I’ve tried to write a coherent post-election post, but nothing comes together. It’s probably because I still haven’t decided what to make of the result. I was as shocked as the next person (unless the next person was Bill Mitchell) that Trump won, and so decisively too. Like a lot of folks, I really underestimated the number of white voters. In my defense, I don’t do this for a living. But I feel more than a little silly for having overlooked the most relevant fact: both candidates were about equally disliked and distrusted, and the one who was currently in the spotlight always suffered for it. Apparently, Trump’s campaign managers managed in the last week to do what they’d failed to do for the previous 15 months—take his iPhone away so he couldn’t Tweet something stupid to distract people from whatever was happening with Hillary. I guess I didn’t notice because I gave up on this election in July.
July was when I officially left the Republican party, after 18 years of loyal partisanship. Nothing dramatic–I just changed my registration to “unaffiliated” (like George Will, except I did it myself rather than pass the task off to my secretary). (P.S. I don’t have a secretary.) In the 27 years I’d been voting, I’d always disdained those whose politics were too pure and precious to be sullied by the two-party system. Despite its obvious drawbacks, it’s proved to be a pretty useful tool for keeping fascists out of Congress. Now that the Republicans had nominated an authoritarian, narcissistic conman who wasn’t conservative in any sense but the Hollywood movie villain caricature, I figured, what the hell am I sullying myself for?
This left me a voter without a party and therefore without a viable presidential candidate. I live in a solidly-blue state, so even if the Republicans had nominated a normal human being, my vote wouldn’t have counted for anything, but it was just the principle of the thing. I like having someone to root for, preferably someone with a snowball’s chance in hell. I didn’t believe Trump would win, but he at least had a snowball’s chance, as did Hillary Clinton, but since I didn’t like her either, I was reduced to doing my part to get the Libertarian Party ticket to the magical 5% threshold. It was not entirely unfulfilling work, but I was still pretty pissed about the whole situation. I tried to get over it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how different things would have been if Donald Trump had just stayed in his stupid Tower, cheating and groping innocent people. During the primary season, I was in denial; now I was firmly in the anger stage of grief.
“Anger” doesn’t even really describe it. I felt enraged. I wanted to punch things. Okay, I wanted to punch people. In my defense, I did not punch any people. But I wanted to. I was so angry, I even started blogging again. (Not here, but on my personal site, where no one would read, much less argue with, me.) I used very uncharitable words and phrases. It didn’t make me feel better, but it was good to get it out, nonetheless. I like to think it kept me from being completely insufferable on Facebook. The rage was relieved only by bouts of depression. I became even more socially withdrawn than usual.
Somewhere along the line, I just became resigned to a Clinton presidency. The prospect didn’t please me, but I figured the best possible outcome in an election with no particularly good potential outcomes was for the Republicans to be forced to re-discover their alleged values, if only out of spite. It seemed the most likely road to repudiating Trumpism without having to actually live through a Trump presidency. I was picking out new White House china patterns on Bill’s behalf when suddenly the world that had already turned upside down turned upside down some more.
On Tuesday morning, my Facebook feed was filled with photos of happy women (and some men) looking forward to electing the first female President of the United States. One friend posted a particularly lovely one of her and her daughters, dressed in white (to honor the suffragettes), posing by a Hillary sign, against a bright blue sky. I personally do not find Hillary an inspiring feminist figure; however, I understand why others feel differently. Their excitement and hopefulness touched me. Just a few hours later they would all be devastated. The pictures they posted earlier still showed up in my news feed, a cruel irony. Their pain wasn’t my pain, but I winced all the same.
Oddly enough, as much as I’d dreaded a Trump victory, as certain as I was that it was the worst entrée in fate’s cafeteria this year, I did not feel the existential dread I’d assumed I would. Was I simply existential dread-fatigued? Did I, in fact, hate Hillary more than I thought I did, to the extent that I couldn’t help being pleased by her defeat? (I never thought I actually hated Hillary at all—just found her corrupt and wrong. Not the same thing at all. Or was it?) My daughter, who turned 18 and voted for the first time this year (poor thing), was freaking out. Maybe that made me feel like I had to be emotionally strong and super-rational and detached. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 (and again in 2012), our kids knew he wasn’t our guy, but they also understood that we didn’t think he was a bad man. This year our kids knew Donald Trump was not only NOT our guy, but was also, in our opinion, a bad man. “A horrible human being” was, I believe, our preferred phrase. I’d already spent much of the day reassuring my existential dread-prone daughter that the republic was strong enough to withstand a Hillary Clinton administration, and now suddenly I had to explain why it was also strong enough to withstand a Horrible Human Being—not an easy task when five minutes ago, the silver lining of a Clinton presidency was “at least it won’t be Trump.” (I tried “at least it won’t be Hillary,” but she wasn’t in the mood for jokes.)
To be honest, I still don’t know where I’m at emotionally. Mostly, I feel nothing. Maybe I’m in denial again. Maybe I’m hoping against hope that just as I was completely wrong about Trump’s chances of winning, I’m also completely wrong about the certainty of him being a complete disaster as a president. Maybe Paul Ryan sold his soul to the sea witch for a set of audio CDs that will effectively sleep-teach the U.S. Constitution to even the most ardent fascist dirtbag. Maybe Jesus is coming before January 20. I don’t know.
It’s not in my nature to be optimistic. At least I don’t think it is. At best, I am a reluctant optimist. That is, I am optimistic only when there seems to be no other option. The fact is that I have a daughter who is prone to globalize every negative shift in fortune. (“We’re having spaghetti for dinner, again. Life has no meaning and I want to die.”) Unless I want her plunging into the psychic abyss, I have to convince her that things are not that terrible. Maybe that forces me to believe my own bullcrap. Or maybe I’m just tired of being angry. I’m tired of feeling contempt for my fellow Americans.
I understand why people are angry and scared. I also understand that I’m just a white lady who voted Republican for 18 years and no one cares what I think. But here’s what I think.
I think Hillary’s defeat is partly explained by sexism in our culture that makes it difficult for people to accept women as leaders (particularly at a level like the presidency of the United States) and easy for people to dismiss the blatant misogyny of Donald Trump’s worldview. But I think it’s mostly explained by three other things: 1. Obamacare. 2. Americans don’t like giving three White House terms to the same political party. After eight years, they’re ready for a change. 3. Fair or unfair, people just don’t like her. She doesn’t have her husband’s political talent or charisma. Personally, I find her awkwardness charming, and like Donald Trump—dear God, I’m about to admit common ground with Donald Trump—I admire that she’s a fighter. (I admire her in the same sense I admire Scarlett O’Hara. The lady’s got gumption, but I wouldn’t necessarily hold her up as a role model.) But she’s not an inspiring figure to most people. She’s like a female John Kerry. He also lost (for more than one reason). Also–I’m sorry, I know this drives people crazy because freaking e-mails vast right-wing conspiracy blah blah, but here goes–even people who don’t reflexively hate her because she’s a Democrat just don’t trust her. (We shall not waste time debating the validity of their mistrust. Let’s just be grown-ups and stipulate that’s how it is.)
I think Donald Trump is pretty racist. He may not have personal animus toward people of other races, but he says racist stuff and has no compunction about exploiting other people’s racial animus. That’s not leadership. That’s demagoguery. He’s also a misogynist—a genuine misogynist who doesn’t think of women as human so much as unwilling contestants in a beauty contest that he is judging. He’s also a bully and a pathological liar. He’s spent his entire business career buying government favors to bolster his own power and screw the little guy. He admires dictators, i.e. he admires strength and power, regardless of whether it’s used for good or ill. That is messed up. What he knows about the Constitution would fit inside a thimble. (A small thimble, for small hands.) Even if I agreed with him politically—and I’m sure I must agree with him about something, though I can’t think of anything offhand—I would find him odious and incontinent and morally unfit to hold any position of public responsibility. I still can’t believe he’s going to be the next president.
But he’s been fairly elected, and so here we are.
It may be that the reason I’m not freaking out right now is that I’ve had several months to mourn the results of this election, because I knew that regardless of who won, I wouldn’t be happy. It also may be that the collective outrage I’m witnessing (on my Facebook feed and on the news and on the freeways that have been shut down because some woke a-holes want to start a revolution) is reminding me that John McCain and Mitt Romney were also supposed to be dangerous people who would oppress minorities, throw Grandma off a cliff, and give uninsured people cancer, and George W. Bush was literally Hitler for eight whole years. At the same time, I remember how people flipped out when Bill Clinton was elected, and flipped out even more Barack Obama became president. It’s all so familiar. I know Trump is a different sort of Republican, but I don’t know that I’d be seeing anything much different on Facebook or in the streets if Marco Rubio had been elected. And I don’t imagine I’d be seeing puppies and rainbows everywhere if Hillary were putting together her transition team right now.
It reminds me that these people I’ve spent all of 2016 being angry at, i.e. Trump voters, could easily be me. Don’t misunderstand me. I think voting for Trump was a foolish choice, and it’s not one I can personally fathom making. But I find I don’t have the stomach for writing off 59 million Americans as hopeless cases, and I don’t think shaming them is going to help anything. My contempt doesn’t make anything better.
Here’s where, ideally, I would write something inspirational and profound, but I’m afraid all I’ve got is a feeling that I need to repent, and I’m still figuring out where to begin.