I woke this morning at 6:30 AM, a mere three hours after going to bed wretched from Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. She had failed to gain the needed 270 electoral votes to elect her President of the United States. I had gone to bed tearful, exhausted and deeply saddened. Although the possibility of a Trump victory had frightened me for months, until last night it had an abstract and improbable feel to it. Like the pollsters and political commentators, I thought a Clinton victory the more probable outcome. She’d obtained plenty of funding, had organized her followers at the grass roots, had name recognition and plenty of experience, she was intelligent. I was excited by the prospect of…finally…having a woman in the oval office and I knew I was not alone in this.
I, like so many others, watched the votes roll in, state by state, horrified as they went, one after another, to Trump’s column. The implications of a Trump presidency were too awful to contemplate. We were electing a man who had consistently denigrated anyone even remotely different from mainstream white American; had insulted women and demonstrated his lack of respect for our rights over and over again; had promised to build a wall with our neighbour to the South; had refused to inform the American people of his true financial worth (all the while claiming his wealth as a basis for his ability to lead the country); hadn’t bothered to deny his failure to pay US taxes over many years; had expressed his disbelief in climate change and his disregard for science; had demonstrated his lack of self-control repeatedly—something rather important for the person who holds the nuclear codes and could embroil the world in nuclear war; had changed his policy prescriptions apparently at random (which most would consider lying and dishonest—the traits he consistently attributed to Hillary Clinton); not to mention his simplistic and vulgar language that is anything but presidential.
Yet, here we are, the morning after, facing four years of government led by such a person. My sense of betrayal by my own people is difficult to bear. What about our history of welcoming all (‘Give me your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free’)? What about the progress we’ve made (or thought we’d made) opening up the halls of power, education, opportunity to those long disenfranchised? What about our hopes for a return to education that is truly available to all? Do we lose the progress we’ve made toward affordable health care for all? Can it really be that my fellow citizens don’t value such things? Can it really be that they find Trump’s blustering egotistical manner and racist and sexist attitudes truly appealing? Can they really believe that such a man can lead our country (and the world, for that matter) in a desirable direction?
And what about the international scene? His links with Putin have been worrying all along. Will he join forces with Putin to invade more countries? What about his attitudes toward Muslims? Will he act on his plan to keep Muslim refugees out and register American Muslims? We don’t know how much of his isolationist talk he will actually try to implement. But the fact that both houses of Congress have Republican majorities means that he may have a fairly free hand to wreak whatever havoc he chooses.
There was a time when American values were appreciated around the world, when elements of the American democracy represented a shining light that those combatting tyranny looked to for inspiration. People in other countries admired our economic success, but they also admired the political system in which transfers of power were peaceful, elections were generally fair. There was a sense that we were free to pursue our dreams whatever those might be. This sense of an ideal America has waned, perhaps disappeared altogether, as times have changed, social analysis has deepened, and vastly enhanced communication has made our warts more visible. Trump’s rallying cry, ‘Making America great again’, taps into this changed view of America, but it looks inward and proposes solutions that push us further from these ideals rather than in any sense returning to them.
The only bright spot, and it is a small one, is that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (by a small margin). Slightly more voters seem to have opted out of Trump’s agenda—though our system, relying on the electoral college to make the final decision, means that this win carries only symbolic weight. It certainly doesn’t give her the presidency.
The other element of my own disappointment, and that of many American women, possibly women around the world, is the broadening of opportunities that Hillary’s election would have opened up for our daughters and granddaughters. We imagined that breaking this particular glass ceiling would be powerful symbolically for the young women of the country. They could feel in a more visceral way that any job was open to them. This slap in Hillary’s face—-after she’s shown her political savvy by accomplishing great things, gained abundant political experience, demonstrated her intelligence, long worked for the public good—tells women that no matter what they accomplish, they are likely to run up against the powerful barrier of sexism. How many will conclude, why bother? If they do, we are losing out, we are not catalyzing the creativity, the enthusiasm, the capabilities of roughly half the population. It’s a waste and it’s criminal.
Wallowing in sorrow and grief will not change the situation; but yesterday’s result has increased my own sense of global danger—physical danger of more war and poorer health, danger to the gains we’ve made in gender and other kinds of equity, and ironically given Trump’s appeal to the under-educated and disenfranchised, danger (near-certainty) of enhancing the income gap between rich and poor. Our system has dealt with bad presidents before and managed to endure. But I think in this case, we will need an alert and vigilant populace, more vigilant than has been the case of late. There are too many parallels with Hitler’s Germany for complacency. Let us learn from history. In Maya Angelou’s words, ‘Let us rise’ from our sadness and go forth with vigilance and perseverance.