What I felt Wednesday morning, and continue to feel, is more than shock. It is fear.
The emotional response to a US presidential election is not supposed to be fear. Every four years, after a buzz of activity in the political arena, Americans look forward to election night, stay up late for it, have watch parties in a celebration of ideas and ideals. The next morning, we may feel joy or disappointment, satisfaction or rage. But not fear. We are not supposed to fear our elected officials. But I am afraid. And I am not alone in my fear. I am surrounded by parents who are afraid. We have been stunned into this place of deep mourning, all of us, after half of the US voted in favor of hate.
Tuesday night, my child crawled into the bed next to me, sending my husband into the living room. There on the sofa he softly snored, and the television hummed as it lit the still, dark room with flashes of light. From the muted screen hues of blue and red flashed an alarm of light against the walls of our home, against the darkness before dawn. I saw the colors, red and blue, and then red and then red and then red against my husband’s brown skin.
We had been watching TV, stunned all night and well into the earliest hours past midnight. Silent. Then, when the results were clear and the fear became a retch of pain against my gut, we talked. Murmurs and whispers about the outcome, about the rise of fascism, about walls. Maybe, even if he didn’t hear us, our son sensed us, felt his parents shift from anticipation and optimism to shock and anxiety. Anyway, at some point our son crawled into our bed, my husband stumbled to the sofa, and as dark rain clouds appeared in the morning sky, I felt our son’s warm body next to mine, held him close, and I cried. I literally just cried.
We love our children so much. All of us. We took them with us to the polls, exuberant, giddy even, as we cast our ballots. “Smile,” we said in a sing-song, but we did not really need to say anything as they stuck “I Voted” stickers to their noses and mugged for our cellphone cameras. “Vote Here/Vote Aqui” the sign read over their heads. They beamed as they angled into the arms of parents who were teaching them civics and citizenship and the responsibilities of every adult in our participatory democracy.
On voting day, we mostly felt relief. This sordid election had ended. We could safely turn on our televisions again. Surely, we would no longer be assaulted by the language of hate. Surely a woman would elevate the discourse, reassert dignity in the public realm.
We were wrong, of course, and our children are devastated. And they are afraid.
Six-year-olds are telling their parents that they might not be allowed to travel to visit relatives who live abroad anymore because of Trump, that their parents and grandparents might be ripped away from them because of Trump, that they should stay home from school so they will not be deported because of Trump, that they no longer feel safe because of Trump, that they are afraid, that they are afraid, that they are afraid. Our children are afraid.
This past that the fascist leader evokes with his Make America Great Again does not give our children the warm fuzzies. It terrifies them. They are telling us they are terrified, that they are terrorized. They have wept in terror. They are 6 and 7 and 8. They are 16 and 17 and 18. They have been shocked and awed.
Our children never wanted to go back; they want to leap forward.
They are in the streets right now. As I type these words, the night after Election Day, our children are in the streets, in cities around the country. They are done crying now. They are insisting: “Love trumps hate!”
I let my son see just a few moments of these protests, of this beautiful struggle, before bedtime. I let him see this because he leaned in against me and said, “Mommy, I wish Trump hadn’t won.” When I turned on the TV I told him, “Look at all these people. This is democracy. We voted, and that was a way of participating in our democracy, but this is also a way. We march, we write letters, we make our voices heard, and we are not alone. You are not alone.”
I tucked him in and kissed his face and after he fell asleep I sighed, because I could not tell him that everyone is safe. I could never tell him, say, that Trump will not launch a massive roundup of people, because fascist dictators do round people up, force them out of their homes, place them in internment camps. These are the things our fascist leader has said he will do.
I have never lied to my son, so what I have told him is this: I have told him that elections are not sporting contests. Games end. Democracy does not. I have told him that social justice is not a sporting contest. We can tick off wins and losses, but really there is no “game.” It is all a long struggle to freedom — freedom from hate and violence and meanness, from racism and sexism and xenophobia, from ableism and homophobia, and freedom from fear. I have told him this is why he goes to a school that teaches social justice, that this is why our own ancestors struggled before that 150-year-old school was even founded. This is why we march, protest, advocate and ally. I cried when I said these words, and I let him see my tears. I hugged him because he needed to be held. And then, we got ready for school…. Please roll up your sleeves, beautiful people. We have much work to do.