Like many Americans, I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night. I live on the West Coast and only had to stay up till about midnight to learn the results, but I still had one of the worst sleeps I can remember. Wednesday I had a headache for most of the day. I cried multiple times, once in traffic and I had to pull over to the side of the road.
I was only a kid during the 2001 terrorist attacks, but I still remember clearly the day after, waking up and realizing I was living in a different world because of what had happened. A world I never believed could exist suddenly did, and there was no going back. That’s a loaded analogy to make, so let me just go on record saying that Donald Trump does not equal 9/11. But to me, November 9, 2016 felt a whole lot like September 12, 2001.
Another parallel that I can’t stop thinking about is a couple years later, April 2003, when America was in its war against Iraq. I remember watching the coverage of explosions over Baghdad on the TV in our living room. My mother cried in her chair: a more vivid and powerful memory for me than the actual attacks on US soil two years prior. There was hate in the world and America chose to hate back.
Well, here we are again. Fifteen years later there’s still hate in the world and America has again chosen to hate back.
It’s not easy being a white male in all this, believe it or not. When I was downtown yesterday there were two women, one white and one Latina, trying to get their baby to stop crying in the car outside of JC Penneys. They looked at me as I unlocked my bike from a rack. What do I say? “I voted for Hillary?” “I’m sorry?” Should I buy a Clinton shirt, get a blue “H” tattoo with an arrow through it?
It’s not really about me, the white male, though, is it? My mother woke up November 9th to a country that chose an elitist bully over our first female president (who also happened to be the most qualified candidate for presidency we’ve had in decades). Millions of Latinos woke up to a country that chose xenophobia and walls over togetherness and diversity. Our current president is black, but our future president thinks Black Lives Matter means blue lives don’t. What a step backwards. For two years I told Muslim friends in Burkina Faso, including my host family who housed and fed me for three months, that they were always welcome to come visit in the US. Yesterday they woke up to realize that this may no longer be the case. It breaks my heart.
There was one conversation (among many) I had been putting off for most of the day, and that was with my Peace Corps community counterpart, Dabire Kourwar. In the months leading up to this election, every time we talked over the phone he went immediately to US politics. He wanted to know everything about Donald and Hillary, how such distrusted and detested candidates could make it so far in the system. I told him that Donald was a joke, and I stressed how important Hillary’s presidency was going to be for feminism in America. I promised him she would win.
I had a missed call from him Wednesday morning and I decided to just send a text. “I’m embarrassed to be an American today,” I told him, and it was true. Dabire responded later with the words, “Bon courage,” literally “Good luck,” but with more sincerity, and eventually I gave him a call. He wanted to know how Pennsylvania—the state that raised me, the place I always told him about, showed him pictures of—could have gone red on the electoral map he had seen on TV. I don’t know, I said. Dabire heard the sadness in my voice and thanked me for calling.
So how do I (we) move on from this? Yesterday I felt devastated, embarrassed, ashamed—and I still feel all that—but today I feel empowered. Here’s why: I had an interview this morning. It was with a non-profit that focuses on youth development in a community that has a large economic divide and a growing Latino population. The position I applied for is one that matches at-risk teens with adult volunteers in the community. I hope I get the position, but even if I don’t, that job will happen. A Trump presidency can’t stop that.
My father works at a non-denominational retreat center focused on racial reconciliation in the historic slave trade capital of the country, Richmond, VA. Every day he dedicates himself to healing wounds hundreds of years in the making. President Trump isn’t going to stop him or his work there (dad already lost his job to Donald once).
My significant other, Rebecca, is the one who originally had the idea that from this political turmoil comes empowerment in our daily work. She tried to cheer me up Wednesday night by making the argument and it’s really resonated with me. Rebecca works with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, many of whom are from Mexico, at a non-profit in town. She goes to court with survivors of domestic abuse and translates restraining orders from English to Spanish and back again. A Trump presidency won’t stop her from helping those in need.
If it’s not already evident, I got way into the election cycle this time around. People say these were the most hated candidates ever, but I loved watching them interact and blunder and conquer over the past year (even you, Johnson and Stein, you morons). I think my daylong headache on Wednesday had a lot to do with the extent to which my face has been glued to a screen watching this all unfold over the past months.
Well it’s over now, and I’m done following it. I’m not reading any more articles on my phone and I’m not going to pull over to the side of the road to mope. There are too many good people in this country (my parents, brothers, friends, and other loved ones) doing good work at a grassroots level for us to give up and jump ship or collapse and wallow. So here’s to four years with the worst president we’ve ever seen (congrats Bush, you moved up a slot), and four more years surrounded by a people rich in resiliency, diversity, and determination, dedicated to making this country and the world it resides in a better place for all.