The 2016 election campaign was brutal, particularly for those of us who knew what we were up against and were fighting hard to stop it. It was a long, hard fight, and every day it was terrifying. I’d tell myself, “come on, she can’t lose, she’s up against a proto-fascist who sounds like a kid who forgot to read the book for his book report. She’s clearly qualified, he’s clearly not. People will see that.”
But I’d drive through parts of rural Ohio that were thick with Trump signs, and I’d see the raucous fervor of his rallies, and I’d worry.
It turns out I was right to worry. Not enough people saw the dichotomy and not enough people saw the danger. But this post isn’t about that. Books will be written about that. Doctoral theses in political science will be published about that.
This is about the aftermath.
In the chaos and anxiety of the campaign, the one thing that kept me focused was thinking about what I would do after the election. I thought I’d shut off political news for a while – maybe a long while. I’d get around to doing a lot of the backlog of reading I’d been meaning to do, and I’d finally finish that damn cross-stitching project that I’d been putting off since last Christmas.
Then the election happened. A lot of friends of mine were stuck in the denial phase for a really long time, spinning conspiracy theories about how Trump would surely never actually take office. Surely the electoral college would intervene. Surely he would simply resign, seeing how unqualified he was for the job. Surely someone… anyone… would stop this.
I entertained these same thoughts for a little while, but only for a little while. No, I thought, we are going to get to January 20, and that man will be president of these United States. It is going to happen.
I did not handle this well. I’d been struggling with seasonal depression even before the election, and this sent me into a real tailspin. I kept seeking out someone — anyone — who would tell me that everything was going to be okay. I needed to hear someone say that it was all going to work out for the best, and I needed to believe them. I talked to friends, to family members. I sought out essayists, newspaper columnists, humorists, whoever. Nobody was selling what I wanted to buy.
What is wrong with the world, I thought. All I need is someone to say it’s all going to be all right, and nobody is saying it. Why isn’t anyone saying it?
The answer, which I knew and I expect you do as well, is that it wasn’t true. Things weren’t going to be all right. A deeply unqualified man, not bright, not kind, not capable, possibly suffering from a personality disorder, was going to take the helm of the presidency. Nothing is okay about that. No, we’re not all going to be just fine.
OK then, what now, I thought. I can’t just turn off the news, because that doesn’t stop anything from happening. All that does is make it a surprise when inevitably it happens to me or to someone I love. I can’t lie to myself that things will be just fine. So what do I do? Some part of me I think was still hoping that I would find someone — anyone — who would say, “Hey, I’ve got this. I’m in charge of this problem. Send some donations to the following organizations and your job is done.”
I’m not sure I can express to you just how much I was looking forward to kicking back and relaxing after the election.
It took me way, way too long to come to the realization that kicking back and relaxing was a luxury we were not going to have for quite some time to come. That kicking back and relaxing is something you get to do under a competent government that you trust. That government is not this one. It is not competent, and we cannot trust it. And no one person will save us.
We have to save ourselves.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been picking up the phone and calling my congresspeople. Not because I want to or find it enjoyable, but because that is what we have to do right now. I’ve been writing letters. I’ve been going to rallies, and when my senators and representatives finally get around to having town halls, I’ll show up. I’ll keep track of local legislation and school board candidates and get involved with those. I’ll donate to candidates who will work for us and campaign against candidates who won’t.
These are things we all have to do now. Nobody will do it for you and nobody is going to tell you that everything is going to be ok, because it’s not. I’m sorry, but it’s not. And you can’t check out. Not permanently. If you need to take a break for a day, a week, then you do that. Recharge to get back in the fight — but then you get back in the fight. There are groups forming everywhere to help you. There are phone scripts, letter templates, plans and guides and step-by-steps. You don’t have to do this alone.
But you do have to do it. We all do. Not forever, I hope. But for now. We are fighting for our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. We are fighting for people we don’t even know, because it is the right thing to do. We will lock arms and shield our most vulnerable and helpless as much as we are able.
I will see you all out there.