I woke up the night after the election with a message from my mom:
“So sorry we screwed this up.”
She was speaking as a spokesperson for the white American baby boomers, apologizing to me, a mix-raced millennial, for electing a narcissistic racist, sexist reality star to highest office in the land. I don’t think it/’s really sunk in yet. I’m still physically exhausted and nausea still lingers in my stomach. I guess you can say that I’m in shock and mourning. It’s not that I’m mourning over this idealized image of America. I’ve been slowly becoming disillusioned with the good ol’ USA for quite a while now. And it’s not that I don’t know how this happened. I do know, and I think that’s what hurts the most…
I had a final right when the results started to come in. I couldn’t go on Facebook or any news sites beforehand. I couldn’t let what was happening thousands of miles away across the sea affect my concentration or state of mind.
But once the pens were put down and the test booklets were handed in, all bets were off. A classmate and I decided to head off to a viewing party at the university bar afterwards. A line stretched and the entrance down the stairs as the curious and passionate alike came to watch the most important election in 50+ years.
My classmate was Dutch, studying abroad in New Zealand from her home university in England. As we waited in the queue, she talked about Brexit and how she was lucky enough to leave the country before the vote. I nodded. I was glad I wasn’t in America, but that didn’t stop the nerves growing in my stomach.
Or the presence of Trump supporters. We were surrounded by them in line. One even tried to calmly state that Hillary’s emails and her Wall Street donations were worse the Trump’s myriad of evils. A couple others behind us were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and loudly proclaimed that they were from San Jose, California. I ducked my head, hoping other people wouldn’t associate me with them. (If you want to know more about about my impressions of New Zealanders and Trump, read my Culture Shock post on the subject.)
The place was packed inside as more lines stretched out from the bar and people gathered around the giant screens with pints in their hands. I took one look at the numbers running across the bottom of the BBC World News feed and freaked.
“It’s so close! How could it be so close?!”
It was 5:30pm in New Zealand and Trump was slowly taking the lead. Despite my increasingly disillusioned view of my country of birth, I had faith that America would be smart, would do the right thing. My whole body tensed and my stomach threw fits. It really was just like Brexit, but on a much larger and more disastrous scale.
My Dutch classmate stayed for a little bit, then after a couple cheers from the Trump supporters who had gathered in a corner booth, she left. She couldn’t take it. She’d much rather crawl into bed and get the results in the morning. She couldn’t watch the madness unfold. I was literally shaking, but I didn’t leave with her. Some part of me still held out hope. My friends in America said I was in denial, but I couldn’t believe it. I kept telling myself that there must still be a way for Hillary to win.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I found myself with a first generation Chinese medical student. Being a minority and gay, he was grateful he had located a Hillary supporter to find solidarity with. After I yelled at the screen a couple times (“It’s so fucking close! No Pennsylvania! What the hell are you doing?!”), I left to get a drink. I needed something to calm me down, or I was going to have a heart attack.
The medical student found us a couple of stools, and so we sat, the weak beer warming in my hand, as the results leaked in. The commentators were discussing the increasing unlikely ways Hillary could still win, trying desperately to put a positive spin on things. The beer was successful in losing up the tension in my body, but I was still in shock.
This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening…What the FUCK?!
I had to see the results for Pennsylvania. All my hopes hinged on that state. If Trump won PA then the race was truly over, but even with 98% of the votes counted, it still was too close to call. And so I held onto my increasingly futile hope and waited.
Meanwhile, my viewing companion showed me the messages of sympathy and sympathetic outrage that his collection of international friends were posting on Facebook to try to distract himself and me. And as I went through waves of rage and depression, he also began practicing his bedside manner on me.
“When you reach the lowest of the low, the only way is up.”
His words helped me from going insane, throwing up on the floor, and punching out the joyous Trump supporters in the corner. I was immensely grateful for that.
It was closing in on 8 o’clock, Pennsylvania had yet to be called, and Trump had 244 delegates. The bar was emptying out and impossibly I was starting to get hungry. When management turned off the sound on the screen and turned on the music, we decided that it was time to go. No amount of waiting would change the fact that Trump was going to…win.
My viewing companion left me then to join his other friends and so I was left alone, wandering the grounds in a daze and hoping my American nationality wasn’t obvious. I didn’t want to be American right now. How could’ve this happened? I thought over and over again. The painful thing was that I knew exactly how: fear of change and the “other,” disillusionment with the system, lingering racism, overt sexism, and anger, overriding anger. I was sick, sick and disappointed with my country.
I took a shower the moment I got home (after barely scarfing down a bowl of cereal). I needed to wash off the nervous sweat that had built up the past few hours in that stuffy bar, watching my country throw its immediate future into the garbage. I couldn’t picture Trump in the white house. My imagination refused to stretch itself that far and yet, to the ire of my nerves, my mind still tried.
I went on Facebook afterwards, to briefly read my friend’s messages of disgust, anger, and tired rallying cries. I don’t think I fully absorbed it all, not that I really wanted to. It was 9 o’clock and I was exhausted. I feel into bed and tried to fall asleep.
Even as I write this, the day after the shit hit the fan, it still hasn’t fully sunk in. In two weeks, I’ll be flying back into Texas, into a changed country. In six months, I will be graduating into an uncertain economy, an uncertain world. I’m scared and tired and am not really sure what to think.
I do know that I’m not going to let this taint my last breath of freedom in New Zealand. As I start to pack for my trip to the South Island, I’ve already blocked Facebook and news sites from my browser. I need a break, detox. I need to take some time to let my feelings settle, to allow myself to mourn. I’m lucky that I can do that, though, that I can escape into a foreign landscape and temporarily run away from America’s troubles. God knows, I need that. But not everyone is so lucky.
My friends in America say they’re also in shock. They feel sick and depressed, but strangely they also say that that, despite what happened last night, things are going on as they normally do. Public transport is still running. Classes are still being held. People are still going to work. Even so, there is no doubt that the fallout from this election will rock the country and the world in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I’m afraid, but I’m trying hard to take comfort in what that first generation Chinese medical student said to me in that crowded university bar:
“This is going to be a defibrillator for change.”
God I hope so.