Essay

Trump

November 14, 2016
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Soon after Hillary conceded, I left my apartment and took my usual walk to work. I was dazed that the world was still there. I fell into a fog of internet clicking, endlessly refreshing the news. It couldn’t be real. The (mostly male, mostly white, shockingly lacking in hubris at how wrong they’d been) pundits enraged me. Being lectured at that morning was a new kind of galling. I wanted to be around people who experienced this trauma in the same way – I found those people (unusually) on twitter.

It was the kind of week where there was a lot of crying – when I woke up, in the shower, on the walk to work, before bed. I woke up each morning with a pounding dehydration headache.

I listened to this because it said that they cried and I wanted company for my tears. I listened to Call Your Girlfriend and they were sad. I watched a little West Wing which felt like a political drama about aliens on planet ‘how things used to be’. It’s just 20 years since it aired. How have we travelled so far since then? I watched some Good Girl Revolt to see how sexist it was BACK THEN. Nothing like looking at history to see how little has changed. The devastation was coupled with the realisation that I’ve now started working for nothing.

Her concession was hard to watch. I am proud of her, of all she’s endured. “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” Bullshit! Maybe she believes it, but I don’t. Not today.

Every woman knows that feeling: working your ass off at an impossible task, feeling like you’ll never progress but pushing on regardless. There is something eerily familiar about seeing the “good girl’ doing all the right things, working hard and loosing. So much for the suggestion that women just need to work hard to get ahead. Sometimes, it’s never enough. It’s hard to convey how shattering that was.

I’m waiting for Hillary to be blamed, as all women are when misogyny is heaped on them. We’ll deny the depths of the misogyny that resides in our bones and instead claim that she was somehow at fault. Of course, she is flawed. She was also the most qualified presidential candidate in modern history. She didn’t lose because she is flawed. She lost because American voters are more sexist than they are racist and they’re pretty fucking racist. She lost because people have an almost mythological hatred for her.

America would rather a sexual predator, a bigot and a buffoon in the White House rather than a woman. 66% of white women voted for a man who brags about sexually assaulting women (not allegedly, but actually, indisputably caught on tape bragging). The electorate just said to every little girl in America that if you work hard, be good & make nice you still can’t be president, but your abuser can. Being a racist, bigoted, prejudiced, lying sexual predator is more acceptable than being a woman.

Of course it’s more complex than that. A whole series of factors drive someone to vote for or against a particular candidate. Some undoubtedly voted for Trump in spite of what he said and did. What’s clear though is that Trump voters didn’t find his behaviour to be disqualifying. Even if the electorate didn’t directly dismiss the feelings of sexual assault survivors, people of colour, minorities etc, they didn’t care that Trump did. He stood on the necks of the most vulnerable to get what he wanted. Maybe I shouldn’t take it so personally but god, it feels personal. He was accused of raping a 13 year old girl, you know? The President was set to go on trial, when the girl decided not to press charges. Now, she’ll have to look at him in the White House.

I’m aware of my own privilege here too. I’m an Irish citizen, who has a job and a therapist and the means and headspace right now to sit down and write this. Not everyone is so fortunate. Not everyone will survive this – the poor, the marginalised, the most vulnerable will suffer most as they always do. The impact could be felt through the supreme court for 30 years. The implications for trade, the possibility of a global recession, the likelihood that the world will soon be at war again (not out of principle, but out of testosterone), climate change… the world is less safe today than it was last week

And let’s be real, we really took notice of Trump after he bragged about assaulting a white woman. Before that, he’d called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled journalist, promised to ban muslims – and so much more, this list could be 3 pages long! – and it was scandalous and shocking and horrible but it didn’t generate the hoo ha that the tape did. White people, myself included, need to interrogate that privilege.

In much more micro ways, I’m sad too. He has threatened the institutions and opportunities that have been an important part of my life. He’s promised to end the J1 visa. I spent 2 summers in DC with WIP and a year in NYC on a graduate visa. Those experiences shaped how I work and what I think. It’s how I met some of my dearest friends. I spent a year with UNICEF, who’s executive director is appointed by POTUS. Will he withdraw from the US from the UN entirely? Will he appoint some dingbat to this crucial role? Will the world’s most vulnerable children suffer because of this? The answer is almost certainly yes.

I worry about what comes next particularly for the groups that Trump has pledged to punish. It’s not sensible to dismiss that outright. Even if he reforms and becomes a more palatable version of whatever he is, even if he never enacts his bigoted policies, the damage is already done. We have seen the reality of what American voters value. In an immediate way, it has implications for gay couples planning to have kids in the next few years, transgender people rushing to get new passports, women getting IUDs, fearing that they’ll lose access to birth control….

I spent the weekend scrapping myself up off the pavement. I re-watched election night coverage again, getting a perverse pleasure in watching the light hearted joy harden into shock, terror, despair. Like a kid watching their sandcastle be washed away by the tide. Of course, we will rebound and get back to work. I’m sure that I’ll look back at this as a galvanising moment in my life. The democrats have a lot to learn. The non-profit sector will have to pick up a lot of slack over the next four years. The media has serious questions to answer. And the pollsters. But first, I need to grieve and be in shock and feel devastated by what I thought could never happen.

We lost. Common human decency lost.

The scariest things hide in plain sight. When the mask is ripped off, we see what’s underneath. America is the same country it was last week, last month, last year. Only now we can see it more clearly. It is painful but at least now we know.

I prefer to know.

P.S. I wrote about Trump & sexual assault back when we never thought he could win. And, I rounded up a list of pieces that I read after his election.

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