It’s been nearly 48 hours, and I still can’t get over this new reality we’re living in. I started Tuesday feeling oddly anticlimactic, given that Hillary Clinton had been such a presumed favorite for so long; yet I still found myself in tears while working, editing the many beautiful reflections made by my colleagues on the road that led us to the first woman president. And then Tuesday, to for once use the cliché of the slow-motion car accident aptly, was a sludgy dawning nightmare that even now seems to contradict everything I thought I knew about the world and country I lived in. I still keep pinching myself, expecting to wake up at any moment; I’m stuck in the denial phase of grief, thinking surely America’s hatred of women and nonwhites and non-heterosexuals couldn’t possible run this deep.
And yet clearly it does.
The most racist thing I’ve ever experienced happened to me here, in DC, maybe two years ago — far into the supposedly post-racial Obama years. A friend and I had gone to a St. Patrick’s Day beer fest in Southeast (arguably itself a perversion of cultural traditions). As we were leaving the venue, chatting with each other, we heard a voice behind us. “Sand slaves,” it said, apropos of nothing. I turned to see who could possibly be making such a tasteless joke, and saw a large-ish group of white people, men and women, with the epithet-tosser drunkenly proud of his nerve. And it wasn’t a mistake; when my friend and I both expressed disbelief, he doubled down; it’s the only time I’ve ever actually slapped someone in the face, not that it made any difference to him.
That was the most overtly racist thing that’s been directed at me, but there have been far more incidents over my now two-plus decades in America, the majority of them way more subtle — sometimes to the point that I questioned myself on whether I was being oversensitive. Now I know that in the America we live in, no such thing exists.
That’s not to mention the man I dated, seriously, for whom me cooking barefoot in his kitchen was a fantasy and who when I asked, for the purpose of sussing out how equal our eventual union might be, whether he would ever consider staying at home to take care of the children practically laughed in my face.
I have vivid memories of being teased relentlessly by my classmates for not dressing right, for not eating the right foods, for not going to the right church or any church at all. Eventually I learned to hide those things that made me “different,” to the point that it dictated my friends and my interests and even my choice of college. But all of that pales in comparison to what other groups in America have dealt with all their lives and now must feel so acutely. I don’t speak with an accent or wear a headscarf; I happened to be born to identify with the gender that society dictates for me and to be attracted to the opposite sex. If my experience as a straight, non-visibly-religious minority woman in America has been so personally traumatizing, god knows how I could ever expect to understand the depths of anger and despair and fear the people who have been truly marginalized by American society must be feeling.
I don’t want to put things into a binary with racist, bigoted Trump supporters on one side and the enlightened rest of us on the other. There are so many shades of gray (and brown and black and white and purple) in between that I wouldn’t even know where to start. But I am struggling to square away the hope these eight years of President Obama have brought us with the shocking, violent reversal one Tuesday in November seems to portend.
I want to have sympathy for the downtrodden people in the middle of the country who feel the economy has passed them by, who have struggled, just like many of us, for years to find jobs and afford insurance and put their kids through college. And I do, in a way. I feel deeply sorry for the cynicism and disillusionment they will feel when the realize a rich charlatan has sold them a bill of goods for the express purpose of enriching his own brand and wealth. I feel sorry that they will have to (short of deep, blinding denial even more extreme than what we’ve seen so far) understand that the party they think champions their interests is instead in deep with the Wall Street bankers and otherwise 1 percent that will hurt them endlessly to enrich themselves by any means feasible.
2016 was supposed to be a banner year for America, and for me. It was the first calendar year same-sex marriage had been totally legalized. It was the final year in office of the most consequential president perhaps in my lifetime, who was poised to elect the first woman president America had seen in the almost two and a half centuries of her existence. It was the year I got engaged, a period that’s supposed to be marked by hope for the future, for my future marriage and potential future children, and (I thought) for the country and the world.
And yet now we have an openly racist, sexist, xenophobic idiot in the most powerful office in the world, whose agenda for his first 100 days in office basically amounts to ripping Obama’s hard-won legacy to shreds and then setting it on fire. He wants to leave 22 millioin people without insurance. He wants to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy while raising taxes on the most needy. He wants to abolish the fucking Environmental Protection Agency and pull America out of the Paris climate accords, prioritizing potential short-term political gains over policies that literally will affect the rest of humanity and life on the planet for potentially the rest of its existence.
I understand the US government is built with a system of checks and balances for a reason, but Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the presidency, and not a single lawmaker has shown him- or herself to be above the kind of cowardice that turns them into sycophants the second the vote tally came in. Instead, November 8 delivered me into a world where I am a little bit afraid to leave my home, where I am uncertain of my rights as a woman to my own body and as a member of the press to my freedom of expression, where I deplore of ever having children because of the reality of the burden of debt and environmental ruin and day-to-day pure hatred they might endure. I am sick to my stomach, both at the realities of today and with the realization that no matter how things go, someday our generation will have to explain to our children and our children’s children how the era of the most progressivism America literally had ever seen was followed by a sharp regression to the dark ages thanks to an orange demogorgon and the platform of reality TV.
We will have to account for how our generation, ostensibly the most progressive and most diverse ever, let this happen. How these four years (if indeed it is only four years) caused ripple effects across the globe for decades. How one rich man’s desire for greater fame and prestige unleashed an ugly, unstoppable tirade of white fury that’s been building since this country’s conception.
Lots of people are saying to band together now, that love trumps hate, that everything will come out in the wash eventually. But so many people I know (me included) have been in literal tears for the past few days, trying to wrap our heads around the reality that so much of America hates what we are — LGBTQ, nonwhite, owners of a vagina — that they would install a dangerous, ignorant sexual assaulter in the highest office in the land. No matter what happens four years from now (or two or eight), I will always remember the crushing disillusionment I felt the moment I realized America would rather have a bigoted, amoral snake oil salesman than the most qualified candidate in US history as its president. That the majority of America would rather elect a man — literally any man, even the supremely unworthy — over a woman who has spent her whole life in public office, who has sacrificed again and again, twisted herself into every single bind society told her she had to to win and then was once again, finally, brutally rebuffed.
My parents will probably not live to see the first woman president of the United States, I know that now. I just pray the last president they see is not Donald Trump. I do not want to raise children in a world where I have to explain to them why their country’s president spews hatred and sexism at every breath and has nearly as many guys named “Steve” advising him as he does all women he would deign to even consider for his Cabinet.
I am disgusted. I am horrified. But I will find ways to change things. I got my IUD before fucking Mike Pence can deny my access to it, and I recommend you do too. I will volunteer for women’s health services. I will support my friends dealing with much worse than me, will stand up to bigotry and hatred, will learn my local politics and campaign and lobby and vote vocally and vociferally. All those Facebook posts have it right in one way: America will survive. My investment now is in making sure we recognize it as it does.