November 12, 2016 by Michael
It was anguishing for both of us, just as it was for millions more. For months, I’d been reassuring my wife that there was no way for Trump to get elected, that every website from fivethirtyeight.com to the Princeton Election Consortium was predicting a Clinton win. For Trump to win, he’d have to run the table on the swing states, plus pluck at least one state from the one leaning towards Clinton. An impossible task. Right?
I couldn’t see any way Americans in all those battleground states could throw their collective weight behind a man so crude and abusive, so inexperienced in politics, who had been such a poor businessman (his one area of supposed expertise) that he had not only filed for bankruptcy six times but had also lost nearly a billion dollars in one year—at least according to one page leaked from the tax returns he never released. What money he claimed to have amassed was less than he would have made by simply putting his money into an index fund. He had a long string of lawsuits trailing him from a variety of contractors he’d failed to pay—and many more who had just eaten their losses from him and decided not to sue. He had made so many missteps on the campaign trail, attacking the Gold Star parents of a solder killed in action, calling for his supporters to attack dissenters during their rallies, threatening to sue reporters who published articles critical of him, even mocking a disabled reporter. No way could he win. Right?
I mean, Hillary had her faults, mostly related to being married to a serial philanderer and having made some poor choices about the use of a private email server. By her own admission, she was not a natural politician, and her attempt to dance around questions—a skill that comes so easily to natural politicians—about the email server, among others, came across as dishonest.
But she had loads of experience, including eight years as an activist First Lady in the White House, twelve years as the First Lady in Arkansas, eight years as the Senator from New York, and four years as Secretary of State. Republican colleagues regarded her as a good Senator, yet the Clinton her colleagues saw in private was always at odds with the one that most Americans saw.
She had spent the past twenty-plus years fending off continuous attacks from the right that had many people convinced that she was the very incarnation of evil. According to this line of thinking (which Trump helped to create), electing her would bring on the end of America, from taking away everyone’s guns to creating open borders that would allow illegal immigrants and Islamic terrorists to flow into the country like so much anti-American wastewater (or, more accurately, anti-white-American wastewater).
Nevermind (for now—I’ll handle it in another post) the false comparisons, the attempt to draw a moral equivalency between her faults and Trump’s faults. Surely the majority of Americans (at least the ones in swing states, anyway) could see through his weak attempt to act (intermittently anyway) like an inspiring leader. He acted like a good Christian, despite mauling his quotation from Second Corinthians. He pretended to be pro-life, despite saying that women who get abortions should be jailed, a statement that showed no knowledge of mainstream pro-life policy. His teleprompted apology for the leaked tape with Billy Bush was so stiff it made Marco Rubio’s thirst-quenching State of the Union response look facile by comparison.
I mean, Americans couldn’t be that stupid, right? Even if they thought Hilary was a flawed choice, they’d see the flaws in Trump even more. Right? His incredibly divisive comments on various minorities would get them to the polls nearly as well as Obama had. Right?
Wrong. As our hearts sunk lower and the results continued to roll in, it became apparent that the nightmare was, in fact, true: Donald Trump had won the electoral college vote and would be our next president.
Appalling. Horrifying. Unimaginable. Apocalyptic. The list of adjectives mounted to describe the defeat of Hillary Clinton by a politically inexperienced reality TV star. The policies that would be overturned by a Trump administration ran from the ACA to essential climate-change rules that would at least slow down our collective destruction of our planetary home. And he’d get to fill the Supreme Court seat created by the unprecedented Republican obstruction of (incredibly moderate) Merrick Garland, foreshadowing years of conservative judicial decisions.
Worse than the policies was the feeling that our country was no longer the America we knew. That there was more racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia than we ever imagined. That Americans were so easily taken in both by this two-bit con artist and by the twenty-plus-year Republican smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.
That people we knew and loved had voted for this man.
My words of solace to my wife were almost as shameful and dismaying as the results themselves: “We’re a white family. I have a good job with healthcare. We will survive.” It was a filthy scrap of hope, one that would not cover many of those around us, but we clung to it on that dark and discouraging night.
Our emotions would get more complex and resolute, less panicked and terrified, in the days that followed. On that night, however, we were deep in an abyss of despair.