Three weeks later, and the shock and worry won’t wear off. For months I had devoured every bit of news about the election. I donated three times to the Democratic campaign. I watched the three cable news giants obsessively. I had it all figured out, thanks to the media and the ubiquitous polls thrown at us every day: Trump had only the narrowest of windows for winning the race and he had a 90 percent chance of losing. Women and Hispanics were mobilizing and would vote in record numbers for Clinton. Millennials were coming off the pain they felt at Bernie Sanders’ defeat in the primaries and were now going to vote for Clinton. Obama was going to galvanize black voters and send them to the polls. For all her baggage, Clinton was the odds-on favorite up to the very last day. And then, as I sat transfixed watching my television screen on election day, the unthinkable happened, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep trying to wrap my head around what a world led by a lying, bullying, hateful reality TV star would look like, and I still can’t quite visualize it. We know some terrible disaster is right around the corner, thanks to Trump’s ignorance of foreign policy, underscored by his chat with Taiwan’s president and his heaping praise on the president of Pakistan.
Even three weeks later I feel numb, helpless and betrayed. After all, Clinton won the popular vote handily. And if it hadn’t been for James Comey’s shockingly inappropriate letter to Congressional committee chairs announcing that yet more Clinton emails had been discovered, I am convinced we would have seen a happier outcome. We would have seen a more progressive Supreme Court. We would have seen the continuation and improvement of Obamacare. We would have seen protection of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, which the GOP can’t wait to privatize. We would have seen a calm, cool-headed leader who knows how to skillfully interact with heads of state and who understands how to walk the tightrope of international relations (like how to deal with Taiwan). Instead we get a misogynistic, narcissistic, race-baiting carnival barker. Our lives are in the hands of a madman. All we can do is hope he can be restrained by those he surrounds himself with, but I’m not sure anyone can restrain Donald Trump. His chief strategist, Steven Bannon, is closely aligned with the alt right, and will be whispering in Trump’s ear every day. God help us.
We are all beyond saturation with the coverage. My Facebook feed fills up every few minutes with more stories about Trump’s improbable victory and what it means. Key words and phrases that keep running in my head include uncharted territory, fear, dread, despair, unprecedented, terrifying, no one knows, unimaginable, white supremacists, surreal…. And I admit that despite the saturation, I still keep reading the articles and watching the news shows, hoping that maybe I can finally understand and accept what happened. (So far I have been glaringly unsuccessful.)
I suppose we have two alternatives: to burrow ourselves into a hole and try to block it all out, or to actively work to change things for the better and to get ready for the next election fight in 2018. The closing stanza of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach keeps replaying in my head:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
There we have it: the most I can do at the moment is turn inward and try to keep the angst at a minimum, to forget about the “ignorant armies” that clash by night and just get on the best I can. Maybe in a few months I’ll get active in politics again, but for now I am simply trying to keep from being overwhelmed in a tsunami of terrible news that seems to get worse every day. The steady onslaught, the latest telling of Trump’s horrifying behavior or appointment or tweet, is numbing, stultifying. Hope is supposed to spring eternal, but at this moment I can’t see anything to feel hopeful about.
On the eve of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” Will we see them lit again in America? For now, all we can do is stand and wait. And maybe pray. I do not mean in any way to be an alarmist, but I do believe Trump is going to be worse than any of us imagine. I fear we are going to be in nightmare mode for years to come, if not for generations (thanks to a Trump-selected Supreme Court). A tragedy, in every way. A complete and total tragedy.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.