Rhett Jennings and his mother, Deanna. (AMP photo by Jay Grelen)
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December ~ that was the day Arkansas’s electors cast ballots for Donald J. Trump ~ Stephanie Meincke taught me a quick lesson in democracy.
Ms. Meincke was sitting in a chair at the south end of Arkansas’s old State Supreme Court room, which is on the second floor, south end of the state capitol. She was at the Electoral College event as a voice in the hope that maybe-just-maybe the electors would defy the voters of the Natural State and vote for somebody, anybody other than Mr. Trump.
To her left, poster-board signs proliferated like red-white-black-and-blue dandelions waving in the bitter post-presidential-election wind. The basic message of the signs was “Sump Pump for Trump,” playing off Mr. Trump’s vow to drain the putrid political waters of the swamp that is, according to Mr. Trump, Washington, D.C.
To be clear, the ill williwaw that howled through the Supreme Court mussed only the hair of those heart-broken fifty or so patriots who were really sad that the United States had chosen Donald Trump as president. For the others gathered, the moving air was a spring breeze of hope and optimism with a hint of magnolia.
Electoral College photo album (Click on the picture)
The six electors had started their day about 8:15 at Arkansas’s Republican headquarters, according to young and fresh-faced Jamie Barker, a native son of Smackover who is political director for Arkansas’s Republican Party. Mr. Barker, 23, is a recent graduate of Ouachita Baptist University. The electors motored to the capitol together, and then took the marble stairs to the second floor, where the doors to the Supreme Court yawned open in greeting.
The electors were early enough that they took the time to walk among the Dump Trumpers, who were segregated in the spectators’ galley on the west side of the room. The electors smiled, shook hands, and thanked the Trump Dumpers for participating in this act of representative governance. (A direct election ~ the popular vote ~ and the band would have been playing a different tune, someone pointed out.)
Rhett Jennings was among the dandelion-waving hopefuls. Mr. Jennings’ hand-lettered dandelion read in red: “No Trump.” The woman to Mr. Jennings’ left held a dandelion that said, in red: “Drain.” Then in black: “The.” Then in blue: “Trump.” The woman to Mr. Jennings’ left was his mother, of whom I did not inquire her age. But I did ask Mr. Jennings, who clearly was the youngest person in the room.
Rhett “No Trump” Jennings is eight years old.
And so it was that, from a chair a few chairs south of Mr. Jennings, I observed Stephanie Meincke, who had observed that I was writing on a legal pad, arise from her chair and sidle up to me, almost apologetically. With a nod toward the field of dandelions, Ms. Meincke offered this observation from the field of political science: These people, herself included, were not protesting. One protests, she said, after the fact. Before the fact, she said, one petitions. So those dandelions were dandelions of petition, imploring the electors to save the United States from Donald J. Trump.
At the prescribed hour, that would be 10 a.m., with the electors seated in the place from which the Supreme Court justices once presided, the ceremony began with a prayer, a pledge and then, each stepped down from the bench for a swearing in under the hand of Justice Rhonda Wood: Jonathan Barnett. Sharon Wright. John Nabholz. Jonelle Fulmer. Keith Gibson. Tommy Land.
By 10:17 a.m., the Arkansas electors had cast their votes for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. For a moment, the silence was thunderous. Then the optimistic ones clapped. None of the dandelions did.
And then the williwaw collided with the breeze of optimism to produce scattered thunderclaps. “Release his tax returns,” a dandelion thundered from the north end.
“You voted for a fascist,” said Suzanne Scherer, her maroon-and-white knit cap pulled tight over her ears. At her mild outburst, Darrell Hedden, chief of the capitol police force, walked south and stood sentry near Ms. Scherer.
“You voted for a homophobe,” another dandelion thundered. Secretary of State Mark Martin ordered police to remove that thundering dandelion from the courtroom.
At that point, Stephanie “Petition versus Protest” Meincke looked to her right, looked directly at me, smiled, and said quietly: “Now we’re protesting!”