This week’s post is a break from RV stories and tips about decluttering. The story should be familiar enough by now, I suppose.
A well-prepared and very qualified establishment Democrat falls short after 8 years of a popular incumbent from the same party. The winner of the popular vote loses the election, and the entire country is weary from the struggle. A concession speech comes late and is gracious. The nation has never seemed more politically divided.
That was early December 2000. Lindy and I had just moved to DC from the Midwest a couple months earlier. We watched as Bush v. Gore politicized the Supreme Court in a way we hadn’t seen before. We got 8 years of George W. Bush, a mighty recession and two deadly, unnecessary wars.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that time 16 years ago.
This week feels a lot like the aftermath of 2000 did. Except that the race that year was uncertain until the Court finally decided it. This year, it was soundly over almost on time. And it turned out the wrong way! From my college-educated, liberal East Coast bubble, the election was supposed to be a slam dunk.
Every single mainstream newspaper in the country editorialized for Clinton or against Trump. This included papers that had never endorsed, or had never endorsed Democrats. We were talking about Texas and Arizona being in play! The House of Representatives, even. The polls, though tighter toward the end of the race, were confident and comfortable.
On Election Night, when the states started stacking up red, Lindy went up to bed. I stayed downstairs and watched until I realized I’d fallen asleep too. I turned off the four devices I was using to watch the returns and went to bed too. I knew, even though I didn’t know.
The next morning, the headache, the disbelief. The train ride to the office in seeming suspended animation and almost complete silence. The complete lack of focus at work. Another full day of trying to sort out the why and the how. Anger at tens of millions of people.
A podcast about how people of color weren’t as surprised, because they always knew this was a nation capable of electing a Donald Trump.
And then Leonard Cohen died. Zen master, poet, singer. Lindy and I had the pleasure of seeing him a few years ago at a rain-soaked outdoor concert. We stayed until we were both soggy and shivering, knowing we might not get another opportunity. We were right.
Somehow, Saturday Night Live knew exactly how to capture the feeling of both losses this week.
So, what now? What happens once the commiserating and the junk-food eating and the blaming are over? When it doesn’t matter as much whether it was James Comey, the media, racists, the Electoral College or the candidate herself that caused our ticket to lose?
I remember, in the wake of Bush’s ascent to power, the protests geared up and the left-leaning political organizations all raised tons of money. That’s already happening now. And it should.
But I can’t spend the next 4-8 years perpetually pissed off. And I wasn’t a parent 16 years ago. This week, we watched the Clinton concession speech with our daughter. We watched it after months of telling her women can be President, which we still believe. But we wanted her to understand the importance of losing with dignity even after you’ve lost everything.
“And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
I’m glad Hillary Clinton said this better than I ever could. And yes, I watched the next day as our nation’s first Black President posed for pictures with a successor who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. If anyone in the world had the right to be furious at that moment, to call bullshit on the whole damn ritual, to call in sick and mourn his legacy, it was Barack Obama. But he knew that our nation demanded more of him, and he delivered. It was inspiring.
What’s next for me is that I have to do something I’m not very good at — hoping I’m wrong. I hope the newspapers are wrong too, and that our President-Elect doesn’t constitute a unique threat to American democracy. I hope this election isn’t the first step in our descent into fascism. I hope his rhetoric and actions begin to temper in the wake of the heroic challenge that’s now on his shoulders. I hope the misogynists, racists and homophobes who supported his candidacy are not empowered by his election. And I hope those who condoned or ignored the terrible things he said and did toward women, people of color, LGBT people and people with disabilities will stand up and say that this isn’t the America we believe in.
I hope his inexperience doesn’t leave him captive to old hands with nefarious agendas. And that his unpredictability and lack of an ideological compass will lead to some pleasant surprises. I’ve now spent exactly half my life under Democratic administrations and half under Republican ones. I’m old enough to know the difference. And as I prepare for life in the next 4-8 years, I intend to give credit where credit is due. Nixon went to China. Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court. If President Trump makes meaningful progress on issues I hold dear, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and will cheer him on.
But I’m also still worried. I’m worried as the son of an immigrant and the father of a young girl who also happens to be an immigrant and a person of color. I’m worried for my LGBT friends and family members. I’m worried for our economy, our courts and our international standing.
I will channel that worry into rediscovering the tens of millions of people across the country who didn’t vote the way I did. And to standing up to yell the loudest when our leadership lets us down.
To that end, another song has been rattling around in my head this week…
Also published on Medium.