“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
“This loss hurts. But please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.” — Hillary Rodham Clinton, concession speech, 11/9/16
* * *
I write this, several days after 45.5% of American voters elected Donald Trump, and I’m still fighting back tears. It hurts to think about the implications of these results, and it is still a raw and emotional wound for me. Like many of my peers, I tied a lot of idealism and hope for my future and that of my country to this election. Processing the outcome is very difficult, especially since I am in Colombia, without other Americans who can really understand this pain. But listening, reading, and, most importantly, writing, have never failed me as coping mechanisms when facing setbacks.
I’ve listened to a lot: night-of live election results transmissions via the PBS Newshour Youtube live stream, a never-ending playlist of post-election podcasts (mainly NPR’s Fresh Air, NPR Politics, and FiveThirthyEight), and the responses of the late night comedians (particularly identifying with segments by Chelsea Handler, Seth Meyers, and Trevor Noah).
And I’ve read plenty: disturbing Facebook statuses by now-emerging-from-the-shadows Trump supporters from my high school or neighborhood (people I formerly admired) contrasted by posts in Pantsuit Nation, the secret group of Hillary supporters; news articles running the gamut from predicting the worst, the rise of a fascist leader and a devastating economic recession (“Paul Krugman: The Economic Fallout“) to more tender pieces of individuals struggling to process the surprise (“Lindy West: Her Loss“). I’ve cringed while reading the slew of horrifying “Day 1 of Trump” posts about acts of racism and sexism in settings like schools. I’ve also read posts on Facebook from college friends with a more aggressive tone, some invalidating fears of groups not specifically targeted by Trump or dismissing white people, particularly white men, as passive and incapable of understanding the fears of the “more vulnerable” groups. And, thankfully, I’ve read many reassuring posts on Facebook of friends I respect, also struggling to make sense of things and echoing my sadness and disbelief.
Now I’m writing more. I’ve been writing in my journal. I often shy away from authoring strong political statements in my social media because I find it upsetting to engage online with people who are uninformed or not thoughtful (call me a coward if you will, but I am more than happy to discuss my opinions offline, and sometimes I need to protect myself from unsolicited hurtful comments). But on this occasion, I was so comforted by the many posts of friends also elaborating their pain and confusion, and I wanted to participate, albeit in a more neutral way, considering the many Trump supporters I saw on my timeline; I wrote a status that I published on my Facebook on Wednesday evening to share a heart-warming interaction I had on Wednesday morning that demonstrated how some Colombians have been comforting.
In this particular interaction, I was eating breakfast at my hostel. I had spent hours crying alone in my room while reading the news and watching videos of commentators but I decided to start my day. At breakfast I was joined by a man the age of my father as he waited for his wife and daughter to join him. He made small talk, asking if I’d heard the results of the election, and I couldn’t hold back my tears.
I tried to justify my reaction, explaining my disbelief and fears, and he hugged me. He explained that they too cried just over a month ago after the results of the plebiscite in Colombia. And he also encouraged me: even Colombia, a shakier democracy with a deep-rooted history of corruption will soon pass peace accords in congress. And the US, he reassured me, with it’s strong tradition of democracy, will see the rise of people who share values of inclusivity and openness, despite the hatred represented by Trump. He focused on practicalities of how the US government is set up with checks and balances, and reminded me that this system protects us from Trump doing too much damage, at least at the policy-making level. More than anything, I was comforted by his instinct to comfort me. It’s still too early for me to move past my sadness, anger, disappointment, etc. so for now, I am happy to give and receive as many hugs as possible.
* * *
Months ago, I pinpointed a region of Colombia called Santander that I wanted to visit for adventure sports, hiking, and scenic town visits. After many distracting and distressing setbacks in late October, the two long holiday weekends in November seemed like a perfect time to escape to relax, refocus, and move forward. With November 8 flagged in my mind, I decided to design my schedule so as to be in a small town without a backpacker culture and even treated myself to a two-night booking in a scenic hostel that was not the cheapest option (for those who know me, it will be no surprise that my “splurge” was still under $20 USD per night for a private room with private bath).
Weeks ago, as I researched the sleepy town and hostel where I would spend November 7-9, I was fantasizing about where I would privately celebrate the victory. Though other friends originally planned to join me for the travel in the preceding days and ultimately cancelled, from the start, I liked the idea of having several days around the election to myself. I planned the getaway to have the basic amenities to follow results (working wifi) but also the tranquil setting where I could have my space and cherish processing the historic moment.
I knew there would be no extravagant parties in Barichara (a town of 7,000 with tourists mainly arriving for day visits then leaving on the last 6:45pm bus back to San Gil), let alone a watch party in a local restaurant or bar. I considered whether it would be too lonely to celebrate Hillary’s victory alone, but I concluded that it would be special and memorable for me to be alone to process the implications of Hillary as the next president. I wanted to savor the moment, be fully aware of my happiness and hopefulness without interruptions.
I packed extra pens, anticipating a lot of journaling in my excitement, and I even threw in a set of colored pens that I expected I would want to draw and better express my elation. From the photos of the hostel, I picked a hammock with a spectacular view that I planned to occupy for November 9. Just like we all remember where we were when we heard about 9/11 and what we did before and after that day, I knew November 8 and 9 would be days I would remember for the rest of my life. I wanted to make them meaningful.
* * *
On November 8, I planned my day so as to take a scenic hike in the morning then have the afternoon and evening reserved for dinner than a private watch party at my hostel. Those who know me know that I tend to overpack my days and when I travel can take this to an extreme, but for my time in Barichara, I limited activities and deliberately set aside plenty of time to anticipate then process the election results.
Traveling alone and as a woman isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but Tuesday was a surprisingly pleasant and even empowering day. The solo hike wasn’t lonely, and I even caught up with a goat farmer and his 16 goats on the same trail and enjoyed visiting with the farmer. It somehow came up that it was an important day for my country, though the farmer had not heard about the election nor the candidates, and the farmer wished me luck as we arrived to town and parted ways.
I journaled for hours that afternoon from the hammock I had pre-selected. I wandered down the photogenic streets of Barichara and looked for a place that would be open for dinner, perhaps even with a TV that I could convince the owner to switch to election results. Nearly all the restaurants in town were closed on Tuesday, but by 7pm I had found a place to eat and journal as the results started to come in. Over the only dinner option available (a gluten-free corn-based pizza), I tried to journal but couldn’t help myself from refreshing the NYTimes live election results page every several minutes. I was feeling a bit lonely, but I wasn’t at all worried about the election outcome at this stage. And just in time, serendipity: a bubbly Colombian woman with a cheery, eccentric style who I had met in an art history class back in Bogotá walked into the restaurant with her husband and 3 year old son. Their family vacation just so happened to bring them to the same town and the same restaurant at a time when I was thrilled to see a familiar face.
For several hours we chatted about all sorts of subjects, including my career and personal goals. I fully engaged with them, resisting the temptation to refresh the live election results page on my phone. They were getting notifications on their phones and texts from relatives about the election results (this was as Florida votes were coming in and the state was flipping back and forth), so we spoke a bit about the election, but my optimism was still strong. The last I had checked, the NYTimes estimated that it was 82% likely that Hillary would win, so I was content hearing about their life experiences and drawing with the 3 year old. By 9 we were heading home, and their son was clinging to my hand the entire walk, giggling and dancing. I was anticipating how in a few short hours I would feel this same boundless joy.
By 9:30pm I was settled in my room and connected to the PBS Newshour live stream to watch the results. Things were not looking as I had expected. Over the next half hour, it began to get worse. I felt the same sinking feeling of a month prior when the votes for No in the Colombian plebiscite crept quickly up to even out with then overtake the votes for Sí. I was texting many friends, and messages were mainly short: “Omg,” “I’m scared,” “What is happening?” As the night continued, even the commentators on the PBS panel looked on the verge of tears. By 1am I had cried quite a bit, and the outcome seemed certain, so I went to bed, my exhaustion from the day’s hike permitting me to shut down my brain. Waking at 6am, I resumed, watching Trump’s victory speech and apprehensively beginning to sift through the flurry of articles.
I fought over text with some friends who argued that they “saw this coming,” or that I was being overdramatic in my reaction. Some blamed Hillary for not being likable or claimed, “it should have been Bernie as the candidate.” Some of these comments were intolerable.
* * *
My closest friends and best supports have reassured me that I’m nowhere near alone in my feelings. I know that 45.7% of voters in the election voted for Hillary, and she was overwhelmingly supported by my peers and the people I most respect. But it still hurts.
Part of this is because, perhaps illogically, I attached much of my idealism about my future to Hillary. Those against her had waged a hate-filled campaign and tried to make her out to be a crooked person, a woman who I could not value more highly. She seemed to handle everything with such grace and epitomized how hard work can prepare you and reward you with a position where you can implement the change you want to make. Especially as a woman, I considered her victory and the improvements she would make in the working and personal lives of women to be significant in my life; I even told myself that if she won, I would allow myself to think more boldly about career options, since I felt more confident she would lessen the risks I would face (i.e. if she achieved equal pay for women or secured paid maternity leave).
Trump attacks what I and many people I care about represent, east coast highly educated intellectuals. Much of this year of reflection and introspection has surrounded my “privilege,” what I can do from my position to make a difference and find purpose while also making a living. And I’ve thought quite a bit about how my background and opportunities differ from the “entitlement” I witnessed among many college classmates.
Trump winning left me feeling defeated about the progressive ideals I held and thought the majority of my country shared. It is very difficult to accept that so many Americans are comfortable ignoring the many outrageously offensive and un-American claims and behavior of Trump. My mom’s explanation for it all is that white men everywhere came out to vote, propelled by their fear of being “castrated” by a woman, without realizing her policies would likely benefit them. I don’t think it’s quite as simple, but I am sure that Hillary being a woman and also embracing of “others” in a stark contrast to Trump did motivate some voters. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an occasion where listening to the opinions of Trump supporters will get us far as a society, since even they cannot defend the candidate they championed and disavow much of what he has unequivocally stood for.
* * *
In the last few hours, I’ve seen countless peers spreading the Change.org petitions to change the electoral college system and encourage faithless voters to change the outcome of the election and make Hillary president on December 19. This isn’t a feasible solution.
I’ve seen videos of protests in LA, PA, NYC, and elsewhere.
I’ve seen an analysis of how voter suppression was achieved by the GOP in my home state.
I’ve seen an announcement of a KKK parade and celebration of Trump’s victory in my home state.
The disturbing and saddening news could continue for a while. It’s hard to remain optimistic, but one thing that has helped me is re-reading the two quotations I placed at the top of this piece. These statements serve as a reminder to not give up but rather remain firmly committed to the values that comprise our identity. And on a more practical level, I will be doing as many actions as I can to keep my spirits up, whether it means going to as many dance classes as possible, treating myself to a large portion of dessert, or reading calming, absorbing novels. I will continue to engage, and I hope so do you all, but we also must protect ourselves in this fragile and trying time.