What it’s like for me right now is, I feel like I’m back in high school and I just found out that the kid who calls me a fag every day in the locker room is the new principal. And he’s picked the kid who carves swastikas into the desks to be his assistant principal. And all of the adults facilitating this process are saying, Geez, this sure is a bad idea, letting this kid run the school. I mean, this thing we’re doing right now is such a bad idea that there is literally no historical precedent for what’s going to happen next. This thing that is happening is so objectively not right that nobody has tried it before us right now. And even as they’re saying that big long thing, they’re still giving this locker room jerk the keys to the principal’s office and the teachers’ lounge and whatever room they keep the nuclear missiles in.
And I’m just standing there nodding, saying, Yeah, I get it, this is the system working as intended. Freedom, right?
Nearly two weeks after the fact, I’m still not completely convinced that this happened. Maybe everything since November 8th been like that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard lives an entire lifetime in a dream after getting knocked out by an alien robot. At any given moment I’m certain I'll wake up in the voting booth on Election Day, where I make an impassioned speech to the assembled voters about the dark future I’ve witnessed. Everybody cries, blue team wins, roll credits, “All Star” by Smashmouth plays.
I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. But I was really sure Hillary Clinton was going to be president, so I don’t know what to expect anymore.
I refuse to feel stupid for not seeing this coming. The United States presidential election is the most heavily polled thing on the planet, and that data, aggregated by people who have staked their entire fortunes on accurately predicting elections, said that he would either lose or lose badly. Yeah, there were a couple of polls that said he was beating her, but what were we supposed to do – just ignore everything but the outliers because it was a weird election?
Every four years the person who’s losing invents reasons why the polls are skewed against them. That’s the whole reason Mitt Romney didn’t even have a concession speech ready in 2012 – he thought all the polls were wrong. As it turned out, he was wrong, and all those data nerds were right, and we all had a laugh and enjoyed all the nice complete sentences our president was capable of forming.
Right now, at this moment, I would shoot a dog on national television if it meant we got to have Mitt Romney as our president for the next four years. I’d run an ultramarathon for Marco Rubio to take the oath of office in January. I’d go to a Sublime concert every night for a month if it meant that when the Secretary of Defense calls the White House at 3:00 AM, Jeb! Bush would pick up the phone.
I’m not a fan of those guys’ policies, but I am a fan of the fact that they have policies. I love the way they took the time to learn what the president's responsibilities are, so as to more efficiently implement their crappy, backwards agendas if elected. And man oh man, do I ever miss their eloquent, carefully worded dogwhistle racism compared to this extra-strength stuff the people running every branch of our government are using now.
My Uber drivers are far less talkative recently. This would be a blessing if not for the fact that my white guilt is in such a state of overdrive these days that I’m actually desperate for a chance to show drivers with names like José or Mohammad that I’m on their team.
Last Sunday, a driver named Faisal was taking me to a bar when we stopped to pick up another passenger – who, the notification on my app informed me, was named Jeffrey. Faisal and I had been riding in silence as I entertained fantasies about us having a heartfelt conversation in which I expressed my solidarity with him and he tearfully thanked me for it. Once Jeffrey, who turned out to be a sassy, argumentative and flamboyantly gay black man of about my age, got into the car, there was no more silence.
“I’m done with this country. I’m just like, Hell no! I’m selling a bunch of sports memorabilia and moving to Costa Rica. For real! Four years, baby!” Jeffrey exclaimed at one point in his ten-minute monologue, apropos of nothing in particular. He held up a picture on his phone and insisted that Faisal take his eyes off the road to look at it. “Look at this. This boxing glove belonged to Ali. I’m selling it.”
After we dropped Jeffrey off, Faisal made eye contact with me in the rear view mirror.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Not your fault.” I replied, eager at the chance to show that I viewed him with empathy and respect. I went in for the kill: “What really pissed me off is that he’s leaving the country because of the election. We have to stay and fight. We all have to stick together.” Already I could feel myself joining the pantheon of great civil rights heroes.
“Eh,” he grumbled, shaking his head. “He was a gay. You hear the way he talks? Is disgusting. I don’t want that in my car.”
“Ah, shit.” I said.
In these dark times, I’ve found hope in the form of a four-hour BBC documentary from the early 90s about the Watergate scandal. The impression I get of Richard Nixon is that he was a mentally unstable asshole with an axe to grind against virtually everyone. Still, he was really smart, he had extensive experience working in government, and when he got reelected in 1972 he won 49 states and 60% of the popular vote.
This was a president who knew what he was doing – a career politician and a Machiavellian schemer with overwhelming support from the American people – and less than two years later he had to resign to avoid impeachment. I’m not rooting for anybody to fail here, but it’s worth noting that the new guy hasn’t got those advantages – and he’s definitely no Richard Nixon.
While we run out the clock on this one, I’m going to be trying to pull back from that feedback loop of Politico, The Washington Post and Facebook that dominated much of the last two years for me. I’m not completely disengaging from the process – I’m just going to be taking some of the energy I’ve been spending obsessing over events I can’t control in a city thousands of miles away and redirecting it to my writing, my career and doing enough volunteering in my own community to feel like I’m fighting back.
If I can offer any advice to the rest of you – with what little credibility I, who loudly and repeatedly predicted a Clinton victory, have left – it’s to do the same. I said a lot of pithy things and shared a lot of thought provoking articles on Facebook and it didn’t stop my country from electing a right-wing nationalist. For the next four years, I’m going to try getting involved at a local level and see where that gets us.
It might all amount to nothing, but in the future – if we have one of those – when people ask me what it was like to be alive during this time, I at least want to be able to tell them that I did something when the house caught fire.