(or The Only Thing We Have to Fear is…?)
For the past few weeks, I’ve been in a state of emotional paralysis. It started before Election Day, when the pundits and media were still re-assuring us of a Hillary victory, even though I feared, back then, that they weren’t telling us the whole truth. I clung to the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight and Rachel Maddow. I remember a feeling of relief well over me – relief! – that Rachel was hosting a show on the Sunday night before the election, so that we only had to get through Saturday without her calm presence and analysis and experts reassuring us that it was all going to be okay.
Since Election Day, I feel like I’ve been trapped in the opening sequence of the movie Groundhog Day. Every morning I wake up and it’s if my mind has to re-learn the fact that we have, actually, for real, in all seriousness, elected Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. It’s as if my brain so completely cannot wrap itself around this fact that I have to forget it each and every night in order to go to sleep, then am forced to re-learn it every morning when I wake up and am confronted with this new reality. It’s everywhere and can’t be avoided – social media, old-fashioned media, the distraught faces of my fellow citizens of these great Northeastern States of America.
Before the election I had several blog posts in the works. Ideas, musings, even some sentences loosely constructed and strung together. But those thoughts are all blocked, and I have to get my thoughts on this election out before anything else can emerge. I’ve read and reacted to the thoughts and reflections of so many of my friends, who all make up my own “bubble” of kind, empathic, moral people. But I wanted to leave my own thoughts here.
I actually resent the accusation that I live in a bubble, which is the explanation I’m given as to why I find the results of this election so shocking. I am not the least bit oblivious or ignorant to the plight of the 99%. I get it that the wealthy have only gotten more wealthy, leaving everyone else to fall far behind. I know that we need significant change to shore up the middle class and pull as many as we can out of poverty. But I don’t believe, even for a split second, that Donald Trump cares about the 99%. I will not be surprised if his policies only profit him and the other white men at the top of the economic food chain. Sure, he might build a few roads and bridges (which our aging infrastructure sorely needs), but I fear that he will do much more harm than good to our country and to our world.
(I was able to let out a brief chuckle when I read a reference by the New York Times to “TrumpWorks” – which echoed of AmWorks, the controversial jobs program from the TV series House of Cards, which features its own narcissistic President Frank Underwood. I’m starting to have a hard time distinguishing fiction from reality, Netflix from CNN.)
Both sides of the media kept telling me that the Electoral College favors the Democrats, so I don’t understand how in 2 of the 6 elections I’ve voted in (or 33%), the Democrat has won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College. And in the other two times this happened, in 1876 and 1888, it was also the Democrat candidate who prevailed in the popular vote yet lost the election. The Republicans have never suffered such a defeat. (I am intentionally ignoring the results of 1824 since that was prior to the formation of our current two-party system.) Since the summer’s Brexit vote, I let myself fall under the illusion that the Electoral College was designed specifically to prevent a vote like Brexit from happening – that the Founders knew the general populace couldn’t be trusted to make such important decisions. Now I’m not so sure.
I remember feeling disappointed that Bush beat Gore in 2000, but I was not scared. Then I was downright exasperated that Bush was re-elected in 2004 despite a terrible track-record in office. Sometimes I lure myself into thinking that we survived George W. Bush, so surely we can survive this too. But then I remember 9/11, two wars and an economic recession. I think “W” was incompetent as a president, but I don’t think he was malicious (now, Cheney, that’s another story). I fear Trump is a potently dangerous combination of incompetence and malice.
At some point on that Tuesday night, the dread of the election outcome turned to the dread of the realization that we would have to break the news to our older son in the morning. He came into our room very early, and we didn’t waste any time in telling him what happened. He burst into tears. By comparison, my first memory of a presidential election was in 1988, when I was 12. I have no memory of the historic nomination of Geraldine Ferraro as the Democratic Vice-President four years before. I never cried over the results of a presidential election – until now. So I joined my son in crying, while trying to provide what truthful reassurances that I could.
Some may say that we should shield our children from politics, but I don’t see how to. They live here, with us. They see things on TV and hear things on the playground. Try as we might to protect them from reality, it is futile – and I don’t want to anyways. I pledge to keep them as safe as I can, but I cannot protect them from the reality of the world we live in, the world they have to grow up in. I’d rather they’d learn about it now and find ways to cope and manage, than be sheltered and left blinded and unprepared.
I’ve written before about how hard this parenting gig can be. I feel that this election has just made a hard job that much harder. My sister argued that children learn more from the direct example set by their parents. And that is true, but how much harder is it now that we have a racist bully in the White House? What message does that send to our children? That you can be mean and be a bully and not care about anyone else and still aspire to the highest office in the land? That there is nothing that can stop you? We admire Obama in our household; we leverage his authority when necessary, such as “The Obama says we have to wear a seat belt.” We will not be doing the same with Trump. I suspect, instead, there will be many frank conversations about how we do not follow the example of our current president.
Even the four-year-olds weighed in on the outcome. Our younger son and his friend discussed the election result in the backseat of the car on the way home from school. His friend, a girl, leaned over and asked “Aren’t you sad that the girl didn’t win?”
The outcome was such a double-blow. We were so close to seeing a woman ascend to the presidency, and instead we lost that historic milestone and elected a monster, all at the same time. I’m not even sure which blow hurt more, but I felt both, that one-two punch, deep down in my gut.
I do not understand how a majority of white women (53%) could vote for this man. How white women can seemingly let race trump their own womanhood. Women make up the majority in this country, and yet we still seem content to be treated as second-class citizens. What is it going to take for women to rise up and demand full equality?
I applaud Hillary Clinton and the over 81 million (and counting) cracks she helped put in the glass ceiling. But that glass ceiling is not going to fall easily, it turns out. I’m thankful that I don’t have a daughter, and that I don’t have to look her in the eye and tell her that she can do or be anything that she wants to. Because that is not true. Women have come a long way, no doubt, but we are still limited, confined, restricted in so many ways. It’s still a man’s world. Well, a straight, white, “Christian” man’s world to be exact.
I remember admiring Margaret Thatcher as a young girl, precisely because she was a woman in power. I didn’t know the whole truth of Thatcherism, as I do now. I won’t support any woman just based on gender alone (see: Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley). It is my hope that I live long enough to see this country elect a woman – and a phenomenal woman at that – to this office (not that I didn’t think Hillary was qualified, deserving and phenomenal in her own right). I’m starting to lose faith that either scenario could happen.
I distinctly remember the feeling of hope when I voted in 2008. I stood in a line that wrapped all the way around the nearby elementary school. There was a celebratory spirit in the air, you couldn’t help but feel that we were on the cusp of great change.
I felt markedly different voting this year. How ironic that Obama ran on a platform of change and so too did Trump. Obama’s change was about hope, but Trump’s change is about isolationism, extremism and hate.
There were some bright spots in the makeup of our electorate. Voters aged 18-44 supported Hillary. Voters 18-25 were even better, nearly turning the entire electoral map blue. It makes me proud that I at least aligned with the popular vote, my age group, my state, my gender. But it seems that like the Brexit vote before it, the majority of the generation with the least to lose was willing to risk it all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t call out the impact of those who threw away a vote on a third-party candidate. In times of historically significant elections, it is not democratic to vote for someone who has no chance of winning the election. The margins were too small, the stakes too high.
And I don’t get how the people elected Trump and also returned so many incumbents to Congress – those very people who stifled Obama’s noble vision for change. It’s impressive that Obama was able to enact as much change as he did, despite blockades by the Republicans. And yet, now Democrats are expected to do the very opposite of what the Republicans have spent the last six years doing. Democrats are meant to just accept the results of the election, get behind this wicked man and his administration and co-operate.
Well I’m not going to. I don’t have to accept him as my president. I don’t have to get behind him and march in step with a president who stands for the exact opposite of everything I believe in and hold true. He does not deserve my respect (that would have to be earned).
There are real-world consequences on the line.
I fear a recession from which we may never recover, leaving my generation working well past the age of retirement and my children inheriting a world of economic instability. I fear a loss of medical insurance for 20 million of people and a return to a time of inadequate basic healthcare for all. I fear a rolling-back of all human-rights and civil liberties that we (particularly the disenfranchised) have had to fight so hard for over the last century. I fear a return to a time when woman no longer have agency over their own bodies. I fear the further destruction of our fragile planet and the undoing of what may be our only chance to reverse the determinedly onward progression of climate change. I fear the systematic deportation of our fellow citizens, in what we must not forget is just a nation of immigrants. I fear war and unabashed, unforgiving violence. I fear an end of basic civility – what those on the right call “political correctness,” but I think of basic human decency, common courtesy, morality, respect and acceptance.
(And as an aside, I just want to wrap Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg (age 83), Kennedy (age 80) and Breyer (age 78) in bubble-wrap and move them permanently into their offices in the Supreme Court until the next election. These 3 justices cannot die while Trump is in office. Or better yet, I just wish Obama would execute his constitutional right and appoint Merrick Garland to the current vacancy.)
People want change – and have now foolishly placed their trust in a man who has no business leading this country. Trump has been called many things – racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, narcissistic, demagogue – but there is really only one word needed to describe his core: evil. I remember studying about Nazi Germany in World History class and not understanding how this happened. How did people just stand by and watch that horror unfold? Now I understand it in a way that I didn’t before. I just hope that there are enough people to stand up and fight back this time.
When is the other half going to wake up? When we start rounding up our fellow citizens and throwing them into camps? When we start silencing the media and locking up journalists? When we begin waging wars and detonating nuclear weapons?
As we talked about the election results and how we might respond, we invoked the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. Our son replied, in all earnest and fear, “what if someone shoots me?” And it is a completely valid question. A metaphor that I have heard from several people is this: What hill am I going to die on? What am I willing to sacrifice and what am I not? I don’t have the answers to those questions but I presume it will become quite clear in the months ahead.
I have reserved a little hope for the midterm elections in 2018 – that the Democrats can unite and take back control of either of the House or the Senate (or better yet, both), as the Republicans did in 2010 in response to Obama’s agenda for change. History tells us that the incumbent party usually loses seats in these midterm elections, but you only have to remember the 2002 election, when the Republicans gained seats, to realize that such a sea-change is far from a given.
Lewis Rothschild: People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.
President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.
~ The American President (1995)
We are entering dark times. More than one person I know has invoked a reference to Harry Potter. Even when Hogwarts was under siege, those who believed, children and adults alike, kept wands at the ready, willing to battle to the end.
In these dark times, we must not forget the difference between the sand and water, even when we are short on light and magic wands. Now is the time for vigilance, courage and faith. Otherwise we are all doomed.