I’m in ruins this morning, the day after the election. Though I’m writing this as if someone will read it, I know my traffic numbers (or, number; it’s 0). But I put it here because, I don’t know, why not. Narcissistic fantasy, I guess.
Firstly, I’m heartbroken, and feel utterly betrayed. Four days ago, I tweeted that Clinton would win in a landslide. Last night we escaped some of the early election-night drama by going to a movie, something we rarely do at all, and never on a random weeknight (we saw Dr. Strange, it was good; honestly I could have done without the rotating cityscape chase scene, but it was fun). I was perfectly confident we’d come out to find Clinton with a solid lead, possibly victory already declared (with luck in North Carolina and Florida).
Instead we had texts from my daughter, watching live results with her friends at college, freaking out because “Trump is sweeping”. I rolled my eyes, reassuring my wife on the way home: come on, relax, it just looks like early leads because of the electoral college and timezones and a bunch of little red states, it’ll be fine, Clinton would still win.
Spoiler, she didn’t win.
So one thought I wrestled with all night–in periods of dozing, waking, stomach pain, and general feelings of panic–was whether I was so upset because my “team” “lost”. That maybe it had a lot to do with embarrassment, personal embarrassment, that I’d talked big, been overconfident, and then wound up being just plain wrong. (I can’t stand being wrong, I have to say, that can hardly be overstated.)
But what I’m coming to realize is that although a lot of this pain is from embarrassment, it’s not my embarrassment. It’s embarrassment on behalf of the 57 million Americans who thought so little of the many, many important values that Trump violated during this campaign, that they voted for him anyway. And that just absolutely boggles my mind. I asked a coworker yesterday, back when I was still feeling great and confident, already feeling some relief that this nightmare season was almost over, what it would be like to have to actually meet someone who voted for Trump. I honest-to-god could not imagine that person.
Our country and our society are far from perfect. But when we stop and consider them, and what we value most about them, there are some inarguable things that you would boil down to, every time. Fairness. Compassion. Respect. Lawfulness. Opportunity. A higher nature within us. You know, all the stuff you could do narration about over video of a flag with the national anthem playing in the background. People from different ends of the political spectrum might wind up arguing about the better or worse means to provide that opportunity, for example, but the key value remains.
There are other attributes that are pretty universally considered essential to good leaders (with some of the key ones listed above repeated for emphasis): Intelligence. Wisdom. Curiosity. Fairness. Hard work. Compassion. Respect.
Lastly, and most specific to these United States, are the essential, sacred details of our Constitution, laws, and electoral processes: the right to vote. Due process. Freedom of the press. The very inviolability of elections themselves.
And along comes Donald Trump, whose campaign gives two leering middle fingers to each and every one of those values listed above. Every single one, blatantly flaunted, ignored, or scoffed at.
I do worry about being in an echo chamber. I knew that everyone in my Twitter feed felt the same way I did, and I know it’s because I don’t follow people who don’t feel that way. Maybe I should be stronger and more open to diverse voices, but I’m not and I don’t. But I do at least realize it. Still, this was another big part of last night’s half-asleep-tossing-and-turning-agonizing: was I so blindsided because of my own echo chamber?
It didn’t help, I suppose. But in an election when literally every large newspaper in the country doesn’t just endorse the Democrat–in dramatic reversal to some papers’ own history–but also warned explicitly against voting for Trump, due to how he violates all those traits listed above, that’s not just my echo chamber.
So this is what I’m most ashamed of today. That a person so thoroughly unqualified, a person who should have been disqualified dozens of times over, for dozens of key, fundamental shortcomings, this is the person that 57 million of my fellow Americans cast their vote for. How humiliating, how disgraceful, before history and before the rest of the world, for this to be the outcome. More than half the popular vote went for the qualified, sane candidate, which I suppose is some slim, statistical consolation. But that it was ever close, let alone an electoral college win, my god. I’m reeling.
Hilariously (not) and ironically (really), this choice is in no way in those voters’ interest, anyway. In an appearance on Conan recently, Louis CK summed it up: “if you vote for Clinton, you’re a grownup, and if you vote for Trump, you’re a sucker.” I believe that, and I have to admit, I don’t feel bad that they’re going to get screwed. I do feel bad that the rest of us are going to.
On to the next major feeling: true, real fear.
Again, I’m trying to remain calm, and not overreact. There’s my echo chamber again, not helping, as my Twitter feed is in full-on freak-out today. I do think that the demonization of Trump has overinflated some of his fearful aspects. I also know that the President alone has far less power than their campaign promises would have us believe. The same would be true of Clinton, of course: even with a Democratic Congress she couldn’t achieve everything she campaigned on, any more than any candidate in the history of ever.
Partly that’s political inertia, partly it’s bureaucratic inertia. This morning I’m clinging to those two inertias like lifeguard rings. We’ve seen how uninterested Trump is in doing actual hard work on actual tough issues. He’s going to wade about two toes deep into the “swamp” that he led chants about draining and get bored and distracted. I bet he’s going to make George W. Bush look like the hardest-working man in presidential history.
I also believe that his big-banner campaign ideas, like the infamous wall, or mass deportation of Muslims, will never come anywhere close to fruition. They were stupid rallying cries, and now that they’ve served their purpose–getting 57 million mouth-breathers to pull the lever for Trump–their usefulness is over.
But I’m still plenty worried. He’ll have the FBI, NSA, CIA, USCIS (née INS), IRS, etc. under him, for one thing. Plus a conservative Supreme Court, after an appointment or two (or more). Worst, this is going to be a president with both houses of Congress, whose leaders have been less than completely on his side through the election, but who now are completely in his pocket. As much as George W. claimed to have a “mandate”, Trump will claim even more of one, and he’ll rightly point out it was little thanks to the GOP itself. He owns them, now.
Pause here to acknowledge that I’m an able-bodied, middle-class, college-educated, white, hetero, cis man. I personally have a lot of advantage and little to fear (I think! except for maybe this blog post! see y’all in the camps!). If I were a person of color, or barely making ends meet, or unemployed, or on the verge of losing my health insurance, or gay, I’d really be freaking out. As it is, I guess I’m also freaking out on behalf of those less advantaged than me.
Speaking of how the GOP establishment treated him, another big worry is how everyone else treated him, namely like the ridiculous, unqualified fool he is. He’s shown very clearly–maybe more clearly than anything else–how vindictive he can be. Even to his own apparent detriment, he holds and pursues grudges against personal slights large and small. And there have been some very, very large ones.
Our only hope here is that the structures of government are strong enough, and remain strong enough throughout his term, to protect us from his abuses. From threatening lawsuits against negative press coverage to leveling baseless charges against his opponent, he will soon have a staggering amount of power to wield. He’s also a huge wildcard, just in general, and what this means for American foreign policy could be the scariest part yet. I don’t put it out of the realm of possibility that he could actually start a war, or contribute meaningfully to destabilizing entire regions of the world (e.g., Europe). Maybe the people below him–in the state department, in the military, in law enforcement, in the spy agencies–can protect us.
And then there’s the view from the legislative side. Even if he’s too lazy to get into too much trouble, or too busy pursuing secret surveillance of Alec Baldwin, that GOP Congress will cook up all kinds of nasty stuff that he’s sure to sign (without reading, natch). Some of what I’m most afraid of is what they’ll do to continue unfairly consolidating their power, e.g. undermining voting rights.
I believe society generally evolves toward liberality. I see this in legalization of same-sex marriage, growing acceptance of transgender identities, and even in the legalization of marijuana. I believe the conservative fight against such evolutions is as futile, in the long-term, as fighting women’s suffrage, or civil rights, or the tides. But I also live in Texas, one of the most egregiously gerrymandered states in the country (in favor of the GOP, of course). I’ve seen how an inevitable, long-term trend (e.g., increase of Latino voters) can be unfairly stonewalled for a long time by such dirty tricks, and I worry about the things in that vein that might come from this next administration.
The last main subject on my grueling overnight agenda was me, me, me. What didn’t I do, how did I let this happen, what can I do to fix this, what can I do to work against this. What’s frustrating is that I think I do okay, mostly, if I do say so myself. I contributed to campaigns. I amplified my views as much as possible, though of course that was just in my echo chamber.
And of course I voted, not that my Democratic presidential vote matters in the slightest in Texas (yet). But none of that matters when 53% of white women nationwide cast their ballot for President Pussygrabber. I’ll do what I can, I’ll donate to the SPLC, I’ll be more activist, I’ll subscribe to The Guardian, but there is no earthly way that I can ever turn Florida, North Carolina, or Wisconsin blue.
It’s barely noon on Day Zero, so I’m still trying to come to terms with this (which is why I wrote this in the first place). I think what I need to do, maybe about all I can do, is go back to a saying I know from the environmental movement: “think globally, act locally”. I can’t turn Wisconsin blue, I can’t even turn Texas blue. But I can try to help someone, somehow, near me. As John August wrote early this morning:
I can’t know what the future is going to bring.
But I do know it’s going to mean a more active search for Good. It means finding the ways, places, time and other people to help do it.
It means standing up against injustice and cruelty. It means not looking for blame, but understanding, and solutions.
We can’t control how we feel. We can only control the actions we take. Doing Good is great guide for what those should be.
Maybe if enough of us do that, we’ll get through these next four years intact, and maybe we’ll fuel a backlash that will make that son of a bitch’s head spin.
P.S. Maybe in a year this post will seem wildly overwrought and the fears listed silly. If so, despite my hatred of being wrong, nobody will be happier than I.