I had no interest in watching the returns come in. Early Tuesday night, I was watching “Supernatural” reruns on my couch and only occasionally glancing at election updates on Twitter. Everything looked as predicted. The New York Times said Hillary Clinton was very likely to become the next president, as its irksome electoral meter bounced about. Like many, I had adopted the steadfast belief that Trump simply couldn’t win. The polls were thoroughly damning. Wall Street didn’t want him. The Republicans barely wanted him. But after a while, I felt compelled to turn off Netflix and switch to live election coverage.
I watched, drop-jawed, as it became clear the unthinkable was happening. Donald Trump was surging toward victory.
As the electoral tide turned, wounded Clinton supporters began casting blame on social media, accusing voters who supported third-party candidates of derailing a Clinton victory. The mud-slinging directed at anyone on the left who hadn’t supported Clinton was predictably swift and devoid of insight. After all, Donald Trump was the opponent Hillary Clinton wanted. He was supposed to be an easy takedown. But Clinton’s team had obviously underestimated Trump’s cultural momentum. The media all but celebrated his despicable antics for shock and entertainment value, as large swaths of bigoted white people endorsed his racism and xenophobia.
The Democratic establishment was sure it would have Bernie Sanders’ crestfallen supporters on lock, even as it insulted them. Clinton didn’t even attempt to speak the issues that might have moved such people. The Democratic establishment assumed it would get what it wanted out of fear, without making any concessions to those who didn’t trust it. The struggle at Standing Rock — which Clinton weakly acknowledged in a noncommittal statement — is just one example of how this campaign took people for granted, and took votes for granted.
Some issues never warranted engagement for Clinton and those issues often involved marginalized people — because the Democratic Party was betting it all on one of its most basic electoral assumptions: There’s no need to be loved when your opponent is feared.
But in spite of my distaste for Clinton, I likely would have voted for her if I lived in a battleground state. I didn’t because I didn’t have to. And given her track record and all the harm she’s done — supporting and enacting policies that expanded mass incarceration and our violent interventions abroad — feeling like I didn’t have to vote for her was a relief. I am willing to bet that some voters in states where Clinton was projected to win had that same feeling: a sense of relief that they didn’t have to cosign a neoliberal nightmare’s ascension. Wall Street wanted her. The establishment wanted her. Plenty of people who hated her seemed ready to suck it up, and the polls looked good. And then….
Enter President Trump.
What came as a shock to many of us probably shouldn’t have. While Clinton seemed to have made a Thatcher-like assent, overcoming misogyny by embracing her own kind of casual brutality, white supremacy would not allow her to win so easily as Obama stepped out. The flames of white violence had been stoked at a time when white people had felt the displacement of a Black presidency, and the unapologetic momentum of a movement for Black lives.
Not even Wall Street could overrule the white rage and vanity that fueled Trump. The electoral dictates of Wall Street are institutional, but white supremacy is structural. White supremacy redistributed its power Tuesday night, and in such a spectacular fashion that even those of us who expect the worst of our country were left astonished. The United States, which seemed poised to usher in another Clinton presidency, instead rallied behind a dangerous, racist buffoon.
So what does the future hold? Ugliness, to be sure. The terrifying promises of Trump’s campaign are ringing in the ears of all affected by them, myself included. I am afraid for everyone who will be harmed by this man’s administration. I am afraid of just how much destruction one oafish reality TV star might bring, when life as we know it nears the edge of extinction.
Yet I am, as ever, certain in my own work. I will organize and take action. I imagine a few more people will be in the streets in the coming year than otherwise would. I’ll be glad to see you all out there, though sorry about the circumstances.
This is going to be rough, but it’s what we’ve got. So let’s pull it together and figure out how to tear into our common enemies in the days ahead. I know loss is bitter, but it’s time to get over it and learn what you can. In this case, that might mean learning that people may not bother to show up for a candidate they don’t believe cares about them, no matter how scary the alternative. And it definitely means getting ready to throw down hard, because it’s going to be a long four years.