Tuesday night was the worst night's sleep of my life (unless I've blocked out worse ones), and its endless tossing, turning, temple-throbbing pillow-punching was the night-capper to what had been an extremely crappy evening, where smug anticipatory party vibes disintegrated into burgeoning panic, disbelieving despair, a very unfair fight picked by me with Rama, followed by my pacing around the house in a lost and sobbing haze until I sank at last into a deep and hopeless grief and “went to bed.” I woke up ass-crack early Wednesday morning (after what, cobbled together, might have been two hours of actual sleep) with an immediate sense of a sickening wrongness, followed closely by the aching heart, leaden gut recollection of a new reality. It felt like I'd woken up the day after being freshly dumped, or like my mom said the morning after a death.
I felt futureless, terrified for our planet (and why the profound fuck climate change continues to be a “partisan issue” I cannot wrap conception around—the survival of our species is absolutely, pressingly at stake), for our safety, and most acutely for the lives of those people and peoples who would be most vulnerable in all of this.
I mean yeah, as a woman this election result is horrifying for me, but I’m also a white citizen living in California, am in a future-minded heterosexual monogamous relationship and use an IUD, so it felt less personally devastating for me compared to others. The misogyny aspect of this felt like more of the same—Solnit termed it “the longest war,” and this is another blow in the endless onslaught of evil. I’m not dismissing it, I’m just saying it felt familiar—and really fucking familiar to all the sexual assault survivors who have been triggered by this election and by this “victory.”
I felt so scared though for people of color, for immigrant families, for Muslim girls whose petrified mothers implored them to forego wearing the hijab, promising that “Allah would understand and forgive.” For African Americans who have already been endlessly disenfranchised and impoverished and persecuted and murdered and hated, and can now look forward to some more of that sweet, sweet “law and order.” (And let’s not forget the indigenous peoples whites genocided a few years back, but what’s a bone-thrown treaty where profits can be made?)
But the blindside of it—how? We were so certain. I don’t personally know jack caca, but I trust that “the experts” do. Trusted. I read a compulsive number of analyses yesterday trying to make sense of it all, and I am left with ideas. Please bear with me—I’m not a politico and am not versed in this kind of writing, so please forgive any indelicacy or insensitivity or ignorance or reductionism or stupidity. I’m trying to sort out my own thoughts, which is what I do here, and not talking about it doesn’t feel right.
So what happened? My thinking is: racism, sexism, and populism, possibly in that order.
Racism is huge, in this election and in this society’s every social structure and institution, in our distribution of wealth, our perpetuation of wealthy wealth, and in our collective consciousness. We are all racist—it’s what we’ve come up in—and trying to stay sharp around that is imperative. This article was excellent, and in addition to being extremely well-written it contains, I believe, a lot of truth.
But I don’t think race was the election’s sole determining factor and everything else is chaff and nonsense. A perfect shit-storm produced this insane dystopian hell.
Sexism is another inconceivably deep part of it—misogyny is also one of those oldest, most basic things, and it too lives in all of us (as women we can see it as simply as in the ways we treat ourselves and our own bodies, as well as in the ways we talk about and behave toward other women). Things have been getting better (I think)—(I think) they still are. My heart is breaking that an acknowledged sex-offender has been gifted the vindication of this nation’s highest office, and “grab her by the pussy” and “trump that bitch” have been his rallying cries. I mean Jesus. And of course some women voted for Trump—that’s how patriarchy works.
I do not want to diminish the omnipresent evils of racism and misogyny. These factors are so old, so established, and we were still so devastatingly blindsided about it all. So here’s the most divisive point within my division of this two-party system, my “we”—this is the thing I am worried I will offend my friends and my father talking about: populism.
I feel complicit in what has been perceived by middle America to be a liberal, coastal elite. I discounted, dismissed, and despised a massive swath of people, and I got a superior, self-affirming little frisson of self-righteous pleasure off doing it. Growing up in Orange County in a liberal household fosters a very clear underdog “us versus them” outlook, and it honestly didn’t occur to me how contentious, ruthless, and absolutist my perspective has been. I’ve thought little about the middle of the country beyond shuddering over how depressing and claustrophobic living there seems, and I have felt completely validated calling the people who do live there fucking idiotic racist piece of shit bigoted redneck garbage. Like, I felt completely okay about thinking like that. I felt straight-up good about it.
What was I thinking? I have met in my life maybe two actually stupid people, and yet I happily wrote off a huge group as being too stupid to count. Don’t get me wrong—the ignorance is real. Poor—and not so poor—whites have elected to office the orange man in the gold tower, a vulgar and aspirational figurehead, the poor man’s idea of what the rich man should be. And they have put someone into power who will widen the gap, whose interests lay exclusively in further enriching the tippy-top of this country, who will only disenfranchise and impoverish them further.
Trump tapped into something. He was their scream of pain turned barbaric yawp. He validated their anger, affirmed their white entitlement, fomented their rage, whipped up their violence, mobilized their tribalism, and they have been heard. These rust belt “deplorables” really were invisible to us, and the shock of this election result is the ugliest of ironies.
This and this were eye-opening for me (though this is also something to look at), as was the simple fact that people who voted for Obama voted for Trump. It’s racism all right, but it’s not purely racism.
Michael Moore, Cassandra-like, predicted this outcome, and Wednesday morning offered this sound advice.
I voted for Bernie in the primary—when that didn’t come to pass I accepted Clinton as a sensible choice of candidate, and I thought and think she would have been a capable, stable, and largely positive leader. I think we might have seen mild progress in various areas. I also believe that, despite some of her questionable history and repellant hidden interests, she really truly meant well, as I suppose did the DNC, though really who isn’t sickened by their corrupt bullshit right now?
Maybe Bernie could have been the left-wing candidate to pull it out (and it hurts bad how heavenly that would have been next to the hellishness of this), but really we don’t know, and it’s time to start envisioning what’s next.
There’s one last strange little piece Emma had told me about months back that I just read last night, and while I don’t agree with every part of it I am interested in its take on “force-of-nature” excitement generated by the Trump campaign:
[T]he…thing about Trump is that Trump is free.
You watch him calculating, yet not seeming to care about the consequences of what he says, and you listen to his supporters enjoying the feel of his freedom. See the brilliant interviews on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, where RNC conventioneers say, over and over: We’re for Trump because he’s not politically correct, PC has harmed America, and you think, people feel so unfree.
Let’s sit with that.
For some people in the liberal tradition, the equal distribution of suffering has come to look like democracy, which is why they are so excited by the phrase “the 1%.” The rich are not suffering! It’s not fair! Everyone should be equally vulnerable!
But Trump’s people don’t use suffering as a metric of virtue. They want fairness of a sort, but mainly they seek freedom from shame. Civil rights and feminism aren’t just about the law after all, they are about manners, and emotions too: those “interest groups” get right in there and reject what feels like people’s spontaneous, ingrained responses. People get shamed, or lose their jobs, for example, when they’re just having a little fun making fun. Anti-PC means “I feel unfree.”
The Trump Emotion Machine is delivering feeling ok, acting free. Being ok with one’s internal noise, and saying it, and demanding that it matter. Internal Noise Matters. The reason white people can be so reactively literal-minded about Black Lives Matter, reeling off the other “lives” that matter too, isn’t only racism. It’s that in capitalism, in liberal society, in many personal relationships, they feel used like tools, or ignored, or made to feel small, like gnats. They feel that they don’t matter, and they’re not wrong.
They’re saying, I want to matter. They’re saying I want my friends, my group, to matter. Who matters? Why should group x matter more, or first, or get more attention? It’s hard for the formerly optimistic and unmarked whites to feel right about other people mattering before they do, because they didn’t know that their freedom was bought on the backs of other people’s exploitation and exile from protection by the law.
We have held these “unalienable” rights to be self-evident: liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Americans are obsessed with “being happy”—we are deeply uncomfortable with feeling pain (in therapy I was regularly chided, “I see some sadness in your face. Let’s sit with that for a minute.”) We’ll pop a pill, crack a beer, buy some shit, have some sex, watch some shows, take a shot, shoot a gun, mainline some grease, hit the treadmill, hit the road—but we will not feel bad.
Whatever feeling free is, it isn’t feeling bad. It’s certainly one of my deepest drives—sprinting in whichever ways away from the anxiety, heaviness, grief, and fear, chasing joy, silliness, lightness, wildness, possibility. Freedom is not the frenzied terrified panic so many Americans have been suffocating in since Tuesday night. Nor is freedom dying mute and stuck in your stagnant po-dunk shithole of a forgotten town.
Maybe you seek freedom in carnivale, maybe in a mob, maybe at a Trump rally, maybe you see it glowing in the flames of a window-smashing fuck-Trump bonfire in the streets of downtown Oakland.
Maybe you disappear into some trees as Rama and I did on our hike yesterday afternoon.
Partly it’s about freedom but it’s not all about freedom. Partly it’s about happiness but it’s not all about happiness. But it is all about life—that last “right.”
For life, we need to figure out how to make this work. We need to get along. So what do the privileged “we” that is the white (and make no mistake—this is "on" white people) elite (made elite by our whiteness alone—we are the "people" currently shielded from post-election hate-crime) do now? We need to look out—for the planet, and for the peoples we have failed to protect, and we also need to look in.
This two-party tribalism isn’t working. Where are we being small, deficient, unkind? Where are we letting fear and frustration and anger eliminate empathy and openness?
This election has humbled me deeply. I need to check myself before I wreck myself with this lifelong huffing of righteous rage against the right-wing (though those fucking red hats are testing me sorely).
We’re all people. I hope that we all, all remember that, and that we can can communicate more and better, and stop kicking down (the liberal educated “elite” despising the “white trash” who in turn hate the ever-disenfranchised African Americans). Greed cannot keep running the whole shitty shebang. We need to fight, but we also need to fight to be generous and to be kind. Kindness prevails, or else we’re done for—and with this “we” I am referring, without hyperbole, to the species.