Happy Ending Deferred
This is not a post about the US election. I don’t want to get into why one candidate won, and the other lost, although I will say there’s no simple answers or one line explanations. Instead, I want to talk about how Tuesday felt, why I fell into an emotional hole, and found my way out of it.
The American election broke my heart not only because the result was a surprise, but because it was a shock. Up until the results started rolling in on CNN I felt fairly confident Hillary would win. In 2008, there was a lot of talk of the ‘Bradley Effect’, the idea that polls would wouldn’t pick up on voters’ real intentions because they were reluctant to admit to not supporting an African American candidate. But, since the polls in 2008 were essentially correct, I had pretty solid faith in them for the next eight years.
The fact that they could be so spectacularly off this year in multiple states was not something I was prepared for. (I think there was a double Bradley Effect – people didn’t want to admit to not supporting Clinton and, in a related but distinct phenomenon, were embarrassed to admit they were supporting the Republican candidate.) On Tuesday night, I felt such anger that I had trusted the polls. All those combined hours of reading Nate Silver’s blog – what was the point? I may never really trust polling again.
My boyfriend Kirk was never sanguine about this election. In his gut, he felt that, if the racism the Republican candidate espoused had led him as far as it had already, it could easily take him to the White House. As a person of colour, Kirk is more aware of the racism, subtle and blatant, inherent everyday in North America. He took no pleasure in the election’s outcome but was not stunned in the way of his white boyfriend.
So there’s that – progressives are saddened, scared and angry about what this election says about a lot of voters’ views of marginalized groups: African Americans; Latinos; Muslims; LGBT people; people with disabilities; women. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that the majority of white women voted for the Republican. Anger at the results was swiftly followed by fear of what comes next.
As has been the case for much of my career, I work with a group of wonderful, smart and powerful women. At the office on Wednesday, work momentarily stopped as we watched Hillary’s concession speech. There were tears. Then I went home, and Kirk and I spent the evening discussing the racial dimensions of the result and what happens next. The election results appeared almost tailor made to upset everyone in my life and disrupt everything I care about.
Another reason for the depression that set in with many of us on election night and has yet to recede has to do with the winner. Americans elected a bully. A charlatan. A blatant liar. This is a person who does all the things we teach children not to do, whose rise should have been halted along the way by any number of his discretions, but it wasn’t. For idealistic political progressives like myself, things aren’t supposed to work this way. We’ve been shook and will remain so for some time.
In the days after the election, I would have moments, whole periods of time when I was fine, but then my mind would drift back to the election, and my anxiety about what happens next, and I would become moody and withdrawn. Each day a new thing would worry me: “What about Obamacare?” “What about the environment?”
Things that helped: the photo of Hillary Clinton out hiking the next day, with a smile as bright as the morning sunshine. The way progressives of various stripes started, on day one of this new world, reaffirming all the fights we will continue to take to the administration and beyond. The grace and calm President Obama has shown in the last two weeks has been a particular source of power.
And, closer to home, my partner Kirk has helped pull me out of it. One morning in particular as we walked to work he reminded me there’s only so much in life we can control, and one Canadian can hardly be expected to swing an American election. Things in life don’t always go the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean you give up, curl up in a foetal position and retreat from the world. The election results don’t necessarily mean game over for the environment, a Fascist dictatorship or the end of the world as we know it, and making yourself sick over your worst fears helps no one.
There are light times, followed by dark times, and all we can do is keep living and fighting to make things better.
I keep thinking back to this Salon piece by Gerry Canavan about the new Star Wars movie, From “A New Hope” to no hope at all: “Star Wars,” Tolkien and the sinister and depressing reality of expanded universes. In it, he describes how J.R.R. Tolkien planned to write another Lord of the Rings story, set a century after the last book, showing that the fairytale ending of The Return of the King was short lived (similar to how the Force Awakens shows that everything didn’t stay hunky dory after the Ewoks cleaned up after their celebration at the end of The Return of the Jedi). Tolkien quit after 13 pages basically because it was too depressing. Who wants to read that, after all the fighting and triumphs, evil reasserts itself and you must fight the same battles a generation later?
But that’s the story of the world, triumphs followed by set backs followed by new fights. If America were a novel, film or Netflix miniseries, President Obama’s win in 2008 would have been a perfect ending. An inspiring and honourable man unites swaths of voters representing marginalized, now newly engaged groups (‘The Coalition of the Ascendant’) and demonstrates that racism, the country’s founding sin, was, if not erased, at least in the retreat.
It was pretty naïve of us to think that was the end of the story, but the various legislative wins of the Obama era and his reelection made it seem like we would continue to generally march forward. Two thousand sixteen brought that illusion crashing down.
But life goes on. To quote Angels in America, “The world only spins forward.” In an interview in the New Yorker, Obama, as he often does, asks his supporters to take the long view. He reminds us that the famous Democratic Convention speech that launched his career came after George W. Bush’s re-election, which seemed at the time a very dark place. He first uttered the clarion call ‘Yes we can’ after a major loss during the primaries. One of the only mottos that has ever always been true is, no one knows what the future holds.
So we keep living and fighting, staying informed and challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, while making time for the simple pleasures that make life enjoyable: watching our favourite TV shows and movies; dinners with friends and family; afternoon walks and cuddles with our partners. I’m not ‘over’ the election results, but I will be fine.