It was Election Night at the Groninger Forum: a USA-themed event featuring music, lectures, workshops, and live coverage of the results. I had been looking forward to it since I first heard about it. An American-themed party in Europe? Awesome! Getting to follow the election with friends, instead of staying up all night in my room, biting my nails and staring at my laptop screen? Wouldn’t miss it. It was supposed to be fun.
I’ve probably discussed American politics more since I moved to Europe than I did at home. Everyone is very curious. I completely understand – I’ve been baffled by this whole thing too. But I have a tendency to joke about things that make me feel negative emotions – anger, fear, sadness – which led to a very flippant take on the election. Any time someone asked me if I was scared or nervous, I would say, “No! I’m excited! I can’t wait to see what happens.” When people asked me if I thought Trump could really win, I would say, “No, but I’ve been wrong before, and at this point, nothing can surprise me.” That was a stupid thing to say.
We never thought he’d really run. Then he ran. We never thought he’d make it past the primaries. Then he broke the record for Republican primary votes. Between Brexit and Trump’s campaign, I felt immune to shock. It was freeing, in a way. It made me feel almost invincible. “Nothing can surprise me anymore.” It’s a cynical detachment, perhaps as a coping mechanism for a world that I (and many) feel is going out of control. It was based on an underlying confidence fueled by privilege, arrogance, and hubris; that America surely couldn’t be that crazy. Of course I still care. Of course I’ll still do my part. Yes, I voted. But aside from that, I was content to sit back and watch the country tear itself apart from afar.
Until I found myself choking back tears when Trump took the lead in Florida. Shortly before that, I had walked out of an improv performance because I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen in the background. I was having trouble holding a conversation. The longer the night went on, the more I realized how wrong I had been. I had audaciously shaken my fist at the gods of fate, and I was being punished for it.
It was already looking bad when we were kicked out at 5 AM (11 PM EST). There was no way I could sleep without knowing for sure. I went home and watched the live coverage with a steady supply of beer, texting and messaging with my friends back home. On CNN, I watched Van Jones deliver his now-famous words:
“It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids don’t be a bully. You tell your kids don’t be a bigot. You tell your kids do your homework and be prepared. And then you have this outcome. And you have people putting children to bed tonight, and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of, how do I explain this to my children? I have Muslim friends who are texting me tonight, saying, ‘Should I leave the country?’ I have families of immigrants that are terrified tonight.”
The moment he said the word “friends” is the moment that I burst into tears. I had said I couldn’t be surprised.
I woke up on Wednesday and laid in bed for an hour, filled with anger, fear, and disillusionment. I imagined what I’d say when I met someone that voted for Trump. I daydreamed about how I would eviscerate them. I felt like my identity as an American was shattered. This was not something I wanted to be a part of. I had been saying that during the campaign, as well – even if he lost, the fact that his supporters exist in droves was enough for me to question my loyalty to the country. This feeling wasn’t the same as it would be if Cruz, Rubio or Kasich had been the candidate, or if Romney or McCain had won against Obama. This was a whole different beast.
As I calmed down, though, I remembered that anger, fear, and disillusionment are exactly what brought Trump to power in the first place. I had always argued for reason and logic, not emotion. Emotion is the weakness that fascists prey upon. My side is supposed to be the good side, the side that doesn’t succumb to emotion. Yet here we all are, screaming furiously through tears.
If half of the country was reasonable and half was not, at least it was only half. His victory puts us in a position where the people that I hope and expect to be balanced and rational are now at risk of becoming just as mad, just as fed-up, just as terrified as Trump’s supporters. And that’s dangerous.
I told myself to get past it. Get back to thinking clearly. I got up and I scrolled past a lot of sadness on the internet. I took it in. Then I found some optimism hidden deep inside the Facebook devastation machine: Hillary had won the popular vote – a bittersweet morsel. As the day went on, the online attitude seemed to shift for the better. David Wong wrote on Cracked.com, “The truth is most of Trump’s voters voted for him despite the fact that he said/believes awful things, not because of it.” He goes on to point out that we all selectively ignore certain issues on our own side. Considering how many people only voted for Hillary to keep Trump out, not out of real support, Wong’s point is painfully evident. It still torments me that Trump’s offenses were deemed unimportant enough to overlook, and that too many Americans actually defend or agree with them, but that’s what we have to work with now.
I also reflected on the nature of politics in general. I saw a Facebook post outlining all of the things that will be taken away from Americans in the next four years, and I remembered the art of the campaign. How many of the things said in a campaign are actually accomplished? Obama campaigned for universal health care, but it took two years for the Affordable Care Act to be implemented, and it was hotly contested and not even close to what he promised. He campaigned for getting our troops out of the Middle East, and they’re still there eight years later. He’s been talking about closing Guantanamo Bay since before he was President. We still have a system. The President doesn’t get to do whatever he wants come inauguration day. Republicans taking over the House and the Senate is disheartening, sure, but remember how many of them refuse to support Trump. He will be met with opposition. Things are going to change, but not nearly as fast or as drastically as everyone thinks.
I’m seeing vehement protests in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Detroit, to name a few. #NotMyPresident has taken off. But… the election is over. No one is calling for a recount; no one is calling foul play. Republicans said the same thing about Barack Obama, and we smugly told them to deal with it. Not everyone is going to get their candidate, and we happened to get ours. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. We have to do what we told Republicans to do in 2008 and 2012. The mess is made. We all have to sit in it. The best we can do is try to clean it up.
Election Night at the Groninger Forum was like a horror movie for me. It started off fun, lighthearted, safe. I had a hot dog, I drank Budweiser, I saw some interesting lectures and events, I had a good time with friends. Then, slowly, things started to feel off. Something wasn’t right. Sure enough, by the end of the night, I was trapped in the cage of suspense, eyes glued to the screen, tears in my eyes and a knot in my stomach. My heart was about to be ripped out. But you know what? The movie is over now. I’ve had some time to process it. I wouldn’t see it again, and it’s probably going to give me a few nightmares, but it’s over.
Trump is the next President of the United States. It has global implications and consequences. We have to accept that now. But maybe now, more than ever, we need to understand how this happened, and see how we can prevent it from happening again. We need to get past the hatred and fear that we see in Trump’s voters. It’s time for us to remember everything we said we wanted in America and continue trying to achieve it.
The Euroculturer Recommends:
“The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward” by Ryan Minett