Dear America: Election Reflection

Forgive me if this post is a little meandering, I was glued to the screen all night watching the election unfold. It felt strange to be far away during such a huge (and hopefully historic) event. I told Tim on our goodnight call that I missed home and wished I could be there to celebrate with the women in my life when Hillary won.

I was never cocksure of her victory, nor was I the wholehearted supporter of her that I was of Barack. I didn’t always agree with her, and at times, I wanted her to just open up already—her guardedness and scriptedness were almost as exhausting as Trump’s bombasticity.

But I recognized in her campaign fundamental aspects of my own life—how it feels to be the woman the men in meetings keep interrupting, how it feels when a man tells you the way you think is “cute”, how it feels to be intelligent and opinionated when society expects you to be docile and quiet. Like many, many women watching her campaign, I felt years of deep frustration rising. I wanted it to explode, so that we could heal. I thought we had momentum on our side. The same hope that buoyed me eight years ago sat in the back of my throat as I woke yesterday morning and wore my white and read the news and cheered my friends and family at home for voting.

But as the hours slunk away, the numbers on the New York Times site grew in stride with a numbing realization that I’d been wrong. About when Trump hit the 270 electoral vote count, a friend texted from the States and asked how I was feeling. “Shame?” he asked.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about all morning. I felt self-conscious on the bahn to work, as if everyone could tell that I was American. (Possibly they could, when I began to tear up as Hillary conceded.) My colleagues shook their heads in disbelief when I walked in. I met a half-American friend for coffee and when we tried to talk to each other, we found ourselves literally speechless.

Am I ashamed? That would mean that I am embarrassed by the way the majority of my country voted. I’m not. I understand how it could happen and why it did—as Americans, we have long come to value entertainment over education, choosing willful ignorance and fear over doing what’s right, especially when it feels inconvenient or too risky. This understanding could lead two ways, one of which, certainly, is shame.

But the other, and the one I feel today very deeply, is disappointment. I had such high expectations of you, America. I thought we were moving forward. I had a hope that this country still had the decency and the reservoirs of strength to not let fear take the wheel. I thought that you were smart enough, and self-aware enough, to realize that though Hillary might not be your top choice, she was still the best choice. That even if your candidate didn’t make the ballot, choosing not to vote or to vote for a 3rd-party candidate with no shot of winning was a sabotage of selfishness.

In one of the email leaks the nugget came out that Hillary, in a private speech, said that politicians ought to have a private opinion and a public opinion. Many of her opponents used this statement to reinforce the idea that she couldn’t be trusted. But I think it sums up a very essential truth that we, as Americans, seem to have forgotten. Being a politician isn’t about making your voice heard. It’s about speaking for the people. Just because gay marriage doesn’t apply to me personally doesn’t mean that it should not be offered to those who want it. Or just because I would not personally have an abortion doesn’t mean that no one should have abortions. A responsible citizen and a responsible politician do the same things—they make well-informed decisions with the greater good in mind.

And in my opinion, this translates to voting decision as well. Even if Hillary wasn’t your personal top choice for politician, looking objectively at her credentials and experience it is beyond a doubt that she would be the best leader for our country. As the old proverb says, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” We were each those old men in this election cycle, and I’m disappointed that more of us didn’t realize the responsibility we carried—whether you voted Trump, Clinton, 3rd-party, or not at all.

We will continue to be those old men in the next four years, and keeping that perspective is what is motivating me right now. It is easy to feel hopeless and defeated now, but if I learned anything in the last eight years, it’s that when you feel the most frustrated is when you should take the most action (#dontboovote). Nihilism gets us nowhere. Ennui gets us nowhere. Cynicism gets us nowhere.

It was a stunning defeat, America (liberals, progressive, hopefuls, all). So give yourself a chance to breathe and process, and then pull yourself back together. We have work to do, and a long road still to walk. When you get tired, take my hand. We are, and will be, stronger together.