New York

It’s Not Going to Be Okay

by

Where were you when you felt the first stabs of anxiety that the impossible might happen? That Trump — the couch Cheeto, the chlorinated merkin, the rivulet of dysentery poop (and on and on into increasingly elaborate epithets, because it was once funny) — might actually become president of the United States?

I was in an Uber on 10th Avenue around 9 p.m., trying to escape the sinkhole that was Hillary Clinton’s “election party” (a misnomer even at 6 p.m., as there was very little by way of merriment and NOTHING by way of alcohol — at that early hour, the mood was grim).

I’d spent the previous three hours stalking the heavily fortified entrance to the Javits Center stage area like some sort of undercredentialed hyena, trying to convince the prepubescent bridge trolls guarding the entrance that I should really be allowed in, just to peek. “No,” they’d said, angling their bodies between me and whatever coruscating Valhalla lay beyond. They motioned to a subterranean press pen below, a foul sweatscape full of damp reporters, their faces pressed so close to their phone screens they all but fell into them, like Narcissus but with Twitter accounts. My feeling at the time was one of boredom and irritation, occupied as I was with trying to find a story. I barely paid attention as the numbers rolled in, a blissful ignorance I realize in retrospect was a luxury.

I ate a plate of $15 MSG, and finally, as Trump moved over states he had no business taking, I decided I’d had enough. But it wasn’t until I was in the quiet of the Uber that it dawned on me that this race was tighter than I’d thought it was. I scrolled through Twitter as I sailed across the Manhattan Bridge and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” chirped through the speakers. When I saw a that the odds had shrunk to 50/50, I felt numb, the same way I always feel in the face of information my brain can’t process, like a breakup or when my parents announced they were getting divorced. It takes me hours to mentally assess any surge of new information, and the length of the lead time seems correlated to the depth of depression that eventually hits.

I arrived at President and Clinton street in Brooklyn, where a large screen had been erected and a block party was being held. People milled in the street, joylessly clenching their bag-covered beers. At 10 p.m., the permit for the party expired, the CNN-broadcast feed was shut off, the screen carried down President Street. I went home to peel off my button-down and sweater, put on some jeans and wandered to a bar near my apartment. The word “disconsolate” was stuck in my mind, drifting around the periphery of my thoughts like an old-timey screensaver.

At the bar, the air hung heavily, as soupy and thick as in the rainforest, as if the despair was airborne. “I didn’t know it was this bad,” a man near the bar said, the words falling limply from his mouth. As we watched the TV in disbelief, I began to think more about the moment this thing went south, and started asking people around me when they first realized it.

“About five minutes ago,” the man near the bar, whose name turned out to be Patrick, said. I asked him if he really thought Trump might win. He took a long time before he answered. “Unfortunately it does look like he might win, to my extreme dismay,” he said slowly.

Jennifer Grossman, also from nearby, told me she started to feel it pretty early on, as the undecided states started to tally their votes. Her anxiety had only mounted since then.

“You start to wonder what the fuck you’ve been doing for the last four years,” she said, laughing ruefully. “Remember this moment of anxiety when you’re like, ‘Really? This is actually going to happen?’ And remember this moment, because it wasn’t by accident that we got here. It was by people’s actions.” And not just the actions of Republican voters, she said.

“As a Democrat, what have I been doing?” she asked. “Who have I not cut off or called out on social media for saying things that might be off-color or not wanted to be mean to somebody because they said something that I didn’t appreciate? This is the moment that people need to remember, that this is what happens when you don’t say: ‘That was fuckin’ racist. That was sexist. Rape isn’t funny.’ All of those things.”

“How did everyone get it so wrong?” a Politico headline asked this morning, raising lots of valid points about James Comey and the unpredictability of poll numbers. But I think it’s simpler than that: The newspapers got it wrong because the truth is, most reporters are happy to repackage and dispense what’s already been written. Some do it out of insecurity of venturing a truly novel opinion. Most journalists hew to a very narrow discourse, reporting outrage over minute departures in the political process while ignoring that the very apparatus has driven off the fucking rails.

We got it wrong because we treated a hateful, illiterate, bigoted, stupid oaf as a worthy rival to a capable politician with the experience and commitment to become a successful president. We treated these things with equal weight. We listened to pundits who are still treading the deeply laid track of their own tired rhetoric, talking heads who lack the vocabulary and range of thought to articulate a threat as extraterrestrial as Trump.

We got it wrong because there are people — white male people, specifically — who had beautiful, lofty, reasons for not voting for Clinton, people who can afford to be gamble with the possibility that Roe v. Wade could very well be overturned, that Obamacare will be vanquished, and an entire cornucopia of other horrors we are only beginning to venture to comprehend.

And to you I say: Fuck. You. Fuck you for sniffing about such a thing as Hillary Clinton’s ultimately innocuous emails when Trump had not only not released his tax returns, but bragged about sexually assaulting women and actively reveled in racism, xenophobia, and bigotry.

And most importantly, we got it wrong by underestimating the depths of people’s anger, their hatred — their disconsolation. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., when Obama was elected eight years ago; I was freshly graduated into a collapsed economy and hoping to land a job in journalism, a field that then, like now, was eroding before my eyes. Despite these things, I felt hopeful. There we were, having pulled together to elect a smart, capable, erudite president — a black president, no less — to pull us from the wreckage. I imagine in some bizarre, darkened universe, that is how Trump supporters feel now. But instead of hope and openness and light, the horizon we face today is filled with ugliness and cynicism.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch Trump’s victory speech. Like many of us, I was ill-prepared for the possibility that this could happen. When we go outside today, the world will feel like it has changed, because it has. The curtain has been pulled back, and everything is different now. It will not be okay.

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