At 11:40 PM on November 8th, 2016, there was an unsettling silence in San Francisco. He had won. I stared blankly at nothing, my mind alternating between magical thinking (maybe there had been an error?) and a sickening sense of dread. Front and center in my thoughts was what I would tell my kids in the morning. They would wake up in a place very different from the place they had gone to sleep in. How could I explain to them this “bad man”, as they had taken to calling him, would run our country? How could I assure them they were safe, when I wasn’t certain that we were safe? How could I stop the blaring message this would send to my impressionable seven-year-old twin sons: smart, capable women don’t win, but “bad men” who bully people do win? How?
When my children awoke the next morning, the first thing out of their mouths was: “Who won?”
They had gone to bed before it was a done deal, and I’m sure they had not been immune to the worried looks on our (my husband’s and my) faces or the hand wringing taking place. When we told them who had won, they seemed just as shocked as we were. Though, obviously, we hadn’t gone into detail about the particularly nasty aspects of this election, our boys had considerable exposure to it. Though we’d tried not to put Donald Trump down (not too much, anyway) in front of them, living in the practically unanimously liberal city of San Francisco, the boys had developed a natural bias. “But he’s going to make us do bad things, Mom,” said one boy.
“He can’t make us do bad things,” I said, “We just need to stay true to ourselves and love one another.”
He seemed to half-accept this. I was so filled with anger and sadness that I didn’t totally accept this, either. I tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to fight back tears as I made the boys’ lunches and was relieved when I heard my husband calmly and deftly explaining to them what had happened and what would happen in the future. I could tell they needed answers and I would not have kept my emotions out of it.
After I’d dropped them off at school, as I turned to walk to my car, I broke down. I went home and sat on my couch and watched Hillary’s concession speech and then watched Obama’s speech. Both were so calm and rational, but I continued to weep. I wanted to make sense of it. I combed over the New York Times website, searching for something, and clicked on “What Happened” in the Opinion section. What had happened? There was a piece, entitled “The Forgotten Man”, and as I read it, I felt ashamed. I’ve always considered myself an open and empathetic person, sensitive to people of all leanings and walks of life. But maybe, I’d been lying to myself. Maybe, I had been living in a liberal elitist bubble, unconsciously dismissing a whole (very large, apparently) segment of society in serious pain. My husband had been telling me for months that the rise of Donald Trump was an indication of a populist revolution we needed to pay attention to. But, based on the level of shock I experienced as I watched state after state turn red on Tuesday night, I hadn’t paid enough attention. And now, my children will be the ones who pay the price. A loss of innocence. A person in the most powerful position in the world who possesses none of the qualities of a male role model I would want my sons to possess. And, most unnerving, a future for them that is uncertain, at best, and terrifying, at worst. How could I not have prepared better and somehow shielded them from this?
And, so, as I sit here writing this, I wonder what steps I can take to promote a future that is as bright and as happy and as full of opportunities as the one that I’ve always envisioned for my children. There are lessons to learn from this election, though I have yet to sort those out. But, I think I’ll continue to hold tight to some ideas from Hillary Clinton’s campaign I truly believe in, and maybe, those ideas will eventually lead me toward the right path. Despite my anger and sadness, I believe that love trumps hate. And, I believe that we - all of us: Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Whites, everyone - we are stronger together. So, I think I’ll take a few days to mourn, get mad, get sad, feel lost, and then I’ll try to accept things and do what I can to create a better world for our kids. Because, no matter who you are, I know that’s something we can all agree on.