Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Aftermath


I've spent a lot of time processing the results of the election. To be frank, I still haven't processed it--not really. On a purely intellectual level, I understand that Donald Trump won the most electoral votes in spite of losing the popular vote, much like Gore v Bush in 2000, and that he will be our next president barring virtually impossible circumstances.

My friends and I had an election party. We had red and blue jello, we all wore patriotic shirts. We had "campaign trail mix," and ate tacos because #tacotrucksoneverycorner. There was no possible way, after everything we've seen this election cycle, that our country would choose this man, who cavalierly describes sexually assaulting women, who's appeared in pornos, who describes Mexicans as rapists and black folks as thugs, who called for the execution of the Central Park Five even after they were proven innocent, who has called our sitting president a Muslim, Kenyan, Socialist, who pushed a campaign for Barack Obama to reveal is his birth certificate in an attempt to de-legitimize our first black president, who admires the authoritarian regimes of leaders like Vladimir Putin, who threatened to jail his political opponent, who had to be locked out of his Twitter account to keep from going off on even more hate-filled rants, who encouraged his supporters to assault protesters and offered to pay their legal fees, who used money from his charity to commission an oil painting of himself, who was actively endorsed by not only racists, not only anti-semites, but the actual KKK, who has proven himself to be a hateful, vengeful person in every opportunity.

Hillary Clinton's ad campaign against him wasn't even a smear campaign. It literally consisted of quotes and videos of things Trump said.

Surely, surely the American people could see the convergence of these two issues--electing the first woman president and voting against one of the worst presidential candidates in the history of the country, and choose appropriately.

And after half of the country decided not to vote, and white people showed up en masse to prove what PoC have been saying about white people all along, here we are.

I drove home in a state of shock. How could I have been this wrong about my country? I knew we had problems. I was #woke. I understood the role racism played in shaping our policies, our country, our implicit biases, our work force. And yet, I never thought that we would do this. I wasn't the only one, although that's not much of a comfort. Journalists that I respect a great deal, journalists of color, didn't think this would happen. We underestimated the amount of a barely contained rage bubbling below the surface of our country.

I only slept about 3 hours the night after. We didn't get home until 1 or 1:30 AM. I was awake and online when Clinton conceded.

The next day, I found myself alternating between numb shock, rage, and tears. I broke down crying in the shower at one point. I saw a man parading up and down the street wearing a Trump shirt and carrying an American flag, gloating. Every time I thought I had it processed, something new would hit me and I'd break down into tears again: the first time I thought "President Trump," seeing women planning to get IUDs and stockpiling birth control while it's still covered under the ACA before the Republicans eliminate it and health care coverage for millions of Americans, watching Muslim women debate whether it's safe to wear the hijab in public anymore.

That these conversations are even happening is an unspeakable horror, a disgusting reality. The world feels grimy, coated in a blanket of filth.

When people said that racism didn't end, it just went underground, this is exactly what they meant.

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I was going to write a post before the election about how hard it was to empathize with the other side, and really try to dig down into how we can do that going forward to heal the divide. There are a lot of white people who do not consider themselves racists, but who absolutely hold bigoted views. I have literally had someone start a conversation with "I'm not racist but..." in the past 2 months. Literally. That happened. And then she went on to spout awful things about Mexicans. These people are also frequently very nice people, people we love, people that are important in our lives. White people accepted the Hollywood narrative that racists were villains in movies and books that needed to be defeated and cast out, and therefore they and their loved ones can't be racist because they're not bad people.

At my best moments, I find myself thinking that the best way to deal with those that oppose us, those that identify as Republican and are scared economically, that are afraid of the Other, of what this means for them and their place in the world, is with compassion, empathy, and patience. It means uncomfortable talks around the dinner table, being willing to have people you love be mad at you. It means that you have to unmute your racist aunt and uncle on Facebook and engage with them, but politely and with understanding and kindness. At my best moments, I believe that most of them aren't the type to go out and harass women and minorities and gay people, that a good portion are economically frustrated, and that while a lot of them are probably racist, it's driven by fear of class displacement and change. Those things can be fixed, or at least improved, through education, compassion, patience.

At my worst moments, I'm filled with rage and disbelief at my family, friends, and fellow citizens that chose to ignore the awful things and elect a man that has shown time and time again that he will abuse his power for petty vendettas and vengeance, and who has also shown that he has zero to no grasp of the fundamentals of anything that makes our country or the world function. At my worst moments, I want to scream at those that voted for hate. I want to cut all ties and move somewhere where I will not be embarrassed to call myself a citizen. Arkansas went overwhelmingly for Trump. At my worst moments, I believe that straight white people are too broken and that we deserve the destruction that we've brought on us and that the biggest shame is that we will drag marginalized people down with us through the sheer gravity of our numbers. At my worst moments, I fear that these people that claimed that it's about hating politicians and politics as usual and economic fears are as racist as they seem and that we will see this country descend into a darkness we haven't seen in a long time, that humanity is at its core evil, and not good like I've always believed, and that there's no saving these people.

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I have a feeling that the cultural idea of "don't discuss politics or religion" is what got us into this mess. We stopped talking about this among each other because we knew we disagreed. And so opinions went unchanged, uninfluenced. White liberals with conservative families moved away to liberal cities, muted and/or unfriended their friends and relatives on social media, and surrounded themselves with people they agreed with.

If PoC and other marginalized people find themselves wanting to do the empathy approach, that's fine, but honestly not expected of them. If someone has a boot on their neck, you can't expect them to calmly and politely ask that you remove it. But for white liberals, this is what we have to do. We have to start talking to other white people. We have to try to fix things.

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I worry about what's coming next.

I worry because one party has complete control of the house, and that party--Republicans--has proven what they stand for and what kinds of morals and beliefs they have when they backed and supported their presidential candidate.

I worry about freedom of speech--that dissenting speech will begin being targeted. That people who are marginalized or who protest and resist this administration's goals will be targeted much like they were in the years after the 9/11.

I worry that things will get even worse for PoC--I worry about "special police forces" for those "high crime areas." After all, Trump said he wanted to run on "law and order."

I worry about gay marriage rights being rolled back, gay marriages undone.

I worry for people like my wife, who are disabled and rely on medication in order to live and function with a bare minimum of comfort.

Even when I'm not worried about the very real threat of following Germany's path to a Nazi regime, I worry about the worst and most hateful Republican policies being enacted with little-to-no political resistance because of their overwhelming majority.

I worry about the damage this new Supreme Court will do to our nation in the coming decades as it's packed with justices from the Tea Party.

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I think at my best, I become galvanized between the two emotions. My anger at the racists and misogynists crystallizes into something pure--an actionable anger. I will be watching for opportunities to do good in my community and show solidarity and support for those marginalized folks that will be disproportionately affected by this administration's policies.

I will no longer sit quietly and cringe when my friends/family/coworkers say something racist or misogynist or homophobic or otherwise hateful.

Now, more than ever, I will promote art and criticism by marginalized people. I will educate myself in their worldviews, and I will work to do better, to be better, to make the world do the same.

I will art harder than ever before. I will write diverse folks into my books, and I will strive to tell true, hard stories that make people feel things. Because art is perhaps most important when the world turns dark and the monsters come out.

Even if Trump doesn't follow through on his promises, the GOP has shifted so far to the right that they will do real damage to people. As much as I'd like it not to be true, things are going to get really, really bad. Knuckle down folks. We can come out of this on the other side, and we can make this world better.