Okay, so election night seemed like it was going to take the incredibly bleak turn I had prepared myself for during the first three and a half hours after the polls closed. But then, at around 8:30 PM PST, things started to calm down, and the Democrats started winning races. And when I say things “calmed down,” I mean it’s not only that my anxiety level (and likely that of millions of other Americans) started to recede back down to non-apocalyptic levels, but it was as if the whole world had suddenly calmed down and resumed spinning on the axis it had been spinning on before it was horrifically knocked askew on 11/9/16. Suddenly more things in the world made sense again.
(Yes, I know America had plenty of problems, including racism and right-wing violence, long before Trump got elected. But no politician in my lifetime had ever come out and openly endorsed racism and right-wing violence as great idea, and then went on to win. It used to be people at least felt the need to pretend they weren’t huge pieces of shit, even if it wasn’t ultimately true. That’s something I already miss).
Anyway, during each day of the two years in which we were not holding a nationwide election, the only real, reliable referendum we can have on Trump and what he was doing to the country, I was just stewing in anxiety and nervous energy, wondering what my fellow Americans truly thought about what was going on. Was this acceptable to them? Were they seeing this shit? Every day we all saw Trump lie to our faces, and we clearly all knew he was lying to our faces, but only some of us seemed to care about it. But how many of us? A lot? Half? Next to none? All of us live in only one place, and can only read the civic mood there. But what were people in Poughkeepsie thinking? What about Talahassee? Were those people angry? Ashamed? Secretly gleeful? No way to tell for two years, really.
But on Tuesday we learned that clearly enough people did care, and we weren’t the crazy ones. To have this national validation has really been great for my mental state over the last 48 hours, and I suspect the same is true for many others. A weight has been lifted. I think that, despite all the awful shit the Trump administration is still doing in the days after the election, at least we now all know, and even the pro-Trump people should know, where America actually stands on this bullshit.
I guess the unhappy caveat that should be offered is that we also learned that at least a third of America really likes Trump, and that no matter what the rest of us think, they’re going to remain on board with him. Plenty of Americans really seem to want to be in a racist, authoritarian cult. They’ve got no interest in living in a democracy if there’s any chance the democratic process is going to dislodge white people from the top of the social hierarchy, where they’ve (we’ve) been living comfortably for centuries at the expense of others. That’s the disheartening part of this election. Trump’s race-baiting, “caravan” shit worked on a lot of white people, and actually helped Republicans to some key victories in crucial states.
I have no real excuse for being surprised at Trump’s election when it happened, by the way. Racism is in America’s DNA, and presidencies like Obama’s are 100% the exception rather than the rule, and that knowledge was readily available to me in 2016, even if I chose not to think about it. And I should also acknowledge that more than half of our presidents have been as shitty or shittier than Trump. Some of them owned slaves themselves, preserved the legality of slaver, and/or orchestrated the slaughter of America’s indigenous population. Things have always been bad here. While it seemed like the culture in America circa-2015 was on the cusp of shifting towards a paradigm of more egalitarianism and racial justice, it probably just seemed like that to me because I’m white and am necessarily going to be bad at recognizing the prevalence of racism that’s never actually been directed at me. So I’m conflicted, because if I wasn’t able to gauge the intensity of the threat to human rights and democracy then, why the hell should I trust that I’m correctly gauging the amount of relief I should feel now? Maybe things are about to get much, much worse? Maybe the power the Democrats just received to be a check on Trump is not going to be enough? There are still plenty of things we can’t know.
Still, an election is the best tool we have to find out what people actually think, and the one we just had on Tuesday just gave the Dems a 7-8 percentage point popular vote victory. That’s something I can hang my hat on, and so can the rest of us, if we so choose. Now when I see Trump on the news giving more graphic examples of what a lying, toxic, bigoted, narcissist he is, and I ask myself rhetorically if people are actually seeing this shit, I can state with much greater confidence: “Oh yeah. They are.”