When Our Bustling Democracy Fails Us


The bustle just didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Eleven days after the most disheartening election of my lifetime, all I wanted to do was to forget for a few hours that democracy hadn’t worked the way I thought it was supposed to either. I wanted to focus fully on the joy of my daughter and her fiancé as they exchanged marriage vows. I wanted the celebration to be perfect.

But the bustle didn’t work.

That was largely my fault. In hindsight I should have paid more attention. I should have used my phone to capture the seamstress on video as she tied up the bustle in neat little bows, color-coded with ivory and blue strings.

As I knelt on the floor behind my daughter, I just couldn’t get it right. Her bridesmaids tried, but they weren’t there at the last fitting, and in the end, we all made a mess of knots that worked for an evening of dancing but failed to result in the beautiful bustle that was my daughter’s favorite feature of the dress.

This morning I finally had a good cry about the failure of that bustle and the failure of our democracy to work as they were supposed to. I sat with the dress in my lap—dirty from the dance floor, stained from a guest’s spilled wine, tangled from too many well-intended hands.

The bustle didn’t work. Neither did our democracy. And so I wept.

All of the thriving bustle of too many hands, working at cross purposes, has somehow resulted in the election of a man that only about a quarter of eligible voters wanted as president. A quarter wanted his opponent. And like some of those guests at the wedding who avoided the dance floor altogether, nearly half of eligible voters sat this one out.

In the days since my daughter’s wedding, I, too, have thought about how comfortable it would be to sit out the messy dance of democracy.

Just as I’ve done with that dress, I’ve asked myself countless times in recent days what I could have done differently—what all of us could have done differently. The difference, though, is that that wedding dress may never be needed or used again.

Democracy is more like the business attire we women had to put on every day when we first entered the work force and tried to break those glass ceilings that somehow had to shatter all over us, sending sharp shards into our skin, before letting anyone through. It wasn’t comfortable attire, but it was necessary to make way for our daughters, who can now wear slacks, dress down on casual Fridays, and even telework in their pajamas.

I wept this morning, with that wedding dress in my lap in a tangle of ribbons. Scissors beside me, I was certain that the only solution was to cut the ribbons and have a seamstress replace them if the dress is ever used again. But I couldn’t bring myself just to cut the ties and move on. I put on my reading glasses and looked a little more closely. I began to work at those ties, taking a breath when I needed a little more patience. To my surprise, the ties came loose. The dress is still dirty, still wine stained. But now I will pass it on to someone else who has the skills I don’t have. Working together, we will mend that dress in case another bride has a need for it someday.

And perhaps that bustle just might work.

For now, I have no idea how to mend our country. I suspect we need to get more young people on the dance floor of democracy. I’m not sure how to do that either.

For now, I need to follow the advice I gave my daughter often in the months leading up to the wedding: “No matter what goes wrong, remember that you’ll still be married to the person you love at the end of the day.”

For now, I need to remember that, as most marriages do, our democracy has encountered a tangle that makes me want to cut ties and run. But I still love my country. So for now I’ll just try to figure out my part in untangling the messy knots we’ve made in the threads that bind us together.

One thought on “When Our Bustling Democracy Fails Us”

  1. I’m sure Ashley was a beautiful bride and only a few (mom, bride, bridesmaids) even noticed the bustle.

    I wish them love and happiness.

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