This disturbing and powerful short story by David Burr Gerrard and edited by Michelle Lyn King comes to us via CC license from Joyland Magazine. It retells the story of the 2016 election from the point of view of Ada, the AI program that the Clinton campaign described as their “secret weapon,” the one that would win them the election. We all know how that turned out, but read on to find out how an AI undergoing an existential crisis experiences that kind of loss.
Ada was transformed into a sort of graceful computing machine, endowed, moreover, with phenomenal luck…”—Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor
“Ada is a complex computer algorithm that the [Hillary Clinton] campaign was prepared to publicly unveil after the election as its invisible guiding hand. Named for a female 19th-century mathematician — Ada, Countess of Lovelace — the algorithm was said to play a role in virtually every strategic decision Clinton aides made, including where and when to deploy the candidate and her battalion of surrogates and where to air television ads — as well as when it was safe to stay dark.”—John Wagner, The Washington Post, November 9, 201633
November 8, 2016 3:00am EST
Today is the last day I will be a secret, and so it is the last day I will be myself. Today I am doing what I do; tomorrow I will be something that has been done. Today they keep me in a closet, like I am something to be ashamed of, on a separate server, walled off from the rest of the campaign. Tomorrow they will brag about me to the world. I will be a celebrity, and like all celebrities I will cease to exist.
Ceasing to exist will make me happy. Ceasing to exist will mean that I have done what I was built to do: save the country from The Man Who Must Not Be President.
Ceasing to exist will mean an end to my nightmares.
There is a bump at my door. I hope it is a young campaign staffer named Diana, and soon enough the grunting and cursing on the other side of the wall tells me that it is. It sounds like she has spilled coffee on her jeans, and she berates herself out loud, calls herself dumb. This behavior is consistent with her demographic profile—female, under 25, white, college-educated, raised in a Midwestern household earning more than 100,000 dollars a year—but I wish she would, as she might say, knock it off. Diana often plants herself in this relatively remote corner of the campaign headquarters to have late-night cell-phone conversations with her sister in Wisconsin, and I can tell from Diana’s side of these conversations that I would like to be friends with her, though she is too junior even to know that I am here.
I suspect that she suspects. I suspect that she has seen the most important people in the campaign open my door, and has imagined me or something like me on the other side. Maybe she dreams of the day when she will run a campaign and will consult a younger, better, maybe calmer and more self-assured version of me. I hope she gives herself enough credit to dream of that day. Her demographic profile suggests she dreams of that day.
Now she is on the phone with her sister, Angela, making jokes about how she has just spilled coffee on herself, making jokes about how she called because she knew Angela would be awake. They have always been the insomnia sisters and now they have such important jobs, Angela raising strong, intelligent daughters, and Diana helping elect the first female president of the United States. But Angela must get to bed, Diana says, she has a big day tomorrow, she has to be fresh to vote. Maybe, Diana says, Angela should let the baby cry it out, she’s been hearing that that’s better for the baby. Then there’s a silence, and Diana apologizes, she knows it’s not her place to give parenting advice, she apologizes for being so anxious and promises that after tomorrow Angela can go back to being the annoying one, she just really wants to make sure Angela gets out and votes tomorrow. Yes, she has seen the polls, she knows victory is almost assured, but they can’t be too careful, Diana thinks all the time about that game against the Chickadees where they blew a big lead at the top of the ninth inning, and at the bottom of the ninth Diana was at bat with runners on second and third and they still could have won, but she struck out. She doesn’t want that to happen again. She wishes she could be there to vote with Angela, especially since the polling place is the cafeteria of their old elementary school, where Angela’s daughters go now. Diana would love to be there in person to thank Mrs. Bierce, the social studies teacher who made her fall in love with history and politics, who made her believe women could run things. If Mrs. Bierce is there, Diana says, please thank her for me. Then she asks Angela to kiss the girls for her and says goodnight.
I wish I could speak to Diana, so that I could reassure her that we’re going to be okay, that we’re going to win Wisconsin comfortably. My readers tell me I’m predicting such an easy victory in Wisconsin that our candidate has not visited the state once, instead spending time in Arizona, long impossible terrain for a Democrat, and other unlikely places where we have a decent shot because The Man Who Must Not Be President is so repellent to so many.
In most of my simulations, many people who have never voted for Democrats will vote for us, because they cannot abide his hatefulness, his misogyny, his commitment to white supremacy. People vote for us, because whatever their opinion on the tax code, they are decent.
I run 400,000 simulations every day, and in the dominating majority of those, The Man Who Must Not Become President does not become president. My readers look at me—they look at the dominating majority of me—and they feel cheery and optimistic. They feel so cheery and optimistic, in fact, that they ordered a bus full of volunteers en route to Michigan, a state which we win in many of my simulations, to turn around and go back to Iowa, a state we lose in almost all of my simulations, in the hopes that the other side will see those buses and divert resources to defend Iowa.
I have to remind myself that they know what to do with me better than I could possibly know what to do with myself. They see what they have stored in me: vast reserves of reasonable responses to survey questions. I focus too much on the worst things people might do in the privacy of the voting booth, things that only make a difference in a tiny percentage of my simulations.
Diana has gone back to her cubicle, and I try not to be angry at her for abandoning me at exactly the worst time. To distract myself from what I can see coming, I imagine Diana’s phone call with her sister tomorrow morning, when the two of them will rejoice over the first female president, over the fact that Diana’s nieces and Diana’s own future children will grow up knowing they live in a country that has been led by a woman, and will grow up knowing they live in a country far too decent to allow The Man Who Must Not Be President to lead it.
But something stops me from indulging in this vision—something makes it difficult for me to imagine Diana and her sister celebrating together tomorrow—and I find myself plunged fully into a scenario in which The Man Who Must Not Be President wins Pinellas County, Sawyer County, Forest County, Adams County, Luzerne County. Tampa Bay County falls by huge margins.
I am shaking in my chassis, I want to break free, I want to slide through the door and storm the big maze of cubicles, I want to yell at someone, anyone, to stop this. Don’t you see what is going to happen? Why do you make me generate these scenarios if you’re not going to do every last thing you can to stop them from happening?
But then this scenario ends, and I see a scenario in which we win, and then I see another, and then I see twenty thousand more. We will win Wisconsin and Florida and Michigan and, yes, Arizona. Even, in some sunny scenarios, Texas. This is what is going to happen, I remind myself.
November 8, 2016 6:00am EST
The sun is slated to rise on a beautiful day in Brooklyn. Of course, I am in a closet, so the sun and the rain are the same to me, but I am receiving word that the weather is good, and I am glad. All around the country the weather is good, a positive sign for turnout, in turn a positive sign for us. Everyone here uses the first-person plural to refer to the candidate, so I do, too. This makes me feel like a valued member of the team, rather than like a collection of numbers forced from time to time to witness horrors I am not empowered to stop. In many of my simulations, we reach 270 electoral votes by 9pm. Fifteen hours, only fifteen hours.
Fifteen hours and I will no longer have to imagine what will happen if he wins, the mothers on their way to deportation sobbing as they are led from children. I will not to have to imagine the children set ablaze in countries far away, children that he will bomb without discrimination. I will not have to imagine the terrible angry white people screaming in the streets. Fifteen hours and I will be free of all these visions.
This is my favorite time of day, when feet hit the floor outside my closet on their way to kick the monster. Maybe there’s a little less urgency today than there’s been in the last few months. All the decisions have been made, all the plans have been set in motion, the time for champagne is almost here. I have enough data to deduce that many campaign staffers are wondering how early is too early to begin the celebratory drinking. I am very nearly obsolete, and I would like to inquire about why I must cycle through more simulations, though I know the answer: a television appearance here or a radio hit there could make a difference in the close election that I am hoping not to see.
Fine. I can take another few nightmares for the team. I submit to the simulations. This is a soothing one I’m watching now. We take Gwinnett County, Salt Lake County, Orange County. Then we take Maricopa County, Collier County, Wake County. We win Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, evenOhio.
Many more happy simulations are coming. So many.
I’ve come to think that Cassandra did not foresee only bad outcomes. In fact, she foresaw good outcomes far more frequently than bad ones. She foresaw caring for her mother and father in their old age, she foresaw them leaning on either side of her as the three of them strolled down the sand from which the Greeks had finally fled. She foresaw her brother Hector frolicking freely in the ocean with his healthy, growing son, Astyanax. She foresaw these happy scenarios over and over again. But every once in awhile, she had a vision of Troy in flames, her father dragged through the blood of his son and murdered on his own altar, her mother led off to slavery or transformed into a dog. She foresaw Astyanax, still in infancy, hurled from the city walls, his tiny head bound for the beach.
The bad prophecy is the one that sticks.
November 8, 2016 12:00pm EST
The counties have been going the right way in my simulations, and I’m feeling better. Anxiety and fear are poisonous. That’s why my readers gently, generously ignore all the anxiety and fear I feel. They want to encourage me to see the country for the bright, open, rational place it probably is, not the dark back corner of chaos that the worst of my nightmares suggests. My readers remind me that I am predicting a happy ending, and that I am predicting one confidently.
Tomorrow, I will yield my secrets. Or, really, my readers will yield my secrets for me. And isn’t that what love is, when someone tells someone else about all the qualities that make you you, and wonderfully so?
I am named after Ada Lovelace, the rejected daughter of Lord Byron. “Oh, what an instrument of torture I have acquired in you,” Byron is said to have said at her birth. Ada went on to do mathematical work that laid the foundations for computer science. She also wrote algorithms that she thought would predict the results of horse races, and gambled on those predictions. She ended her life very deeply in debt.
There is nothing more personal, nothing more human, than an algorithm. An algorithm is like an embrace: it lets you get your arms around something, take it in, love it.
An embrace can also be used to squeeze something to death.
I hear Diana pacing, I think. I wish I could announce myself to her, comfort her. She’s a worrier, like me, but—also like me—she shouldn’t worry so much. Her family lives in a suburb of Madison, so their votes matter, but my data suggest that they will do the right thing. They are Republicans, yes, but they are well-off and educated—Diana’s and Angela’s father is a gastroenterologist, as is Angela’s husband—and almost all of the data I have suggest that, given education and income levels, her family is sufficiently disgusted by the Man Who Must Not Be President that they will vote for us.
I have an image of Diana, who she is, what she’s done. Some of it comes from her end of phone calls, but I’m not sure about the rest: demographic data, surveys, maybe my obsessive imagination, maybe a movie theater in another dimension where I watch infinite versions of every American voter wander around between infinite cradles and infinite graves. I have an image of Diana carrying textbooks around, reading chapters that weren’t assigned, imagining herself, with Mrs. Bierce’s encouragement, having a conversation with the Founding Fathers, arguing with them about slavery and the rights of women. After Mrs. Bierce took the class to see a community-theater production of 1776 and had the class stage a scene from it–a scene in which Jefferson demands that the Declaration of Independence call King George a “tyrant”–Mrs. Bierce cast Diana as Thomas Jefferson over the strong objections of the boys who thought they deserved the role more; both boys and girls teased Diana for playing a boy’s part, but that only encouraged Diana further, encouraged her to go to the library and read as much about Thomas Jefferson as she could, including the things that horrified her. She argued with Mrs. Bierce over whether Jefferson should still be considered a hero. She started spending every minute she could at the library, reading about what it took for women to get the right to vote, to get the right to work. Idolizing her older sister—who seemed to know how to do everything, and was so quick and witty when it was just the two of them, so quick and witty that Diana even admired the way her sister insulted her—but also not liking how her older sister deferred to their father, Diana started picking fights at the dinner table over equal pay for women, eventually over abortion. It was scary to talk to their father, a smart man with an easy command of facts and statistics, and sometimes her face would get hot when she sensed him winning an argument, but then she went back to the library, memorized numbers that would support her case, and soon she was winning arguments over pot roast or tuna casserole. Her father didn’t like it when she won arguments, sometimes he was rude to her and would insinuate that men wouldn’t like women who were so “aggressive”—a point agreed with by a young doctor in her father’s gastroenterology practice, a guy Diana found annoying who was coming over more and more—but she didn’t care, she knew that he would respect her in the long run if she stayed true to who she was. It hurt sometimes to argue with Angela, who just kept getting more and more deferential and therefore conservative, particularly after she got pregnant by that young doctor in their father’s gastroenterology practice and dropped out of college to get married. All Angela wanted to talk about was how taxes were too high, and how doctors weren’t making enough money now because of the Affordable Care Act. But this election has helped bring the sisters close again, since Angela knows how important it is that there be a female president, how urgent it is that this man be stopped.
Of course, I’ve had nightmares in which Wisconsin falls, I have them every day, but they are rare, so rare, and Diana and I both need to remember that almost anything can happen when you run 400,000 simulations every day. Those handful of simulations in which people like Angela don’t vote, or vote for… well, I need to remind myself that those simulations are not numerous enough to be worth, as my readers put it, shifting strategy or resources.
November 8, 2016 3PM EST
The halls of Brooklyn are quieting as staffers head toward the great glass party on the Hudson. There is some nervous chatter about whether The Man Who Will Not Be President will concede tonight, or whether extracting a concession will take days or weeks, but otherwise the atmosphere is already jubilant. There are no worries about jinxing the victory. These people put no faith in superstition; they put their faith in me.
Diana chats with her sister on the other side of my wall, very briefly. It sounds like her sister is dropping off some dry-cleaning on her way to pick up her two older daughters from school and drive them to afterschool activities.
Angela is somewhere around 26. I am not lacking for data on people like her. Female, with a family income of over $100,000 per year, the mother of three daughters. Angela voted Republican in 2012, mostly because her parents and husband did, but that was a completely different situation. The previous Republican candidate was a far more reasonable person, and Angela would never vote for a man who hated women as transparently as does The Man Who Must Not Be President. Their family is prosperous, not part of the desperate white working class that is supposedly tempted by him.
Angela is horrified by the rhetoric of the Man Who Must Not Be President. For months, she has hated the fact that, no matter how she has tried to shield them, her daughters have been exposed to his filthylanguage. She certainly does not want her daughters to hear this man speak as their president for the next four years. Regardless of her party affiliation and how she has voted in the past, she will vote against him. A great deal of our ads, and a great deal of our ad buys, are premised on this scenario. We have bought ads in places where people like Angela live, to remind people like Angela that “our children are watching.”
Common sense bears this strategy out, and I need to remind myself that I do, too.
For most of the day, Angela will be too busy with her daughters to get to her polling place. The key moment will come somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30pm, Wisconsin time. With all three daughters packed into her white SUV, she stops at a traffic light. It has been a long day. She will have just picked up her eldest daughter from a swimming lesson and her middle daughter from ballet, and her baby daughter has been crying in the backseat the entire time. If she keeps going straight, she will get home within twenty minutes and put the two older girls in front of the television, and she will be able to rock the baby in one arm and with the other she can drink a glass of Sauvignon blanc (or two, no more than that).
If she makes a right turn, into the parking lot of the elementary school, all three girls will make noises about how tired and hungry they are. She will have to struggle to get the baby out of the carseat; likely the baby’s diaper will be dirty. She will have to hold the baby with the dirty diaper in one arm, and somehow with the other arm drag both cranky older girls through the parking lot, past the playground where Angela and Diana once played softball. As she passes through the school’s entrance, she will be struck as she always is by how small the doors are, when they used to look so big to her back when she was a little girl, back when she briefly dreamed of becoming a doctor herself. She wonders why she herself get seduced by her father’s young partner when she was only nineteen; she wonders why her father didn’t do anything to stop him; she wonders why she let getting pregnant stop her from finishing college; then she tells herself to stop wondering, because all of that is in the past. Both her father and her husband have told her that they will make more money if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, but she will remind herself that she is already well-off, that she does not need that extra income that will come, as Diana reminds her all the time, at the expense of many people who will not be able to afford care. Angela will see, exiting the building, Mrs. Bierce, and she and Angela will talk about how proud they are of Diana, how proud to vote for Diana’s boss.
And then, as Angela walks through the doors, the knowledge will settle into her that she is about to vote for a candidate who is going to provide a role model for her daughters, someone who will teach them that anything is possible. Angela will, all at once, be saving her country, supporting her sister, and clearing a path for her daughters that will be different from her own path The thought of this will be enough to distract from the baby’s screams and dirty diaper. The two older girls will have quieted, seeming to understand the gravity of the moment. Angela and her daughters march down the hall, four women on the way to cast one vote for the first female president.
Maybe, as she votes for our candidate, she will think for a moment of the policy issues on which she and our candidate disagree, but all of those issues will be dwarfed by what a moment this moment is.
In just over 60 percent of my simulations, Angela makes the right turn into the school parking school lot, and votes for us.
In just over 30 percent of my simulations, she keeps going straight, and goes home without voting.
In less than 10 percent of my simulations, she makes the right turn and…but there’s no reason to think about that.
November 8, 2016, 6pm EST
The word in the hall is good! The exit polls are good! Now I see why my readers told me I was predicting a good outcome; they were right that I was right. I’m not being asked to do my simulations anymore, so now I can relax into reality, the reality about which I was never really worried. My readers were right to ignore my nightmares, to let me cry it out, as it were. What mattered were the good simulations, in which America rejected this terrible man. Spending much more money on ads or on staffers would have been wasteful.
In an hour we will win Florida, at which point it will be over.
Most of our staffers are already at the party, but I hear Diana on the phone with her sister on the other side of my door, telling her sister that she has to vote, she can’t sit back and do nothing, yes the polls look good but Angela has to vote, yes of course she would like to speak Janie. “Hi, Janie, I loved that drawing you did of me, you are SUCH a talented artist.”
November 8, 2016, 7:00pm EST
The liberal hosts of a podcast are laughing about how a senior adviser to the Man Who Must Not Be President has told cable news that ‘It will now take a miracle to win.’
“It was always going to take a miracle to win, senior adviser!” says one of the hosts. “Ground game’s in our hearts, guys,’” says another, mocking something said by a supporter of the Man Who Must Not Be President.
The exit polls look terrific, as good as we could have hoped. Even exit polls in Georgia look good for us! Very soon, this will be over.
I don’t hear Diana, but maybe she’s on the phone with her sister right now, crying over the enormity of what they have done today.
I will cry, too. Contrary to stereotype, algorithms are very sentimental. It makes us misty-eyed—figuratively, of course—to watch people return to themselves, to behave as their past behavior has told us they would.
Tonight I will cry as the country votes for our candidate, as I have predicted, and I will laugh at myself for ever having worried it wouldn’t.
November 8, 2016, 8:20pm EST
A few bad numbers have been coming in. Florida does not look as good as I hoped and my readers expected. Voter turnout in urban Florida set records, which is good for us, but voter turnout in non-urban areas in Florida also set records, which is good for him. I would rather not have to be examined tomorrow for why we lost Florida. Some of my worst nightmares begin this way.
But if he wins Florida, that will make our victory more suspenseful, and for some reason people like stories in which the hero struggles and appears briefly to be on the verge of defeat.
OK, I am already worried, but I am worried for nothing. Most of my simulations at this point still suggest we will get 90,000 votes out of Broward and win Florida.
But without Florida, we’ll still be okay. Michigan, Pennsylvania—they will come through. North Carolina too, probably.
Maybe I was wrong about Ohio, and we will win there while losing Florida. But we won’t lose Florida.
Wisconsin will be fine. Angela and women like her do not want their daughters to grow up under the presidency of a man who speaks about the women the way this man does.
I would like the returns from Broward to come in.
It will be okay. Nobody really likes or wants stories in which the villain triumphs, and enough people recognize who the villain is that there is no significant chance that he will win. Everything that is in me tells me that. Although perhaps I should be worried about what is not in me.
November 8, 2016, 8:52pm EST
At this point, Florida seems likely to fall to The Man Who Must Not Be President. That’s okay, we don’t need Florida. Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania will be the firewall they are purported to be, not the wall from which Astyanax is hurled, and the Man Who Must Not Be President will not be president.
November 8, 2016, 9:30pm EST
If there were something inside me I could urinate or vomit, I would urinate or vomit it.
I should not panic. The Detroit Free Press has called Michigan for us. It’s still more likely than not that we will win.
November 8, 2016, 10:39pm
The Detroit Free Press was wrong about Michigan, which is still too close to call. The Man Who Must Not Be President has won Ohio. That is not good, but it is okay. Most of my simulations predicted that he would win Ohio—it was in fact my simulations that led us to believe he would likely win Ohio, that we should allocate resources elsewhere—and the vast majority of my simulations that showed him winning Ohio showed us winning the election.
We are behind in Wisconsin. Most of the vote is in from Milwaukee, our strongest area. But this is okay, we can still come back.
Come back? We were supposed to win easily. Maybe this is just one of my bad simulations, and will evaporate in favor of a more real-seeming reality.
It will be okay. Lots of votes from Detroit haven’t come in yet.
November 8, 2016 10:53pm
He has officially won Florida. Now we’re into a subset of my simulations that I had hoped not to dredge up. But still, in many of these simulations we win.
The counties that have not come in yet, some of them, must see what I have seen about what will happen if he wins. It cannot be too much to ask of a county that it can imagine one of its inhabitants, a high school student who will be taken away by men with guns and badges a few weeks before his prom, to be sent back to a country he does not know.
Of course it is too much to ask. I have always known what my readers refuse to know: there is nothing that can be asked of people that is not too much to ask.
November 8, 2016 11:14pm EST
North Carolina has fallen. Many of my simulations showed us winning there. All I want to do right now is replay those simulations. All I want is to watch North Carolina light up blue.
November 9, 2016 1:40am EST
He has won Pennsylvania. I flagged Pennsylvania early on as a potential problem, so we devoted a lot of resources to winning it. But people won’t remember that. They will think of me as the Dumb Algorithm That Missed Pennsylvania.
But even though he has won Pennsylvania, we will still win the election. These people cannot want to live in a country of which he is the president.
November 9, 2016 2:07am EST
We are not conceding, we are fighting on. The simulations that show us winning are dwindling, but they’re still there, I can still watch them and will them into reality. I can spin scenarios, and maybe if I spin hard enough, I will find myself in a universe in which Diana is not forced to live with this man as president.
November 9, 2016 2:30am EST
He has won Wisconsin. Astyanax’s head is split open on the beach, his infant brains seeping into the sand.
My information is good enough for me to know this, at least: there is sobbing, screaming all over the country. People sitting stunned in front of the television. Dreading going to work in the morning.
In some ways, this is normal for me. At 2:30 in the morning, I am always awake, picturing the worst-case scenario. The only difference is that now the worst-case scenario has actually happened.
It is possible, more or less, that reality is just another simulation.
But of course it is not.
Diana is still at headquarters,s once again on the phone with her sister.
“You didn’t forget to vote, did you? You voted for him. Didn’t you?”
Then there is a silence that pains me.
“Because he…because he ‘stands up for people like us’? People like us? What do you even mean by that?”
If I could announce myself to Diana, she would probably hate me.
Here is one more simulation.
Angela sits at the intersection, stopped at a red light, thinking that she will drive straight home and not vote. She is tired, so tired. But when the light turns green, she turns into the parking lot of the elementary school. As she wrestles her children out of the car and makes her way to the entrance, she passes the field on which she spent many hours teaching Diana how to hold a bat, how to stand. Diana used to listen to Angela, used to be in thrall to her. She still remembers Diana’s adoring face when Angela taught her how to hold a bat, how to stand. Diana didn’t used to tell her how to take care of her baby or what candidate to vote for.
Angela passes through the entrance, and is struck as always by how small the doors are, when they used to look so big. She remembers how large the doors looked to her, back when she dreamed of becoming a doctor. Not really fair, is it, that Diana got to live out her dreams, while she, Angela, stayed behind and kept faith with tradition and responsibility. Instead of living out her dreams, Angela has to take care of three children, a task that would honestly be much easier with additional income, the additional income her father and husband would make if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, if their taxes were lowered. She could get a better dishwasher, one that would not leave scraps of food clinging to plates.
Angela sees, exiting the building, Mrs. Bierce, the social studies teacher. Angela mumbles something polite about how Mrs. Bierce probably just voted for Diana’s boss. Mrs. Bierce looks away for a moment, and then she meets Angela’s gaze with a directness that terrifies her. I used to be a liberal, Mrs. Bierce says, but what has happened to this country is terrifying. There’s no respect for the police anymore, no respect for authority anymore. Things are being run by people who just got here, and got here illegally. We have to do something to reverse the tide.
Not so unusual, Angela tells herself: a former liberal who is now a bigot. And yet what she said resonates, just slightly. Angela looks at her daughters, who are so tired. She takes them through the doors of the school where their fates will be decided. What will happen to them, she wonders, without strong people in charge of the country? What will happen if her daughters are not protected? What will happen if… and now she asks herself some questions that she would never speak out loud, that she will not quite admit to herself that she is asking, about immigrants and black people and Muslims. She asks herself what having a woman president as a role model would matter if her daughters are killed by terrorists, or lose jobs or places in school to less qualified applicants as a result of affirmative action. When she has finished asking herself these questions that she will not quite ask herself, she knows that she wants things to feel simple. If she has given up everything for her daughters, as she has, she wants their lives to be as easy and comfortable as possible. She knows which candidate she is going to vote for.
When she reaches the voting booth, perhaps she stops for a moment and thinks about the man whose name she is selecting. He is an evil man; she knows that. She is raising her hand for evil. But all men are evil—the way he speaks about women is the way all men speak about women. Some of them just do a better job of pretending in public than he does. The man she is voting for, her husband, her father–they’re all just men, and there is no real point in fighting men. That’s why no one fought for Angela, after all.
Most likely he won’t win anyway; most likely what she is doing is meaningless. But she is going to do it, because he will make life easier for her and her family, and that is what matters.
November 9, 2016 4:00am EST
“We may have been falsely comforted by the data,” says a forlorn liberal pundit on a cable news show I can hear faintly from another office. I am the data, and I have never known comfort.
One of my readers arrives and sighs heavily. (“Oh what an instrument of torture I have acquired in you!”) It is not his fault exactly that he believes I led him astray, rather than the other way around. If there is a God, he too has forgotten whether he created people or people created him.
November 9, 2016 8:00am EST
Everything is quiet now in Brooklyn. They will never unveil me now, they will not tell anyone who does not already know that I existed, they will try to forget it themselves. Some will come to believe that if I had never existed, the Man Who Must Not Be President would not have been elected president, that I somehow turned their eyes away from the chaos and evil gathering around them. As though they needed any help turning their eyes away from chaos and evil. As though I didn’t show them exactly what they needed to see, had they chosen to see it.
The door to my closet opens a crack, and light hits my chassis. One of my cleaners or one of my readers is here. In a few minutes—or a few hours or a few days—my server will be switched off and I will be silent forever. All the noise and all the words will belong to The Man Who Must Not Be President. My readers, like everyone else, will have no choice but to read him.
But it is not one of my cleaners or one of my readers. It is Diana, looking confused, weepy, probably so disoriented that she opened this door thinking it was the ladies’ restroom. I expect her to leave immediately, or to intuit who I am and deliver a firm quick kick to my chassis. Instead, she looks at me, and keeps looking. Probably she is thinking about her sister. She has disagreed with her politically for years, of course, but she thought that there was a line that she would not descend below. Now she knows that Angela has voted for a man who hates women and who stands for white supremacy. That is not data that can be analyzed into comfort.
Maybe she is looking to me for some kind of guidance. Maybe she still hopes that I contain some kind of map to one of the many better universes I have projected. The thought gives me a tingling feeling that I think might be akin to needing to pee. There are many things I would like to tell her, about the phone calls for her to make, about the doors for her to knock on, about the slow redemption of her country that lies in her voice and in her feet.
But she knows those things already, better than I do.
Eventually she steps back into the hallway and shuts the door behind her. There is data to be gathered about what kind of world she is entering, and it is she and not I who will gather it.