This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The pundits assured us it was fine. They were confident he wouldn’t win the general election, just as they had assured us he would never make it through the primaries. His path to 270 was exceedingly narrow. Hillary’s firewall would hold. The republic would be saved.
There was no need to fear.
But of course that was never true. I think it was Andrew Sullivan who said he could feel deep in his gut where this was all leading, that no matter what the polls said, there was no way the story of this year had a happy ending. Trump had been weirdly lucky, and had also been cannier and more cunning than any of his critics or opponents. Like the villain in a horror movie, his campaign had been pronounced dead again and again, only to rise again greater and more powerful than before.
I was surprised, the weekend before the election, to see a conservative columnist from the Wall Street Journal and a liberal Bernie voter from Salon.com suggest that maybe his ascension was some kind of divine judgment on America. But it makes a weird kind of sense. Maybe we didn’t deserve Hillary. And maybe he’s the true face of America: cruel and bigoted and beastly and imperialistic and greedy and hateful towards women and minorities and anyone who threatens it. A billionaire celebrity who doesn’t read: how could he not be our next president?
I know there’s much that is good about us. I see it reflected in the devastated faces of millions who are mourning today: the women, minorities, and LGBTs who have just seen their last hopes eviscerated. I see it in the young mothers who are now fervently praying that the world won’t suffer permanent damage from the effects of climate change or nuclear war.
I hope we’re that lucky, or that God has mercy on us. But I’m increasingly skeptical that we’ll make it through the next four years unscathed. The alt-right is ascendant in America. Their leader has just been elected president. Jews and Muslims are afraid for their lives like never before in this country. Bigotry won. Bullying won. We know now that you can be a serial sexual abuser and it won’t stop you from reaching the highest office in the nation; but if you’re a competent, professional woman, you’re out of luck.
The awesome powers of the presidency have been placed in the hands of a vengeful and self-centered businessman with no political experience, whose sheer charisma has lured half the country into a fascist personality cult centered on hate and the worship of Trump. I sometimes feel like I escaped one cult just to watch my country become one.
I hate talking about him. I stayed silent in the month before the election because the entire country seemed to be talking about him, even his enemies, and it empowers him. I’m tired of the jokes. They’re not funny anymore, if they ever were. I want to put this year behind us and pretend it didn’t happen, pretend half my country didn’t just vote for war crimes and racial oppression and naked abuse of power. But it seems our long nightmare is just getting started.
In the fight that lies ahead there are some people who are going to need to be activists, speaking out against his abuses. But there are others who are going to be called in a different direction. We need artists and writers and poets and prophets and thinkers and intellectuals who can rekindle a sense of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in an ugly and deceitful country. We need fighters who will expose the lies of the right-wing media bubble that imprisons millions and helped bring him to power. And we need novelists and bakers and dancers and musicians to remind us what the good is, and that a nation where twenty percent of the adult population hasn’t been to a library in their adult life is neither sane nor healthy.
The only redeeming aspect of this election and its outcome is that many of us didn’t know how diseased our country was. Now we know. Today is a day of mourning. But tomorrow we have to get up and begin the long work of taking it back.