November 9, 2016
Terre Haute, IN
My alarm didn’t go off this morning. I’d turned it off around 1 a.m. so that I could sleep in a little. Turns out that didn’t matter, I woke up around 6:30 anyway. I lumbered downstairs in my usual routine, fed the cats, checked on the sourdough starter I was trying to grow, poured my cup of coffee with the creamer I said I would stop drinking, then moved to the couch to watch the news. Just like every other morning.
When I clicked the power button on the remote control to turn on the television, a brief flutter happened in my chest, a last flicker of hope that everything I’d watched the night before had been a dream. It wasn’t. Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell were confirming that indeed, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. The telecasters were not hiding their surprise at the victory. Sets of questions including, “How did pollsters get it wrong?” and “What does this mean going forward?” were asked but no clear answer provided. Pollsters got it wrong because there is no precedent to build a model. Going forward, no one can say what it means for the U.S. because we’ve never been here before. Or have we?
For some reason I expected to feel different today. As if I expected, I don’t know, something to happen. Maybe I thought I’d see riots in the streets. Perhaps I assumed the Democrats would be out in force, filing lawsuits in contested states. I certainly did not expect the relative calm I’ve witnessed in these early hours the day after one of the largest political upsets in modern American history.
The drive to work this morning wasn’t any different. I was running a little late, but compared to friends I knew were not planning to go to work at all, I felt accomplished. Banter on NPR wasn’t any different than it has been in the last twelve months. Aside from the fact they were trying to contain their disbelief, of course. When the shock wears off I’m sure the conversations will change, but only slightly. We can’t take the election back, so why fight it?
In 1948 when Harry Truman was elected President, it was considered an upset. Several papers had already printed that Dewey had won, and included articles describing what to expect from his presidency. That was after the war, after Truman had ordered the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the most awful weapon the world has ever seen. History now of course criticizes Truman for his decision and the planet has sat in fear of future use of such a weapon.
The point I’m trying to make is that the only way we can feel certain about anything is by considering it through a pinhole perspective. Dewey was certain he was going to win the election. Truman was certain he was making the right choice by choosing to bomb Japan. Secretary Clinton was sure the country was ready to support the election of a female president. Donald Trump was confident, even if it was false confidence, that he would upset Hillary.
If you’re wondering if I’m actually comparing the election of Trump to the dropping of a bomb on millions of innocent people, then you are correct. The figurative bomb dropped on the United States public last night didn’t (or hasn’t) killed anyone, but it was equally devastating. It shook us to the core because it proved we don’t know anything. Nothing is certain. Even more so, we don’t want to admit what we know is lurking underneath our daily lives. If anything, it exposed a tender underbelly we all know is there, just hidden and guarded under bulky outfits. The 2016 election showed us that as much as we want love to win, we, as a country, are still very much trapped in a state of fear. We’re afraid of financial collapse, we’re afraid of the “establishment”, we’re afraid of open borders and bad trade deals, we’re afraid of people with different colored skin, and most of all, we’re afraid of ourselves.
Looking in the mirror and honestly criticizing ourselves is not something anyone does well. No one wants to admit there are crow’s feet forming at the corners of their eyes. The wrinkles in our brows tell us we worry more than we think we do. The aches in our joints are signs of a lack of strength, laziness. There is only the comfort of routine and the promise that tomorrow will be better, if we can just make it through today.
We, as a nation, have become complacent in our lives. All of us. We’ve come to a point where we truly do not appreciate the freedoms we possess and expect that others, including other Americans, will meet us with mutual respect for each others’ beliefs. Today we are reminded that this is not so. That there are many miles to walk before we can embrace each other and run toward a better future. And the odds are our feet will be bloodied and broken many times over before we will finally look to one another and realize that we cannot do it alone.
I worry for my brother-in-law, who is gay. His husband is from Columbia, he came to study in the U.S. because he wants to improve himself and the lives of others. The public rhetoric of late brings tears to my eyes because, while I’ve been afraid for them before, I’m concerned there will be some who now believe they have free reign to follow through with anger and fear that Trump instilled throughout his campaign. I’m worried for my best friend in the whole world, who is legitimately African-American, married to his beautiful Jewish wife. I took it for granted that they were all safe; I still, today, find myself saying “It can’t happen to them.” Only now, I’m really not so sure.
The hope I carry in my heart may have been diminished last night, but all is not lost. The sun still came over the horizon this morning. I was still blessed to wake up in a warm bed with my loving wife. It’s time for us to look in the mirror, see our sun-spotted skin interlaced with pleated crevices and admit that we don’t truly know anything. That our individual pinhole perspectives are not enough to move forward. All that we can do is hold on to one another, take care of our human community, and remind our children that it’s not just about one or two people. It’s about all of us.
We have to try.