“I hope it rains hard on November 9th,” Ben said, looking at the date after Election Day in his battered desk diary, a crease of worry between his eyes. “The Trump voters won’t support a win by Hillary, they might take to the streets. Rain will calm them all down.”
It rained on November 9th, and New York was quiet, and curled in on itself like a man just mugged, like a woman just grabbed by the pussy. They city had cried itself into that peaceful awfulness when reality settles, and that blanket of drizzle remained in place of tears. Just…rain. Just another November day.
The day before I had been hopeful. We had driven up to Ben’s old family home outside of New York on the evening of the 7th, so the next morning he could vote there where he is registered. The morning of Election Day was fiercely bright, orange leaves drifting lazily down from the tall trees and the sky so vast and blue above. There was no wait in the polling station at the local school, and the election volunteers were cheerful and friendly. I kissed Ben as we walked out. It had been heady even watching, a thrill. I told the people manning the polling station that I hoped to be able to come back and vote myself the next time.
Later, Ben and I went to speak to an immigration lawyer, who walked us through the process of applying for my green card next year, and we left giddy and elated with happiness, and love, and plans for our wedding. At lunch, I flicked idly through my tarot deck, and pulled a card for the day: The Tower. Upheaval, calamity, difficult times ahead, but ultimately, survival. I shook my head. No. I was confident, and I felt that confidence all around me as people walked past with their “I Voted!” Stickers and Hillary Clinton shirts. I was nervous, not allowing my mind to race far enough ahead to really imagine another President Clinton, but the alternative was so unthinkable. So laughable.
My confidence jolted when I called my parents back in Wales for a quick catchup. “Of course, both candidates are unsavory. It’s a shame. Hillary’s pretty shady.” My dad’s comments annoyed me, worried me. He was so far away, so far removed – he had access to different information, different spins, and the luxury of distance. He worried that I was getting too enthusiastic and invested, I worried that he didn’t understand, and that millions might share his views, and split the vote with a third party like Gary Johnson. “People think she can walk on water,” my dad said. I disagreed. No one wanted Hillary to be perfect – no one thought she was. But qualified, well-intentioned, presidential? Yes.
It left a sour taste in my mouth, a low stirring of fear in the pit of my stomach that gnawed steadily at my optimism, at the excitement of going with Ben to vote, of discussing my future as an American citizen.
We headed to a comedy improv night in Brooklyn, sure that this would be the only way in which we could survive the tense evening and the states that would break, one by one. There was talk of a party later at the intersection of President and Clinton streets, but I shook my head as if to rid myself of a buzzing in my ears when people spoke of it. It felt like a jinx.
The New York Times had been predicting an 80-something percent chance of Hillary winning for the past few months. The numbers went up and down, but Trump’s chances never got past 16%, until that night, as the states fell steadily red, and his numbers went higher, and the sick, sick feeling in my stomach quickened and grew.
By 9pm Clinton’s chances of winning were at 5%. The crowd had grown quieter, more somber as the night went on, the performers doing an admirable job of entertaining an audience suddenly unsure of almost everything they believed in. There were a lot of LGTBQ people in that audience. I saw the fear in their eyes. I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to be alone, I couldn’t think of a single place to run to where I would be safe, where things would be okay again and I could leave behind this awful feeling.
We left by 10pm. I’d been crying surreptitiously, there in the front row, but tried to keep calm as we said goodbye to friends. In the taxi on the way home I couldn’t stop the tears, and Ben and I held hands and spoke about whether or not we wanted to live in this country anymore.
I was overcome with rage, at that moment. This stupid, arrogant country, that talks of greatness. Britain only has “great” in its title because it’s…just what it’s called. Hardly anyone uses the “great” bit anymore, anyway. I’ve never really thought about it, other than in a slightly embarrassed way, like a grandparent that’s still a teeny bit racist.
If America wants to be great, let it. But there’s only one way this can end: America can do the same as colonial Britain, and fuck up the world, and live with its shame for centuries until the word “great” becomes an embarrassment that it should wear like a millstone around its neck. It’s like buying a Ferrari when you never bothered to learn to drive. All these countries want to be great, but they forgot to try first to be good.
America thinks it is the biggest, and the best, and that everyone wants to be it. That’s never been the case and it certainly isn’t today. The United States of America has spent its entire life trying to be nothing like Great Britain. Yet instead of getting down to the business of being United, as its name would suggest, it’s been preoccupied with being Great, like a teenager who hates its parents but keeps, bafflingly, trying to be get their attention.
And let’s be honest here: as a white, heterosexual woman, I will probably be fine. Getting my green card next year might be a little trickier, but I am The Right Colour and from The Right Country, I wear no headscarves and fit into a binary sexual gender. But I am terrified.
As a woman I feel beaten and bruised, afraid that the country I now live in has a leader with a pending rape trial – and afraid that this fact that this didn’t seem to bother the millions of people who voted for him. I am terrified, and I realized today….this is what it feels like. For the people of colour, for the LGBTQ community, for the Muslims. This is what they have felt like all along: betrayed, unsafe, ignored or undermined. There are people I know who will think I am being hyperbolic, older generations who have seen leaders come and go and have seen a little more of the laying out of history. But living the small, closeted life that I have, these people will most likely be white, and living in a privilege that they might not be aware of. And I want them to know that this goes far beyond them, or me. That Trump’s presidency will bring very real change, very real danger to a huge number of people, and although we might not be among their number does not mean that we should quiet our rage, or hold back our tears.
Last night as we left the venue a friend and colleague of Ben’s hugged me tightly. “Take care,” I said, and it came out like a whisper. “You too,” she said, looking me dead in the eye, and there was such sincerity in her face, such understanding and concern and fear and a hundred other emotions I knew were reflected back at her from mine. So I cried some more. She’s gay, I thought, as Ben and I stood waiting for a taxi. What I’m feeling must be ten times worse for her.
I don’t feel the need to stay here in this country now, to fight for its ideals, because its ideals are blackened and twisted and laying crumpled on the floor. They are replaced with the threats of torturing suspects because “they probably weren’t nice people, anyway”, the condoned murdering of suspected terrorists’ families, the lack of access to hormones and medication for trans people, the potential dissolution of gay marriage and the prosecution of women who seek abortions. This is not my country, and I do not love it, and if I believe in God I would not him to bless it, because America doesn’t deserve it.
But humans? That’s a different matter. It is my responsibility, where I stand, with the privilege I have, to do the things I can to help other people. I don’t know yet how that help can manifest itself, but for tonight it will be as an ally, with love, and empathy, and support. I don’t care about this country but I care about the millions of people in it who walk a far less certain path through life than I do, on ground that may well feel tremulous and treacherous tonight. Madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, right? I’m not sure I believe that love or hope can triumph anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I will stop loving, or hoping. Faith is not the preserve of the religious, and every single person with faith holds it in the face of uncertainty and lack of evidence.
I know it’s difficult. I know now is the time for grief. But tomorrow is the time to get back up, and love, hard.