Where Do We Go From Here?

“The private life of men of power isn’t what we expect, sometimes.”
He jerked up his chin. “People have some very odd illusions about power. Mostly it consists of finding a parade and nipping over to place yourself at the head of the band. Just as eloquence consists of persuading people of things they desperately want to believe. Demagoguery, I suppose, is eloquence sliding to some least moral energy level.” He smiled bleakly at his boot. “Pushing people uphill is one hell of a lot harder. You can break your heart, trying that.”
– Lois McMaster Bujold, Komarr

The Brexit vote was when I realized it was an actual possibility. Until that point I had dismissed him as ludicrous, a tangerine wannabe demagogue with absurd hair and even more absurd ambitions. After the vote I never discounted him again, but I didn’t think he’d win. He couldn’t. His language was so ugly, his platform xenophobic, his sexism proudly displayed instead of sheepishly passive, that I thought it would be his eventual downfall. Like so many people, I’ve been reeling to see how wrong I was.

The first words said to me by a Brit today, preceded by a cautious look, were, “My god. Your country.” I flinched.

My country, yes, but one that I don’t feel in particular harmony with at the moment. What Mr. Trump seems to have tapped into is very real and painful fear and resentment and I don’t dismiss that. If anything, I think the one thing his campaign should get some credit for is helping to reveal that we as a nation to not have our **** nearly together as we would like the rest of the world to think. We scratched our surface and found a lot of damage under what turned out to be a thin layer of gloss.

But even in spite of that I didn’t think he would win.

I’ve been very open about the fact that I found Mr. Trump’s campaign both ridiculous and repugnant. I am baffled at how a privileged seeming-narcissist, several times over a failed businessman who somehow apparently retains an obscene amount of money, a bully, a braggart, and self-proclaimed prophet of self-interest managed to convince anyone that he would be the champion and voice of the dispossessed. I don’t get it.

I am not particularly afraid of Donald Trump individually, indeed I’m wondering how he will find the office of the president in actuality vs. the perception of the office. History shows us that many men may covet thrones, but seldom do they covet the accompanying desks and paperwork. His temperament, crassness, impatience, utter lack of humility, and apparent inability to focus make him, in my opinion, imminently unsuitable for the role. I anticipate he will rely on a bevy of advisers for support, which is not unusual in and of itself until you review their CVs; these men (mostly speaking) and their self-avowed agendas do frighten me.

Whether out of genuine conviction or simply because they saw a way to leverage rage into power, or some poisonous mixture of both, these people who he has chosen to surround himself with (or have managed to surround him, I’m unsure which is the case) have stoked the fires of racial resentment and misogyny. They have purposefully fanned flames of mistrust so that even reputable facts and data is suspect or rejected if it does not support opinion. Science has been dismissed, minority groups targeted, women attacked. The jury is out on whether some have tried to wield the power of non-elected offices and positions of information privilege in a biased way.

I am baffled that so many of the same people who eight years ago decried then-Senator Obama’s “lack of experience” as disqualifying and his candidacy as divisive, are now lauding a reality TV personality who kicked off his campaign accusing a whole community of being druggies and rapists–before going on to mock or attack the disabled, veterans, PoC, women…basically every facet of the population besides white men. I think a lot of people have been sold several ideas in this election (walls, unconstitutional religious tests, sweeping statements of action that exceed the limits of the office) that will likely never come to be. I wonder if the anger will eventually turn back against the hand that has fed it when these promises don’t materialize. I wonder if only promises would have proved be enough to calm fears of and resentment against a changing world. I wonder which is ultimately worse.

Brexit was only one side of this. Mr. Trump’s victory is just another. There is a rising tide of nationalism, xenophobia, and rabid fear of a world that is getting smaller and closer all the time. This tide is what I am afraid of. Intensely. But even seeing that this is the big picture, the election feels deeply and painfully personal to me.

My country has followed the election of its first black president with the election of a man who has been endorsed by the KKK.

The glass ceiling remains. My country would rather see a man elected who incites violence, speaks in racial dog whistles, lies outright without shame, and brags about sexual assault among other misogynistic speech, than a woman.

My country is divided. Mr. Trump has run a campaign of disenfranchisement and divisiveness and now has to bring a country together. Good luck. Both political parties have engaged in intense partisan rhetoric and actions over the last decade, but my opinion is that the right has invested far more in fanning fears and resentments in an effort to win back power. They have actively engaged in rabble rousing and now the rabble is roused. Anger may be vindicated, but I don’t believe it will simply go quietly away.

We’ve elected a reality TV personality. That’s humiliating. Politics and entertainment have long been mixed, but this is downright dystopian.

I’m disheartened. I’m afraid for the implications for the LGBT community, existing legal rights for women including abortion, minority communities, and others.

I genuinely thought the power of fear, distrust, and any number of -isms, was weaker than it is proving to be in my eyes. I believed my country looked different, thought differently than it is proving to do. I will answer calls for unity, I will take Secretary Clinton’s gracious concession speech words to heart, that “fighting for what is right is always worth it.”

But I am tired. I am disappointed. And I don’t think the problems raised (and in many cases purposefully manipulated) in this election are resolved.

8 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here?”

  1. “There are no words” is right. The only words that keep coming to mind are : despondent, morose, despair, etc and they are insufficient.

  2. This is beautifully written, and I share many of your sentiments. Like you, Brexit opened my eyes to the very real possibility of a Trump presidency; however, though a large part of me always hoped it would never happen, I am not optimistic enough to have truly believed it (or maybe I just have the misfortune of being related to too many Trump supporters, and could see the way his vitriol was spreading). That didn’t stop me from feeling sick to my stomach this morning though. Even though I don’t have to live in America, there’s no hiding the fact that I am American, and I still have many friends living there that didn’t vote for this, and don’t deserve this. I’m still too upset to see where we can go from here, but hearing from other Americans who feel the same way I do is somewhat heartening.

  3. “I believed my country looked different, thought differently than it is proving to do.”

    Indeed, this has been the hardest part for me. I truly, in my heart believed America was different. I feel betrayed. My home is sabotaged, cannibalized. Was it always so? I’m staggered by my own… naivety?

    We’ve quite the job ahead of us.

    1. We do. Accepting democracy means that we accept when we lose. It’s part of the intrinsic social contract we all agree to. The personal wound for me is, as you say, that I wonder if I have been naive in my expectations or assumptions about my country’s priorities.

      There’s an instruction in this, though. I’m thinking that this is what it feels like to be in the minority–perhaps not in demographics but in power. At every level of my government now, I am going to be governed by leaders who do not represent me or my opinions. I am mistrustful of the policies they want to enact, I feel threatened by many of them, the system feels dangerous.

      This is probably how so many of the people I want to be an ally to must feel, most of the time. I need to learn from that.

      But this is probably how many of the people on the opposite of the political spectrum from me have also felt. I need to try and learn from that too. I confess it will be harder for me to do because I think that many of their fears are incorrect or at least wildly inflated by people with vested interest in that fear. But I have to remember my own realizations that emotions are real to the people experiencing them.

      Empathy is badly needed on all sides.

      But so is a ruthless examination and reform of polarized and polarizing media and a rejection of opinion-as-fact. There is work to do. I’m just unsure where to start.

  4. I wept, finally, listening to/watching Hillary’s concession speech. Everyone in the NYC/area where I live KNOWS what a joke/fraud/con man and cheat Trump is. He was even booed (!) when he went to cast his vote. Now the joke is on all of us who live inside these borders.

    The phone rang at 8:30 this morning from a friend in Toronto, whose first words were “Come home!” Well, easy for her to say; she is 70, well-off, retired. Repatriation is not a decision to make quickly or easily and two journalists (dying industry) in their late 50s are hardly going to be pelted with job offers in Canada either.

    My husband is American and deeply loves his country. But he is also Hispanic,. of Mexican ancestry, and afraid. That makes me insane. It is HIS country of birth and his/our new President is loathsome and dismissive of entire swaths of hardworking, taxpaying residents (citizens or not.)

    It is terrifying. Truly.

    1. Her speech was amazing. A gracious concession of an election without a compromise of principles and a rally to keep going for the next set of elections. I cried too.

      I’m trying to be motivated but the truth is I went to bed early last night and slept for 12 hours straight because I felt so awful and tired.

      I expected to feel angry and betrayed if he won. I’m surprised by the depth and bitterness of my disappointment. It’s not just because I didn’t think he could win, it’s because I thought someone like him (reality TV, blowhard, no history of public service, blatant media opportunist, with no history of principles–evolving as well as fixed-etc.) could never win. I’m shattered by my own shattered illusions.

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