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Column: In four years, the dust never settled

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I’m sitting at my kitchen table watching the snow gently falling outside, a day after plucking tomatoes, still green and growing, from my garden in my shorts, sandals and T-shirt.

Life comes at you fast.

Our whiplash weather seems an apt metaphor for life in these whirlwind times of breaking news and broken norms. For some, these four years have been one dark, ominous storm after the other; for others they have been sunny and great again.

Either way, we have all weathered a lot.

On the cusp of another presidential election, I decided to take stock of where we’ve been since the last presidential election. To do that, I looked back at a column I wrote that was published on Nov. 7, 2016, the eve of the last presidential election.

What I found was not particularly encouraging.

In that column, I called the presidential campaign the dirtiest, weirdest and most contentious one, full of hate and hubris and costing many of us friendships and family ties.

“When the dust settles, we will be left to wonder whether it has been worth this human cost,” I wrote.

As it turns out, 2020 has become the “hold my beer” of presidential campaigns – and of years in general, for that matter. That yet-unsettled dust has intensified into an endless, choking haboob.

In 2016, my hope was that once the election was over and the president had begun her term we could begin the slow process of healing. But “she” wasn’t elected.

Four years later, there is little healing and more division. For some, that’s just fine. For others, it’s frightening.

I had also addressed that divisiveness, advocating that while it was still right to call out hatred, it was time to stop contributing to the hate – to stop feeding into the rage and division by attempting to prove to the other side that we are right and they are wrong.

I have failed miserably at that.

This past Sunday, that last warm day before the snowfall, I donned my mask, sat in my car and waited for my COVID-19-safe curbside delivery of groceries from the Smith’s at Tramway and Central SE.

Across the street, throngs of people gathered outside their big look-at-me trucks and shiny Harleys while dozens of Trump-centric flags fluttered in the breeze. I didn’t spot a single mask or sense of social distancing among them.

I felt a knee-jerk wave of trepidation and aversion to the crowd. But I also felt an overriding curiosity as to how these folks continued to support a man who to my mind has been demonstrably dishonest and damaging to the country.

For the past four years, I have conversed with many Trump supporters in an effort to understand what they see in him that I don’t. Those conversations have almost always ended in ad hominem attacks on me; none have convinced me that I’ve been wrong about him and them.

But nothing I have said has convinced them, either.

And it hasn’t helped that folks from my side have continued to personally attack them, too. Rage and division remain well fed.

We are still a nation of sides, the wall we were promised built between us. The truth, facts and fairness upon which I have staked my 33-year career are meaningless to those who distrust the media. It has been like arguing that the sky is verifiably, undeniably blue while the other side insists it is red.

Charlotte Alter, a national correspondent for Time who has spent months speaking with Trump supporters across the country, called that persistent style of untethered reasoning “unlogic,” which she said is not ignorance or stupidity but reason distorted by suspicion and misinformation.

I suppose, though, that those folks would call that “fake news.”

I won’t make predictions this time around other than to say that we are likely in for more storms, no matter who wins the election. I can’t offer words of hope, because those storms have the potential to get worse.

What I can say is that these four years of anger and arrogance, impeachment and the pandemic and the blinding flurries between truth and lies have been exhausting.

I long for that healing that never came in 2016, and I’d like to think the other side longs for that as well.

But I don’t think we agree on even that.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.


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