I've been thinking for a long time about how to put my feelings about this election into words. It wouldn't be honest of me to just do another bubbly blog post about my Austrian adventures this week, as much as I wish I could. Looking back over the whole trajectory of the 2016 primary process and campaign, the 20/20 hindsight is painful and sharp and numbing. It went as badly as it could have gone, and while it was shocking in those first moments when it was clear Trump was going to win, it shouldn't have been, and ultimately it's not. It was a sad, sad dream that underestimated how angry and scared so many people in the country were and are--that they would have been satisfied with a policy wonk more inclined to making tweaks than to bringing dramatic changes, even if those changes could be catastrophic for the country and for the world. And while I can take the smallest glimmer of hope that Hillary won the popular vote, and look at those maps showing that the Millennial vote is increasingly progressive, it's not that comforting.
I felt arrogant the night of the election when some Fulbrighters and fellow TAs went to a bar in the third district to watch the returns with Democrats Abroad. It was a sense of giddiness, to be sure, but it was also arrogance, because I believed in the numbers. I believed in the polls and the "Moneyball "and the statistical. As much as it pains me to say it, Trump was right about the sentiment in this country running counter to what the polls were saying. It was the arrogance of talking to my Austrian students every day about the election, about how of course Hillary would win, because while Trump has nothing to offer, at least Hillary has some things, and that's how it was going to be. And now I have to go to my classes 13 hours a week, and explain at least 13 times a week for the next month or so about how it went so terribly wrong. It's really hard and depressing to see their fears about what this election means for them, so far away in Europe, and to see their contempt for the voters who voted Trump into office. I have to continually make sure that they understand that it wasn't a case of "poor stupid Trump voters" ruining everything--the exit polls tell a much more complex and upsetting story.
It was arrogance that let this happen. Arrogance and wishful thinking that maybe we could have a female president, to break that glass ceiling. And even though Hillary's record is anything but ideal and, in fact, has caused a lot of suffering in other nations, I really believed that she would win. That the most qualified, thoughtful, sensitive candidate would win. But as we've been reminded, America is not a meritocracy and never will be. It was wishful thinking that had me voting for Hillary, even in the primary in California, because I believed she would do a better job than Bernie in terms of being able to negotiate effectively with foreign leaders. I agreed so much more with Bernie's policies in general, but part of me was angry with the "Bernie Bros" (who are very, very real), and this sense that of course Hillary was going to have to sit by and watch as another male candidate "took" the nomination from her after all of her years of service, after all the sexism she's faced. I related more to Hillary in that way, naturally, and so my heart, brain, and gut were equally pulled towards Bernie and Hillary. But I thought Hillary would win. I was in fifth grade in 2004, and I knew nothing of Howard Dean or the primary process, and so I didn't have the precedent we all should have considered--that the centrist candidate is not what people are wanting anymore. But as I've come to realize during my Swarthmore education, it's not enough to break the glass ceiling, to have female Presidents and CEOs. A truer feminist victory would be to "raise the floor" for the least privileged of us.
So I voted for Hillary, and it didn't end up making a difference in the primary, or in the general. And when Hillary became the nominee, I was too comfortable not listening to the voices that correctly pointed out the problems with Hillary, and with Bill's record when he was in office. I had grown up thinking that Bill Clinton's presidency was great for the country, and for a lot of people it was. The narrative was that Bill Clinton left us with a surplus, and George W. Bush ruined all that. But I wasn't in a position growing up where I learned about the negative parts of Bill's record, or even learning about Hillary's decisions as Secretary of State that harmed so many people around the world, in countries I probably couldn't place on a map. I was too content to put those critical voices in the back of my mind with the "crazy" people who screamed about the Clinton Foundation and her "corruption"--Trump was, and is, still obviously more immoral and corrupt, and of course people had to see that. People would have to get past the toxic narrative the right-wing created around Hillary as soon as she became First Lady and made it clear that she wasn't going to sit around and be satisfied as a decorator and cookie-baker. It was so, so easy to say of course Hillary would be a good president for women and for people of color and other marginalized groups, because I wanted to believe that. And I believe that she would have been better than what's coming in the next four years. But like so many people, we didn't listen to the people who wanted to burn it all down instead of giving it a fresh blue coat of paint.
So what can I do? What can I do? I'm still numb, still dissociating, still reeling and blinking and knowing with increasing certainty that this is the new reality. My parents can reassure me, and I can reassure myself, and I can tell my students with a sad smile, I personally won't suffer much under a Trump presidency. I'm white, cisgender, abled, and from a family of enough means that I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or if I can afford to go to the doctor. And if I stay in California, any institutional problems created by the Trump presidency I might run into are even more minimal. I'm afraid for my friends and for my country on an institutional level, because I am so incredibly privileged, and it's not enough for me to just be relieved about myself and be able to block out the rest. On the social side, however, I'm afraid for myself too. I'm afraid that the antisemitism on the right will become active and public, and that my home on the left will be increasingly inhospitable as antisemitism grows in my community. I'm afraid of seeing swastikas on my synagogue back home. I'm afraid of being potentially attacked in the street by random Trump supporters who recognize me as Jewish. I am afraid of how Trump's election has already emboldened his supporters to attack the most vulnerable among us. And it's only been two days.
One of the more selfish worries I have upon returning to Trump's America is my own future. What kind of life can I have in the arts, in the career I want and the field where I excel? In this situation, doing what I want to do, and going to graduate school to earn that art history PhD seems frivolous and leading to nothing but dead ends. But I have to believe, for my own selfish sake, that the kind of work I want to do in graduate school and the kind of visual media I want to study and curate has even more importance in what's to come--not only in the United States, but in the world. I have to believe that I can not only have a good career but also do something valuable with this work.
I tend to get bogged down in negative spirals of thought. But I do know that having concrete goals and steps to take to achieve those goals lights a fire under my butt. And this case is no different--I'm collecting information about causes to donate to, and seriously considering becoming an ongoing donor to Planned Parenthood and maybe the ACLU. I'm thinking about how the internet can become a force to mobilize voters in 2018, to organize protests and strikes and collective action--that's something wasn't even the case ten years ago. I'm thinking about the possible necessity of a "Women on Waves" type of boat sailing around the United States, providing abortion services in the event of the end of Roe v. Wade. I'm even thinking about shelling out the time and cash for online crisis chat-style hotline training, because suicide hotlines and chat services have become severely swamped since the election. Those are all such small individual things, though, and it isn't going to stop climate change or war or economic problems. There's not enough time or money in the world to do all that needs to be done. But since Election Day, I've felt an outpouring of love and determination from the people around me--both in person and online, where nearly all of my friends and loved ones are back home and already seeing the culture shift towards hate and fear and intolerance. I have to believe that we'll take the necessary steps to help one another, because it's going to get worse before it gets better, and it's going to get harder before it gets easier.