As the days went by and nothing anyone said could comfort me, I realized I would have to comfort myself.
This is what I would’ve liked to hear in the days following the election. To that end, it’s extremely personal even though it discusses a political event. It may not be true, but it can’t really be said to be false, either, because this is what keeps me wanting to keep living. I hope that by writing it and putting it out into the world, as a real, living, breathing thing, I can be comforted.
There’s a saying I kind of live by, and it goes: “Things will neither be as good as you hope, nor as bad as you fear.” I don’t remember where I first heard it or who I could possibly credit it to. I like it because it reminds me not to overinvest myself in fantastical possibilities, positive or negative.
I’ve had plenty of each this past week. First I thought it was literally just a mistake. A part of me expected to wake up on Wednesday morning–I didn’t stay up quite late enough to see the actual concession–and check my phone and see that Clinton won. Things were obviously not as good as that particular hope.
Then I hoped even more irrationally that Someone Would Do Something–what?–and reverse the election results. Can’t anyone do something? Isn’t he literally currently on trial for child rape? But no, nobody was going to do something; the time for doing something was November 8 and we did not do it.
Now I hope for other too-good things. That it was all just a big funny troll and he’ll turn out to be a liberal. That he’ll at least leave the ACA and abortion rights and LGBTQ rights and a ton of other things alone and focus on his money. That he’ll die or resign or be impeached and then so will Pence and literally everyone else on down until I don’t know what. That it’ll be like Harry Potter or Star Wars or other great stories that I love in which the rebels win in the end and not all that many people die.
And then there were the fears. As soon as the election was over I discovered in myself a seemingly unstoppable well of intergenerational trauma that paralyzed me with visions of forced labor camps, gas chambers, Secret Police, interrogations, mass graves, yellow stars on clothing, armed men kicking down the door in the middle of the night. While there are many valid reasons to fear that Trump will inexorably damage our democracy, these particular fears are not, I don’t think, coming from any actual evidence. They are an inevitable result of trauma, even trauma that you haven’t personally witnessed. They are a part of my story nonetheless.
Things will neither be as good as you hope, nor as bad as you fear.
“We survived Reagan,” they said. “We survived Bush. We’ll survive this.” Others responded, angrily and rightfully so: “Many of us didn’t.”
Some won’t survive Trump. Of those that do, many will probably be changed in ways they never wanted to change, ways that you can’t necessarily turn into silver linings. There’s no point papering over that ugly writing on the wall.
You may not survive Trump. Your loved ones may not survive Trump. I’m so sorry we didn’t do better by you. We failed in many ways not just on November 8 but in the weeks and months leading up to it, but many people are already doing that postmortem analysis and that’s not my aim here.
It is a small but significant comfort, though, that human ingenuity and empathy will survive, and most likely so will our democracy, and that for every Trump there are dozens of people who enrich the lives of the people around them. If only our political system were set up to uplift these people. But it’s not, so instead it’s up to us to uplift them, now more than ever.
As someone who has often written about privilege as a helpful lens through which to understand our society, I was surprised to find that in the days after the election, personally, I found this lens unhelpful and even harmful.
Just to get this out of the way first–I don’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about privilege right now. We should be talking about it more than ever. I mean that in my own emotional process, it didn’t help at all.
Something that I kept hearing a lot was that certain people have “nothing to worry about” in the coming years and are therefore obligated to put themselves on the line for others. I guess I don’t think anyone is ever “obligated” to do anything but treat others like human beings, but aside from that, I don’t know who I could possibly identify that I personally know (so, not a member of Trump’s family or cabinet) who has “nothing to worry about.”
A straight cis white man who loses health insurance because the ACA is repealed and then develops a fatal condition is just as dead as anyone else. Does he have “nothing to worry about”?
When climate change continues unabated thanks to Trump’s denialism and all of us suffer, do any of us have “nothing to worry about”?
And I think back to those horrible images I keep seeing, and I think about who had “nothing to worry about” then. In the Soviet Union, being straight, cis, white, and male may have afforded you some amount of protection–I’m not sure exactly what the social dynamics there were–but if someone informed on you (usually falsely, usually in order to save themselves or their family or to get back at you or to get something you had), off you go to the camps like anyone else.
Some people are in more danger than others, and we must speak up and stand up for those people. But I’m tired of the gaslighty claims that relatively privileged people are wrong in their own fears. None of us are actually safe now.
I’m also not sure where I stand in this hypothetical privilege ladder now that white supremacists are in power, because Jews are not white to them. Jewish whiteness has always been somewhat conditional, not just on time but also on place. There are many parts of the country–the types of parts that voted heavily for Trump, in fact–where Jews have never been white. My family fled a country where Jews were not white. Anti-Semitism has always trafficked in racial stereotypes. All of you who claim that Jewishness is just a religion and nothing more must not have ever heard all the jokes about big ugly noses and frizzy ugly hair, and inferior genes and physical weakness and illness. There’s a long legacy of visual representations to that effect, too.
So, in the context of that and in the context of swastikas getting spray-painted all over everything and in the context of this has happened to us numerous times already, I don’t really appreciate being told that I have “nothing to worry about.”
So what now? Now, apparently, we’re supposed to “organize.”
“Don’t mourn, organize,” say actual posts on my actual Facebook feed, as if anyone has the fucking right to tell me how to feel right now.
I’m aware that immediately jumping to action is some people’s coping strategy, and I don’t knock that. But the proliferation of these posts within hours of the election’s conclusion was, if not exactly triggering, at the very least deeply invalidating. I feel like I’m grieving the loss of a loved one as people stand around and command me to “take action” and “use your privilege” and “do something about it.” What am I supposed to do? It’s dead. You want me to bring a corpse back to life now? No amount of privilege is going to make that happen.
Which brings me to the deeper part of this, which is that I don’t feel like I can trust anyone enough to organize with them.
I know this will upset some of you to hear, but this is the part that I feel like I have to say before anything else can come out of my chest. Progressives who voted third party in swing states (or didn’t vote at all) because Clinton wasn’t progressive enough make me feel like a hostage in a negotiation. “Give me a better Democratic candidate, or the girl gets it.” Well, they called your bluff, I’m shot and bleeding, and none of us are better off for it. Most of these progressives are white and non-Jewish; some aren’t, but even those are responsible for bargaining with others’ lives as if those lives are theirs to bargain with.
Now I am being told to “organize” with my fellow progressives because this is the only way to stop Trump. Leaving aside the fact that the only realistic way to stop Trump given the conditions we had was to vote for Clinton, I wouldn’t organize so much as a desk drawer with people who so cavalierly threw me and all other marginalized people onto the negotiating table.
I’m aware that third-party voters and nonvoters don’t see it that way. You see it as a matter of conscience, of standing up for what’s right. That may be true for you, but I feel that my life, health, and safety have been put on the line without my consent and I can’t trust people who do that to me.
Maybe eventually I’ll come around and forgive and stop feeling so unsafe and compromised, but for now, just leave me alone to write and call my representative in peace. I don’t want to organize anything besides my Thanksgiving party.
The past week has definitely felt like grieving. I experienced that odd narrowing of focus, that sense that literally nothing else matters, not even the things I cared deeply about before. I remember looking at photos of my outfit from election night and feeling sort of numbly confused as to why I would care about putting together an outfit. I can still barely write anything that isn’t this, because I don’t see why anything else would matter.
I’m grieving for a future that isn’t one of various shades of total fucking shitshow. I’m grieving for all the people who will get hurt. I’m grieving for the fact that there will probably not be a female president in my lifetime; after this we will assume that a woman couldn’t possibly win an election even against an incompetent, impulsive, hateful rapist and fraud. I’m grieving for the hope I had felt about my own future. I’m grieving for my parents and all the other survivors of authoritarian and fascist regimes who came here thinking they would never have to go through that again. I’m grieving, utterly bizarrely and misplacedly, for Hillary Clinton and the hope that she must’ve had that the world was finally ready for her, and it wasn’t. I’m even grieving, against all reason, for the people who thought this would save them and who might never realize just how much it’s going to destroy them.
I am grieving and I feel too numb to care, too apathetic to organize, too betrayed to trust, and too overwhelmed to move forward.
I’m told, if not in these exact words, that that’s a personal failure because it means I’m wallowing in my own feelings rather than Organizing or whatever. Look–first of all, I don’t owe anyone shit. The way I see it right now, my family came to this country because y’all told us this can’t happen here, so as it turns out, you lied. You broke it, you pay for it.
But that’s my immediate, raging, grieving self. That’s the sort of thing I have to move past in order to be of any use to myself or anyone else. And I can’t move past it without taking the time and space to move through it.
When I moved to New York–and again when I moved back from New York–I had a really, really hard time with those transitions. Those were radically different sorts of events than this is–for one, they were not literally national-scale disasters and for another, I got to fucking choose those things. But what I learned was that as silly and petty and childish as my feelings seemed to me, I needed to be gentle and caring with myself in order to be able to move forward.
I think that applies to this as much as it does to any other grief I will ever experience, and for that reason I feel absolutely zero guilt for indulging those feelings for now and just letting myself feel them all the way through. There’s no moral value to this because it’s simply what needs to be done.
I am grieving, but the final stage of this grieving process isn’t acceptance. It’s anger.
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