to see that this was totally fine with them.

The next day, I called Joe. It was Wednesday. The news was moving towards a Biden victory, and President Trump was already crying fraud. Joe was, too.

Joe Klemm

Up till right now, I'm not very happy with what I'm seeing. Honestly, I think the other side is trying to introduce false ballots into the system. And then they're just going to try to rig it and make it so that Biden wins.

Mike Giglio

What makes you think that they're doing that?

Joe Klemm

There is some fishy stuff going on up there in Michigan and a couple other places that they should have already called for Trump, but they haven't.

Mike Giglio

The president has been pushing unsubstantiated claims of election rigging in Michigan and other crucial states.

Mike Giglio

So if it ends up being that Biden is declared the winner, do you think there could be a way that you could just say, yeah, that's probably what happened and believe it?

Joe Klemm

Absolutely not.

Mike Giglio

No chance?

Joe Klemm

Yes, no chance. From everything that we saw and experienced leading up to the election, there is no way that Trump would lose a fair election. There is no way.

Mike Giglio

Your own experience yesterday was that you guys checked on the polling stations and everything was running smoothly and you didn't see any fraud.

Joe Klemm

No, honestly. Because the fact that people were able to go and cast their vote unimpeded doesn't really have anything to do with what goes on with those ballots and stuff after the people go and cast them.

Mike Giglio

Joe tells me he's sure that if Biden wins, some kind of violence is inevitable. He says they'll end up fighting someone. Black Lives Matter, Antifa-- he's not sure.

Mike Giglio

What if, at some point, Trump were to concede and say he accepts that Biden is the president now? Could he change your mind?

Joe Klemm

Absolutely not.

Ira Glass

Mike Giglio-- he wrote about his experiences covering civil wars overseas in his book Shatter the Nations.

Act Two: New York and Germany

Ira Glass

Act Two, New York and Germany. So four years ago, the day after Donald Trump won that election, reporter Stephanie Foo met two army officers at a diner to talk to them about their new boss. Those guys were in the same unit, close friends. But they did not agree on politics at all.

Stephanie Foo

Why do you like each other?

Chet

I don't know. Why do we like each other?

Tom

We disagree on almost everything.

Chet

You know why? Because I know that he'll have my back and I'll have his. Regardless of what he believes-- although it's ill founded, most of it-- yeah, he's awesome. I'd give my life for him.

Tom

I'd save my own life. No. [LAUGHS] He knows we're good.

Ira Glass

At the time, they went back and forth about what they thought the next four years were going to be like with President Trump as commander in chief. Whether it meant they were more likely to be deployed to a conflict zone, how it would affect morale, and the possibility that Donald Trump might start a nuclear war.

Chet

He'll be fine. He's not going to drop nukes on people.

Tom

I don't know. I think he's incredibly uneducated about it.

Chet

So here's the thing about the codes that people don't realize. It's not like he has a piece of paper in his pocket. It's like, oh, here are the nuclear codes. It doesn't work that way.

Ira Glass

The guy who liked President Trump said the officer with the nuclear football would prevent Donald Trump from randomly nuking somebody. The Hillary Clinton supporter was not so sure. Anyway, Stephanie checked in with two of them again earlier this week. One of them is in the States. One of them is stationed in Germany.

Stephanie Foo

The biggest thing that happened to these guys in the last four years actually had nothing to do with Trump. They both had babies.

Chet

This is actually better. I can hear you guys pretty good. Sorry I'm late. Somebody decided to take off their diaper and chew on it. So we were dealing with that. And now we're terrible parents. He's crying hysterically because how dare we not let him eat his own feces. So.

Stephanie Foo

[LAUGHS]

Tom

God, he reminds me of you so much already.

Stephanie Foo

[LAUGHS]

Chet

I know. Well, don't worry. Your daughter's not too far behind, uh, Tom.

Stephanie Foo

These aren't their real names, but Chet and Tom voted exactly how I expected them to in this election. Tom voted for Biden. Chet again voted for Trump. But in 2016, Chet had been a really hardcore Trump supporter. He really wanted an outsider. But now that the outsider is an insider, he feels more agnostic.

And maybe a little part of his indifference is because of Trump's role as their boss. Like the time Trump made the comment saying, why are we having all these people from shithole countries coming here? Chet wasn't crazy about that. Neither was Tom, the Biden supporter, who was deployed in Africa when that went down.

Tom

His comments about shithole countries definitely impacted my job. The US military has training exercises across the world with partners. I happened to be in a position at the time where I was running a group of teams that were in African countries. And as you're sitting there, planning for these training events, these comments come out. And it's just like, your partners are kind of like, is this what you guys think about us? So it's--

Stephanie Foo

What did you have to tell them?

Tom

I basically talked through it. That doesn't represent US military's position on our partnerships. And honestly, sometimes it comes down to just bullshitting and having friendly relations with folks.

Chet

Yeah, I've had similar experiences, too. I'm a Trump supporter, right? MAGA 2020. But yes, it does make your job more difficult. I'm not going to defend the fact that when he says something, it's like, OK, it's time to brace.

Stephanie Foo

They weren't totally unhappy with his performance. Both Chet and Tom agreed that Trump's strongman personality did come in handy sometimes. They liked that he engaged with North Korea and supported the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. But the thing that's affected them the most during the last four years is the same thing we've all dealt with-- the thing that isn't going to magically go away, no matter who wins.

Stephanie Foo

I feel like the thing that's very clear to me is that it really feels like there are two Americas right now.

Chet

Yeah, sure.

Stephanie Foo

Does it feel that way in the military?

Chet

Yes. Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Foo

That's Chet.

Chet

I have colleagues on both sides. And it's awkward.

Stephanie Foo

Like you used to talk about it more and now people don't want to talk about politics at all?

Chet

Yeah, when I went to Iraq in 2008, it was like-- people would be like, I'm voting for Obama, or people were like, I'm going to vote for McCain. But there wasn't any charged racism attached to it. Like, you weren't a racist if you voted for McCain. You could talk about it and nobody would get offended.

And now, it's just like-- you know. Apparently, I'm a supremacist because I vote for Trump, according to some people. You know what I mean? So I'm just very much like, whatever, man. I'm voting for who I want to vote for. You can do the same. I don't want to talk about it, you know?

Stephanie Foo

One of the moments that bugs Chet the most is from his last deployment. One of his friends was a Black woman who absolutely hated Trump. And she hated all of the white Trump supporting soldiers around her, too. She did hang out with Chet. He thinks it's because he's Asian-American.

Chet

And it just put me in an awkward position all the time. And I would always get asked by both sides, like, why are you hanging out with them? And I'd be like, really, man? We're all on the same team. Who cares?

Stephanie Foo

Tom agrees. He says that in the military, the mindset should be that there is an enemy, and it's out there, hiding in a cave in Afghanistan somewhere, not in the next aisle at the Stop and Shop.

Tom

When I was watching the stuff on the news with the Black Lives Matter protest and National Guard troops were getting called in, I kept thinking-- I'm like, that is the worst fucking job. I would never, ever want to do that, right? These are people from your community, and you're getting called in to do something. No one in the military wants to do this.

Chet

No.

Tom

Unless, again, when it comes to emergency situations, I think everybody's all for volunteering to do that in the case of, say, a hurricane. But nobody wants to go in and try and be a policeman. That's not our job.

Chet

No.

Stephanie Foo

I don't know. I follow some military Instagrams, and one of them is like, I killed people in Afghanistan. I'll kill these people today, you know? I mean--

Tom

I think those people are full of shit.

Chet

Idiots. Those people probably failed their psych exam.

Stephanie Foo

A lot of international relationships have been tested by the Trump presidency, but not Chet and Tom's.

Stephanie Foo

You guys are still friends.

Tom

Yeah. I mean-- but to be totally honest, that's because we have a toxic friendship where we just make fun of each other the whole time. So this is just one more thing we can--

Chet

Yeah, we've--

Tom

We can do.

Chet

Yeah. We hated each other long before Trump even decided to run for president. So I mean, we just built on top of that hatred. And now we have this hate mountain over the friendship bridge. It's really a beautiful thing.

Stephanie Foo

[LAUGHS] OK, guys.

Tom says that the military creates an environment where people have to trust and communicate with each other, even if you don't like each other, which is not an attitude America seems to have these days about our democracy. I talked to them Wednesday the day after the election. Tom said he'd be pretty horrified if Trump won. Chet just shrugged. If Biden wins, he said, basically, whatever. Both said they'd respect either outcome.

Ira Glass

Stephanie Foo-- she used to be a producer on our program. She's now writing a memoir about healing from complex PTSD. Coming up, somebody who thought his life was going to change a lot depending on who becomes president, though, now, it's not so clear. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Three: Louisiana

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "Squeaker." I don't know if I should admit here how many minutes today we spent arguing over whether to call the episode "Electile Dysfunction." "Squeaker" was our classy choice.

Anyway, our show this week is stories from all over about this strange week we've all just lived through, waiting for election results. Of course, for some people, the outcome of the presidential election might have a very direct effect on their lives.

Take, for instance, the people living in the tent camp that's just over the border from Texas, in Matamoros, Mexico. A camp filled with people seeking asylum in the United States who'd been sent there under the president's remain-in-Mexico policy. On election night, they held a vigil all night long until 5:00 in the morning.

Apparently, the pastors who put this together tried to keep it apolitical, stick with prayers and songs. But by the end of the vigil, in the early morning hours, the last pastor who took the stage said the thing that apparently lots of them had been thinking all night. He said, "I hope Joe Biden wins." And somebody who was there said it was like everybody finally had a chance to let out their feelings. They cheered. They danced. They've heard Joe Biden promise to reform immigration in his first 100 days in office.

Which brings us to Act Three. Act Three, Louisiana. Ben Calhoun has this story of somebody else who's not from this country, who's been following the election as closely as he can.

Ben Calhoun

Jonathan, who was in an ICE detention center in Louisiana, told me that this year's presidential race actually solved the problem in the detention centers he's been in. He's been moved around to a few. Jonathan told me the recurring problem was with the TVs. Take the ICE detention center I called him in. It was this small triangular room, he said.

Jonathan

Yeah, it's a small triangle room attached to the dorm that, if you want to watch TV, get into that room and watch TV.

Ben Calhoun

The problem with the detention center TVs, though-- well, sort of the same with any TV in America-- people can't agree what to watch. Should we watch English TV? Should we watch Spanish TV?

Jonathan

Should there be time for news? Should there be time for music? Should there be time for football? Should there be time for fun program? So it's another conflict, that problem.

Ben Calhoun

Jonathan told me, during the 18 months he's been in ICE detention, one of the few times this wasn't an issue at all was the presidential debates this fall. Everyone, Jonathan said, wanted to see those.

I called Jonathan the week before the election because I wanted to talk to someone in our immigration system whose case could potentially be affected by it. I wondered how the election looked from where they were.

Jonathan said he'd talked to other detainees about the election. He'd been talking to guards, too. Most of them, he told me, were Biden supporters. But yeah, lots of people were wondering how the election might change their cases, including him. Jonathan's 30. He's from Cameroon. And he came to the US in 2019 seeking asylum. He's been stuck in detention ever since.

Jonathan

I think all that boils down to the administration of the foreign government. So based on the information and what I'm seeing, personal-- from my own personal point of view-- if Biden could win, hopefully, I think it will be better.

Ben Calhoun

Under President Trump, asylum seekers like Jonathan are getting deported, even ones with strong evidence that they're political refugees who will be tortured or killed if they return to their home countries. Jonathan-- I should tell you, that is not his real name. I'm calling him that because he has family back in Cameroon, and he has good reason to worry about their safety.

Jonathan is part of an English-speaking minority that's been persecuted by Cameroon's French-speaking majority and its longtime autocratic president, Paul Biya. That whole situation has gotten more and more violent. Jonathan wasn't part of that. He was a businessman, a grocery wholesaler. He bought stuff from farmers to sell in town. And he started the business to support his mom after his dad died.

Basically, Jonathan got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in this barber shop when it got raided by soldiers. He and 14 others got thrown in jail, and they were beaten and tortured for nearly a month. At one point, a few men were taken out, and they never came back. And the soldier told the rest of them that they were all going to get killed.

Then, one day-- a warning, this is pretty graphic. One day, an officer took Jonathan and one other man at gunpoint, and he led them outside to a truck. He told them to clean it up. And Jonathan looked inside it.

Jonathan

You see stains of blood, stains of blood, which likely will be human beings-- human beings and chopped particles.

Ben Calhoun

Jonathan says there was blood all over the inside, particles of flesh. He started to clean. And then at some point, he noticed that the soldier was distracted and talking to someone.

Jonathan

When I have that window of opportunity. I said I will rather be killed while I'm trying to save my life than to stay and be killed.

Ben Calhoun

Jonathan says he slipped around the corner of the building. And then he ran through a cornfield, and he just kept running. Eventually, he got to a cousin's house and then eventually escaped to Ecuador.

I just want to say Jonathan's account of all these details, it's all well supported by documents and photos and legal affidavits. Among the documents, there's a warrant for Jonathan's arrest for, quote, "terrorism, secession, and insurrection." Jonathan told me if the government gets its hands on him, chances he'll be killed are 100%. That's what he said-- 100%.

Jonathan's attorney told me, under a different presidential administration than President Trump's, he thinks his asylum case would have a much better shot. So after escaping, Jonathan went through nine countries. At some point, someone gave Jonathan a piece of advice that would end up being really important. They said rip your passport up. It will make it harder for anyone to send you back to Cameroon. So Jonathan did that.

In the end, he made it to the US. He made it into ICE custody. I asked Jonathan why he didn't seek asylum in any of the other nine countries. And he told me it was simple. He didn't know enough about any of those other countries to know if they would protect him or if they'd send him back.

Jonathan

All I know-- to be frank, what I know about United States, I know a country that can protect your human rights. That's one best thing that I know about-- that I knew before coming, that it's a country that protects human rights. It was a county that I believed will protect me. I was taking the option because all I need was just protection. All I need was just protection.

Ben Calhoun

A judge ordered Jonathan to be deported. The only reason he and his lawyer thought he hadn't been is because Jonathan had taken that advice and destroyed his passport back in Panama. For months, ICE officers had been asking Jonathan to sign this document that would apparently let them send him back to Cameroon. Jonathan has been refusing, telling them that he'll be tortured and killed.

ICE, in response, told Jonathan they would hold him in indefinite detention until he signed. And ICE, for their part-- well, they started leaning on Jonathan harder and harder. You have to sign this. Recently, he told me that situation came to a head when an ICE agent he knew led him into a room.

Jonathan

He said he is not going to listen to anything from me. His job is for me to sign this and for him to send me back to my country.

Ben Calhoun

Jonathan got on his knees and begged. Said he'd be killed. The officer wasn't hearing it. He said he needed a picture of Jonathan signing. So he repeated.

Jonathan

And he told me his job is for me to sign this thing and for me to take the photo. So he even tried to grab my hand for the other person to take a photo of me. So I was pleading. I cried. I knelt down. He should not do this to me.

Ben Calhoun

He grabbed your hand.

Jonathan

Yeah, he tried to grab my arm to take a photo.

Ben Calhoun

All of this only stopped, Jonathan says, when a female officer opened the door and asked what was going on. She called the other officers over to her, and they talked where Jonathan couldn't really hear them. Then he was allowed to go call his lawyer.

After Jonathan and I talked, we agreed that he would call me the day after the election at 5:00 PM. I wanted to hear his reaction to whatever results or non-results we'd have by then. But that never happened. Because the morning after the election, when everyone was waking up to a map with eight states still suspended and gray, I got a voicemail from Jonathan's lawyer.

Ruth Hargrove

Yeah, hi, Ben. It's Ruth. They've moved him somewhere. I don't know where. I have no idea where. I can't get ahold of anybody at ICE or the Correctional Center. Anyway, I'm going to be busy trying to find him. I'll talk to you later. Bye.

Ben Calhoun

Ruth Hargrove, Jonathan's lawyer, couldn't find him. She'd woken up the morning after the election to see four missed calls on her phone.

Ruth Hargrove

It was this morning at 5 o'clock in the morning, but I don't know why I missed it. But then his aunt called me and said he was being moved. And--

Ben Calhoun

Ruth told me the day before, Election Day, Jonathan told her about this unusual incident where ICE had taken him in to identify his belongings at a property room. And they asked about his sponsor-- which, he's got an aunt in Maryland who's offered to take him in while he tries to get asylum. Jonathan told Ruth he was hopeful that that's what was up, that he was finally getting out.

But Ruth was suspicious. She'd gotten this email from an activist group about a deportation flight to Cameroon on November 10. She'd been getting increasingly nervous that Jonathan might get put on it. And so that morning, after the election, when Jonathan was just removed from the Louisiana detention center, Ruth started scrambling, just trying to figure out where exactly he was, where he was going. When we talked, she was still reeling.

Ruth Hargrove

OK, so-- and I just found out-- I think he's on his way to a staging facility in Alexandria, Virginia-- not Virginia, Louisiana. And that's a big staging area for flights out.

Ben Calhoun

Ruth told me she was trying every legal avenue she could think of. She hadn't confirmed it 100% from ICE that Jonathan was being deported, but she was increasingly sure. It had to be that, she thought.

Before I play you this last piece of tape, I need to tell you a few things about Ruth. She's no softy. She's a former prosecutor. She's the wife of a former Navy SEAL and DEA agent. OK, but so, the first time we talked, she told me she had this kind of big worry around the election and around Jonathan. She was worried that even if Joe Biden won, the Trump administration officials would go on a scorched earth sort of tear with detainees like Jonathan and that he'd be deported as part of that.

Ruth Hargrove

This is what-- this is what I thought was going to happen, actually. And I don't know if I told it to you or to someone else. (VOICE QUAVERING) But the way I think of these people is that they didn't have confidence that Trump was going to win. Maybe-- I think maybe they were wrong. [SNIFFLES] Then once he goes back, then I can't save him.

If I could get a hearing here, if I could get him a fair hearing in front of a fair judge, he would be found to have suffered terrible persecution and to have been in great danger of future persecution. And you only have to show there's a 10% chance that he'll have a future persecution.

But there's a warrant for his arrest, and the government has it. And they're going to-- they'll be there. And the ICE officer I talked to last time I thought he was going to be deported when I said he has an arrest warrant for him, he said, oh, yes, he has an arrest warrant. The military will be there waiting for him at the airport. I mean, they know. They know.

Ben Calhoun

Thursday, as election results were still gathering in news headlines, I got a call from Jonathan, who was in a detention center in Texas. And he filled me in on what had happened. The morning after the election, he told me, an ICE officer came to see him around 5:00 AM and told Jonathan to take his stuff. They were going to the airport. Jonathan says he begged him the whole way there. Told him that if he was deported, he would be killed.

At the airport, he told me, he resisted. He refused to get out of the vehicle. But the officers dragged him onto a plane, which took him and some other Cameroonians to Texas. He was told he would be there for a few days, unclear how many, but that he was there to be deported.

I contacted ICE about Jonathan's situation. In a statement, a spokesperson said, he'd been, quote, "afforded extensive legal processes and was ultimately found by a federal judge to have no legal basis to remain in the United States," end quote. They declined to give any information about when he might be deported, though an ICE officer confirmed to Ruth that Jonathan would be on a plane early next week.

Before I got off the phone with Jonathan on Thursday, I asked him if he knew what would happen if he arrived in Cameroon. He said he'd been trying to reach relatives who might be able to help him. I have no idea what awaits me, he said. He just kept repeating that. He told me, other than talking to his lawyer, Ruth, and trying to reach family for help, he'd been spending all of his time praying.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun is one of the producers of our show.

Act Four: Detroit

Ira Glass

Act Four, Detroit. In a bunch of cities around the country this week, Republicans have congregated in election centers where votes are being tallied, protesting, chanting for the counting to stop, or, in the case of Arizona, where President Trump is behind the vote count, chanting for the counting to continue.

We wondered what it would be like to be inside one of those counting rooms trying to do your job with all that chaos going on outside. Emanuele Berry talked to a woman who was inside the vote counting room in Detroit when Trump supporters tried to get inside, chanted, banged on the windows.

Emanuele Berry

Khalilah Gaston lives in Detroit. She's a news junkie. For this year's presidential election, she kept thinking she'd volunteer. And on Tuesday night, she saw her chance, a Facebook post asking for poll watchers to watch the counting of mail-in ballots in Detroit. It was at a big convention center.

On Wednesday morning, she goes through training. Then she walks into the room where there are 134 tables where votes are being processed. She's assigned a partner and an aisle of tables to watch.

Khalilah Gaston

And even though it was my first time, I was like, I'm in the game. So you gotta-- and I actually heard these two Trump supporters say that. They said democracy is a contact sport. And if you're not in the game, then you can't complain in the outcome. You can't complain if you don't win. And so as a former athlete, for me, I was like, OK, it's game time, you know?

Emanuele Berry

Each state has their own rules for poll watching. In Michigan, Republicans and Democrats are allowed to have one challenger per table. Challengers can challenge a ballot. And then there are also poll watchers, like Khalilah, who cannot challenge votes or ballots, but can observe the counting.

And honestly, it's all pretty tame. Khalilah stands on the side of the room, looking around, taking notes, raising small concerns with supervising staff, like if a person isn't wearing their mask properly. That's how her day starts out. She's just one of hundreds of people in a room watching hundreds of other people count ballots. But a couple hours in, things change.

Khalilah Gaston

Around, I want to say, between 11:00 and 12:00, that's when I noticed really just a shift in the climate in the room. People started-- yeah, some people started just getting more chippy.

Emanuele Berry

Most of the Republican poll watchers were doing their job without issues. But a handful of them started to become disruptive.

Khalilah Gaston

I saw with my own eyes, at my table where I was, berating people as they were handling ballots. They were being asked what their political party was. And these were election workers who were handling ballots. Are you a Democrat? Are you a Republican? I saw people challenging ballots before they even got to the table, so making blanket statements. I'm challenging every ballot at this table. And it's like, well, there's no ballots at the table.

Emanuele Berry

She was told this might happen in training, that people may cause a scene or try and distract or slow down vote counting.

Khalilah Gaston

I think for me, it was very emotional at a certain point. I saw a lot of colleagues, a lot of friends, a lot of elders in our community who were there. And so for me, seeing elders of our community, people who had dedicated eight years to do this, being berated and physically intimidated by, in a lot of instances, younger white people, right, the optics were very disconcerting. You also had people in there talking about their Second Amendment rights. And so eventually, people started to be escorted out of the room.

Emanuele Berry

At this point, Joe Biden was starting to take the lead in Michigan. And there were growing rumors and disinformation spreading online about election fraud in Detroit. More poll watchers showed up in the lobby, demanding to be let into the counting room. The building officials refused, saying they had too many people in there already, including over 500 Republican and Democratic poll watchers.

Even more people gathered outside the building. And what you ended up with was a group of mostly white people, chanting, "stop the vote, stop the count," in a city of mostly Black voters. The thing that I have thought about over and over again during this election cycle is that Black people exercising their political will is seen as cheating.

Just this Thursday, the president called two cities with large Black populations, Detroit and Philadelphia, quote, "two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country" with no evidence for this at all, and declared that these cities, quote, "cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race."

Wednesday afternoon at the convention center, as the crowd outside kept getting bigger, Khalilah wasn't aware of any of it. She wasn't near the windows. But then things slowed down at her tables, and she took a stroll.

Khalilah Gaston

I walked to the front by the media pen, and that's when I saw literally a man climbing the windows. I saw people screaming, pushing on the doors. And one of my close friends was there checking in observers and challengers. And she was just really overwhelmed.

And then later on, you could feel it. You could feel and you could see the window shaking while we were in there. And--

Emanuele Berry

What did you think might happen?

Khalilah Gaston

My worst fear was-- I hope, one, no one opens the door. Are they going to try to force us to stop counting the vote? Are they going to try to physically harm us? Are people armed? I mean, we're in Michigan, right, where you had people storm the State Capitol with guns just a month earlier, right? You had members of the militia-- you know, a plot uncovered to try to kidnap our governor.

Emanuele Berry

Khalilah was concerned about what was happening outside. But she had another feeling as she was standing there watching people inside-- pride. They all just kept working, kept counting the votes. Around 7:00 PM, Khalilah headed home. She felt relieved to be done. But Thursday--

Khalilah Gaston

This morning when I woke up, I just busted out crying. And I was like, what? What just happened? It was like, why all of that emotion? And it took me a minute. And I was like, that was traumatic, right? What occurred last night was traumatic.

Emanuele Berry

But trauma isn't the main feeling Khalilah took away from this experience. She feels emboldened. She says she's definitely going to poll watch again.

Ira Glass

Emanuele Berry is the executive editor of our show.

Act Five: Miami

Ira Glass

Act Five, Miami. So maybe this is going to be the year when everybody gets the memo that Latino voters are not an actual thing. They're not a voting bloc with shared interests and identities and political affiliations who all vote the same. This year, Mexican-Americans in Arizona put the state within reach of the Democrats for the first time since the '90s.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Cuban-Americans and Venezuelans helped seal the deal of President Trump's victory in Florida. And then there's the generational split. Young Latinos tend to be more liberal than their parents. Nadia Reiman talked to a family like that, a mother and son from Miami. They're Venezuelan, and they're split.

Nadia Reiman

When I asked Marco and his mom Ninotchka how often they talked about politics, they were like, oh, it's a topic.

(SUBJECT) NINOTCHKA [SPEAKING SPANISH]

Marco

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nadia Reiman

A lot. "We actually invite it," they say. Which can be tricky, because Marco voted for Biden and Ninotchka for Trump. They're part of that Venezuelan voting bloc in Florida that the press has been freaking out about, wondering why, oh, why would Latinos-- as if we were one thing-- vote for Trump?

The family moved to Miami 20 years ago. They all still live together. Marco and Ninotchka actually work together at her accounting firm.

Marco

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nadia Reiman

Marco tells his mom, because of Venezuela, I already knew you were going for Trump. Because Biden didn't come out hard against Maduro and Venezuela's socialist government. Ninotchka also says Biden flirted-- her words-- with Cuba too much, and that was all a deal breaker for her, too close to communism. She can't even say Venezuela's former president's name, Hugo Chavez. She called him [SPANISH] which is-- and I'm not even exaggerating-- "he who must not be named," like Voldemort.

Ninotchka really wants you to know, though, that she didn't vote for Trump. She voted for the Republican Party. She doesn't like him-- at least, not a lot. She thinks he's really rude about immigrants, which she thinks is hypocritical, given that his wife is an immigrant. She thinks he's arrogant. She also told me she hated the way he treats reporters, though I'm aware she said this to a reporter.

I asked Marco how it made him feel that his mom voted for Trump. He squirmed. He moved his hands a lot, avoided eye contact.

Marco

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nadia Reiman

It's a mess, he says. It's a mental and emotional mess. I feel strange. I don't want to say "betrayed."

Marco

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nadia Reiman

He's like, damn. I know other friends and other parents who also came here because of politics, also from Venezuela, and they went for Biden. And so it makes me think, what did these other parents find out that made them make a different decision, one that's more like mine? He said his mom's vote made him feel a little ashamed.

Ninotchka does not even get a little upset about this. She's like socialism, honey. You didn't live through it.

Ninotchka

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Nadia Reiman

She says, it's like you have a scar, and it doesn't get erased. And it still hurts, and it won't close up. How are you going to understand if you haven't lived it, she tells me. How is he going to get it if he hasn't lived it either? She points at Marco. But those of us who have lived it always feel it here, she says, and she points at her heart, and here, and she points at her head.

I asked her if she thought the people who were scared about Trump, who think he may be the start of a regime itself, like fascism, if she thought they were wrong. She said no. She said she could see it. But that still seemed so far away and unreal, compared to the socialism she did live through. One was a possibility. The other was already a reality.

And then, just as we were wrapping up the interview, she said, we got to just wait calmly for results. And honestly, for the good of the country, maybe Biden should win. Trump makes people so angry. This surprised me. She had been so clear about not wanting Biden. But when she unpacked it a little more, I understood. She doesn't want unrest. That, she knows very well. She knows how that story ends.

Ira Glass

Nadia Reiman is one of the producers of our show.

Act Six: Massachusetts

Ira Glass

Act Six, Massachusetts. So one of our producers, Sean Cole, saw some talking head types on CNN recently, discussing the stakes of this year's presidential election and how both Democrats and Republicans see it as "existential." That's the word they used-- "existential." Like, the very existence of our democracy or even our planet hangs in the balance, which-- it can seem kind of abstract.

In these past few weeks, as we approached Election Day, Sean and somebody very close to him have been dealing with very immediate and real world existential questions. Here's Sean.

Sean Cole

About two weeks before the election, my stepfather, Ed, was admitted to Cape Cod Hospital. He was rushed there in an ambulance with extreme shortness of breath, like he was suffocating. It turned out to be lung cancer, a tumor almost the size of a golf ball that caused all this fluid to build up in his left lung, plus a precarious blood clot on the same lung.

I raced up there from New York before even knowing the diagnosis. Ed's 90 and had already been battling stage four prostate cancer for a couple of years. So there's been this ambient sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When I got to the hospital, two nurses were settling him into the room where he'd spend the next four days. One of them asked him a whole battery of standard intake questions. History of smoking? Yes. Do you drink caffeine? Yes. And then she said, do you feel threatened by anyone at home or just in your life? Ed paused, looked down, and said, the president.

I thought that was really funny-- and also telling. Even in this dire moment for him, Trump and the election still kept bobbing back up to the surface. Ed's a Democrat. He follows the news pretty closely. And back when he was merely contending with stage four prostate cancer, he told me several times that he just wanted to live long enough to see what happens with the election. He's had zero existential dread beyond that.

And at some point during his hospital stay, I realized this was almost certainly going to be Ed's last presidential election. And I wondered if he might be experiencing it differently than the rest of us. So for a couple of my daily hospital visits, I brought my recorder along.

Ed

Oh my god, I'll be glad that it'll be the last election.

[LAUGHTER]

Sean Cole

Why?

Ed

Are you kidding? Why? They're such nonsensical things, and people act like assholes-- excuse the expression. I mean, being a Republican has turned into some kind of religion now, and being a Democrat, too. And once again, I have the best position in the house. If Trump wins, I don't care if I die. And if Biden wins, OK, Trump's gone.

Sean Cole

Do you think you'll make it till the election?

Ed

Well, I'll be mighty pissed at these doctors if I don't.

Sean Cole

At that point-- again, this was more than a week before Election Day-- the doctors still hadn't given him a prognosis about how long he might live. They did tell him that the blood clot could detach at any time and go to his brain or his heart and kill him.

He was equally sanguine and philosophical about that as he's been about the cancer. Told me the clot will either kill him or it won't. And if it doesn't, why should he worry? And if it does, he won't be able to worry. He's so placid about his mortality that it doesn't leave a lot of room for me morosely wringing my hands about it when I'm with him.

But now there's this kind of gradient from what he's probably still going to be alive for to what he might be, to what he probably won't be. And he doesn't get to choose, of course. But I thought I'd ask him anyway.

Sean Cole

How long do you want to be around for? What are the things that you want to see still?

Ed

Well, let's see. Biden will take over. Trump still will be a lame duck president after the election, but still be president. So three months.

Sean Cole

Three months, you want to keep going.

Ed

At least. Maybe two more. I'm not going to commit suicide and-- you know. I'm not going to say I'd like to be around three months, and then four months go by and people say, why are you still alive? That doesn't make any sense, not to me.

As long as I'm not in acute pain, I don't mind a little inconvenience to stay alive. There might be a good show on once in a while. Or there might be a good book to read. I mean, I'm not one that wants to live just for the sake of living. I think it's an excellent time, in the next two or three years, to die.

Sean Cole

Why?

Ed

You're avoiding all sorts of huge problems. We have global warming coming out big time. The country is still going to be divided, even if Biden wins. And he's got a hell of a time putting it back together, but I think he might. But still, Europe is going totalitarian. This country is going more totalitarian, which is scary. So there's not much to look forward to. Things I would like to see are answers to big questions. Is there intelligent life in this universe that is not on Earth? And I would like to--

Sean Cole

He went on to talk about this thing he read about possible evidence of life on Venus. As usual, he got excited talking about this stuff, like a kid. I think it's his curiosity that's kept him around this long. The same curiosity-- not partisanship or spite or ghoulish vengefulness, but curiosity-- that's had him wanting to see how the election plays out, which I think is such a pure perspective to watch this whole yucky circus from, especially as he'd be totally forgiven for just changing the channel.

[DIALTONE]

Ed

Hi, son.

Sean Cole

Hi, Ed. How are you doing?

Ed

Fair to middling.

Sean Cole

Fair to middling.

Ed

Yeah, yeah.

Sean Cole

This call was early Friday morning, three days after Election Day. Ed was back home from the hospital with three new prescriptions, including a heavy-duty blood thinner for the clot, which has actually been working. And while almost everyone else I knew was biting their nails, waiting for the electoral scoreboard to change, Ed was not. In fact, on election night itself, he did change the channel. Didn't even watch the returns come in.

Ed

No, I watched a Hallmark movie, which you know is scripted. You can always tell the outcome after five minutes.

Sean Cole

It's like the opposite of this election, basically.

Ed

Yeah. It's like the opposite of a lot of things in life-- most things. What's more interesting than who wins is what happens now.

Sean Cole

Yeah.

Ed

It'll be far more interesting. Will the Trump supporters try to look for another person like Trump? Will they try to find a leader? How is Russia going to behave?

Sean Cole

It almost sounds like the script at the end of an episode of a TV show where they give you the cliffhanger. Like, will the dynamic duo escape the clutches of-- find out.

Ed

Exactly. And I hope-- for the country's sake, not for mine, because I won't be living that long in the future. So I hope, for the country's sake, that Biden wins.

Sean Cole

I told Ed there's this thing I've been trying to square. How he can be so at peace with his own mortality, and yet so concerned for the fate of the country and, really, the world he's leaving behind? Those seem like opposites, I said. And he said he didn't see the conflict. Of course he's concerned. Yes, he's not going to be around a lot longer, but we will. And he still cares about that.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND" BY SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS]

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Dana Chivvis and Ben Calhoun. The people who together today's show include Elna Baker, Susan Burton, Sean Cole, Aviva DeKornfeld, Hilary Elkins, Noor Gill, Damien Grave, Michelle Harris, Chana Joffe-Walt, Andrea López-Cruzado, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Rae Mondo, Lisa Pollak, Nadia Reiman, Robyn Semien, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Diane Wu. Our managing editor, Sarah Abdurrahman. Our senior editor is David Kestenbaum. Our executive editor, Emanuele Berry.

Special thanks today to Rose and Steve Johnson, the Rural Utah Project, Kate Groetzinger, Dilianna Bustillos, Vero Cardenas, Harini Krishnan, Janani Ganesh, Ryan Fisher, Grant Rommel, Josh Mendelsohn, Claire Wardle, Lisa Kaplan, Cindy Otis and Sophie Lawton of the Alethea Group, Elena Cryst, Kyle Vass, Lizzy Johnson, Christopher Rhoads, Joe Certaine, Mel D. Cole, Madeline Heim, Tamara Stevens, Jennifer Jordan, Laura Yellig, Zoe Clark, Sarah Hulett, Ursula Luse, Jared Marcelle, and Taylor Armstrong.

Our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He does a really bad impression of a kitchen door that's been left open on a windy day. Here he is, Torey.

Joe Klemm

Bang, bang, bang, bang.

Militia Man

Bang.

Joe Klemm

Bang.

Militia Man

Bang.

Joe Klemm

Bang.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week. I wonder if we'll have a president by then. See you soon.

[MUSIC - "THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND" BY SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS]