I went to bed around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, waking up in a fit of restlessness two hours later to confirm what I already knew — Donald Trump was the next president of the United States of America.
Like the other 59 million people who had voted for Hillary Clinton, I woke up yesterday to the jarring realization that another 59 million people had voted for a man I felt confident no one would ever take seriously as a presidential candidate, let alone as the president.
I never took Trump’s candidacy seriously, I certainly never saw this coming and that’s part of why we lost.
There’s an arrogance that permeates liberal rhetoric, popularized by funny, sarcastic, intelligent satirical commentators like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and Bill Maher, that we’re always right and everyone else is a bumbling idiot.
The way Trump supporters were stereotyped over the last year held blindly to the storyline that they were all uneducated, racist, violent, radicalized maniacs the likes of whom would never be able to organize a strong enough contingent to put their controversial candidate into the Oval.
It was a joke so I dismissed them.
The problem for those of us on the left, of course, was that radical Trump supporters wouldn’t have to win the election because a quieter, tamer, largely ignored and disenfranchised conservative base showed up to the polls in droves so unexpected they flipped every forecast on its head, claiming the House, Senate and White House in one fell swoop.
We didn’t see them coming, and that’s the problem.
I haughtily assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and by at least one quantifiable metric, I was right. By a slim but undeniable margin, she edged ahead of Donald Trump with a more than 200,000-vote buffer in the popular vote. But our system doesn’t work like that so in a historic upset, a woman had won the presidential election, just not the presidency. I find no real solace in this.
As we all know, by the time the popular vote had been tallied yesterday, Clinton had already lost to Trump in the Electoral College by a critical and not insubstantial 58 votes.
So for the fifth time in history, this numerical quirk in our democratic process will result in the quantifiably less popular candidate leading an already starkly divided country for the next four years.
We could not be more at odds.
For Democrats, it starts first with embracing the reality of what has happened here this week.
Donald Trump didn’t land in the White House by accident. He wasn’t put there by some radicalized conservative subculture we didn’t know existed. And the election wasn’t rigged.
I hear a lot of Democrats crying out that they don’t recognize this country that gave this man our highest office of power. But you do. Donald Trump was elected by your neighbors, your family members, your colleagues and your friends. And that is perhaps the biggest reality check of all.
We got lost in our sensational KKK soundbites and Hitler storylines because it was somehow easier to swallow that this was so far out there, it could never be a real threat. But it was, and here we are.
Trump’s New America may have come as a shock to a lot of us but it’s not an America we’ve never seen. It’s just that many of us aren’t the targets of the Trump policies that will do the most damage. For our minority citizens, the racism, bigotry and homophobia that Trump has amplified with his campaign is already everyday America.
A black friend put it pretty clearly on Facebook, “For some of y’all today is the worst day ever, I respect that. But for the already marginalized US populations, it’s just Wednesday, November 9th.”
When I find myself thinking that ultimately all of this will be fine, I am reminded of the fact that I am white, straight, graduate-level educated and upper class. Things are generally pretty ok for people like me in this country, especially under a Trump presidency, and it’s uncomfortable to take comfort in that.
But there’s one of my demographic designations that left me feeling particularly discouraged on Election Night and that, of course, is the fact that I am a woman.
Up against a candidate as volatile and unqualified as Trump, a man with Clinton’s résumé (even her shortcomings) would have sailed through this campaign and into the Oval Office. On the flip side, a woman with Trump’s inexperience and indiscretions would have been skewered.
We learned this week that America would sooner elect an unqualified and arguably corrupt man than a qualified and arguably corrupt woman. That is discouraging.
In watching playback of Trump screaming his victory speech out into the world, stone cold and stodgy, I couldn’t help but half-joke, “He should really smile more, warm up, be less shrill.”
It didn’t make me feel any better.
I don’t know what happens now but I know that continuing to fight, make fun of each other and further this already gaping divide won’t help. I accept the outcome of the election and I support a peaceful transfer of power. I do not, however, have to support what Trump does with it.
As Clinton graciously called for in her concession speech, “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” So I’ll do that. Oh, but this time? I’m taking him and his constituents very seriously.
Header photo via Facebook