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In a sea of hyperpartisanship, a glimmer of hope

Vermont is bluer than blue but gave Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, an overwhelming mandate.

In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, rode to an overwhelming victory over his Democratic/progressive challenger, David Zuckerman.Wilson Ring/Associated Press/File 2020

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Some thoughts while printing up the “Don’t Blame Me. I Voted For Kanye” T-shirts.

While officials in a handful of states continued to count votes, and Joe Biden inched his way toward the presidency, the only unquestioned winners are the lawyers who are going to clean up with all of the legal challenges filed by the Trump cartel.

Scanning popular analysis, a common theme is that the only indisputable conclusion to draw from the 2020 presidential election is that this remains a country uncomfortably and intractably divided.

But there are pockets of optimism, a glimmer of the idea that the hyperpartisanship that has infected our body politic — as ruinous in its own way as the virus that has paralyzed so much of ordinary life — can be tempered.


Take what happened here in Vermont on Tuesday.

Donald Trump was thoroughly rejected by an electorate that is overwhelmingly white, liberal, and progressive.

But before you chalk that all up to all those earthy-crunchy, Birkenstock-wearing, Ben & Jerry’s-eating hippies, consider that the state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, rode to an overwhelming victory over his Democratic/progressive challenger, David Zuckerman.

Scott garnered almost 70 percent of the vote.

That’s crazy.

Especially when you consider that there are more blue herons in Vermont than Republicans. Well, not really.

But a funny thing happened the other day. People here voted for the person they thought was best suited for the job. For president and governor. Party affiliation, of both the voter and the candidate, had little to do with that calculus.

It’s not just Vermont. Three of the states where Trump received the lowest percentage of votes — Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland — have electorates with Democratic majorities and popular Republican governors.

They are also governors, who, unlike the leader of their party, listen to public health experts when it comes to combating a pandemic. Governors who have been willing to criticize said leader if he has said something offensive or patently untrue.


That takes political courage, and such honesty and basic decency were rewarded here on Tuesday, when Phil Scott cruised to a lopsided victory over the sitting lieutenant governor.

Scott has been widely credited with deftly handing the pandemic here, listening to his chief medical adviser, Dr. Mark Levine, aka the Tony Fauci of the Green Mountains. Vermont has had the nation’s lowest infection and death rates all along. Scott has regularly deflected credit, saying it was ordinary Vermonters who deserve praise, because they have worn masks and adhered to social distancing not necessarily to protect themselves, but to protect their families, friends, and neighbors.

Scott was reluctant to impose an order making masks mandatory, because he said Vermonters didn’t have to be forced to care about their neighbors. In the end, he made masks mandatory because of the influx of summer tourists.

Garrison Nelson, a professor at the University of Vermont and the state’s most astute political scientist, said political parties are notoriously weak in Vermont. Beyond the lack of institutional partisanship, he said Vermonters' sense of neighborliness keeps the partisan bickering and backbiting to a minimum.

“Look,” he said, “there’s 630,000 people in a relatively small geographical area and we all know each other. If you get stuck in the winter, you want your neighbor to be willing to pull you out of the ditch. Cold weather is a great equalizer. We are obliged to look after one another.”


Hyperpartisanship thrives especially in the anonymity of social media.

“There’s not a lot of anonymity in Vermont,” Nelson said.

Also a fact: If you manage to convince Vermonters you’re competent at your job, they are loath to bounce you out.

As Nelson notes, since 1872, only one incumbent governor has been defeated; no elected senator has ever been defeated; and only two sitting congressmen have been voted out.

Nelson also believes the town meeting form of government puts a check on partisan excess.

“You have to maintain civility and conviviality to be governed,” he said.

Civility to be governed? Now there’s a concept.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.