The Day After


I woke up and quickly checked my phone to confirm what I pretty much knew before I went to bed. I asked the boys, still sleepy, if they wanted waffles with Nutella. I went downstairs, toasted the waffles, spread the Nutella, and sat down at my laptop.

Harry (14) was the first one down.

“Trump won,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, looking at me as he passed. “Are you mad?”

Was I mad? Good question. Even now, about eight hours (and dozens of news stories and Facebook posts) later, I’m not sure how to describe how I feel. It’s as if 17 different emotions are having a tug-of-war inside me to see who prevails, and all I can feel is the knot they’ve created in my stomach.

I know some folks are just plain furious; I’ve seen their rants on Facebook. Others already are in move-on mode, urging people to find inner peace and nurture their loved ones and figure out what they can do to make a difference in the days and months ahead.

I suppose I’m somewhere in between those sentiments, but also somewhere outside them. I’d like to say I’ve never felt this way before—Trump being uniquely and grotesquely unqualified to be president, and all that—but it wouldn’t be true. I was coming of age politically when Reagan was elected, and that hurt. So did his presidency (and the middle class has never really recovered). George W. Bush in 2000 also hurt, complicated by the fact that Florida was stolen. And his legacy? Terrorism, endless wars, and the worst economic crash since the Great Depression.

A few days ago, I was on the phone with my sister discussing what even then seemed unthinkable, and I joked about moving to Canada. My son Farrell (10) overheard me, and very anxiously asked me if we would have to move if Trump won.

“No,” I assured him. “I was joking. Don’t worry. Not going anywhere.”

At the time, of course, I still didn’t think Trump could win. Last night, looking over my shoulder as I watched the news unfold on my laptop, the boys saw numbers that looked scary and asked me about them. I said things like, “The heavily Democratic votes from the cities don’t come in until later. We’ll see.” But also: “Trump is doing better than expected.”

Lots of people today are asking, “How do I explain this to my children?”

Of course, that’s for every parent to figure out. Tonight my kids might ask more questions, and I’ll answer them the best I can.

“How did it happen?” I’ll try not to make it too complicated, but it is complicated. I will name five or six things I think contributed to Clinton’s defeat. I might even teach them the word “xenophobia.”

“What’s he gonna do as president?” That one’s a little easier, because all I have to say is “No one really knows.” Trump has said a lot of really awful things to get elected, and he knew he was building up a passionate following by saying those very things. Given the kind of person we have come to know him as, it’s not a stretch to doubt his sincerity on many issues. Does that mean Trump could revert to being the liberal (more or less) that he once was? That would be one hell of a joke on everybody—especially those who voted for him for the most deplorable of reasons. But I’m not banking on it. I’m not banking on anything.

“Who voted for Trump and why?” I’ve gone through this litany before: affluent party loyalists protecting their self-interest, white supremacists and other bigots and xenophobes, and some regular-joe, conservative-leaning folks who may not be nasty like the louts we’ve seen on videos of Trump rallies, but nonetheless believe all the negative things (real or not) they’ve been spoon-fed about Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and one other thing. One other big thing that probably sealed Trump’s very narrow margin of victory.

By now you probably know that the popular vote for the two major-party candidates was split almost exactly in half (edge to Hillary—thank you, Electoral College). So all of the voters who usually vote Democratic, or who might have this time because Trump was such a pig, but just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman, or for this woman, pretty much threw the election to Trump. I do not yet know whether any polls have found a good scientific way to measure misogyny in voting habits (I’m all ears if anyone has), but I know anecdotally that there are still men (and women) who are very uncomfortable with women in positions of power. As one woman related online today, she has spoken with people who would or “should” have voted Democratic, but who backed out by saying something like “both candidates are evil.” And “all I was really hearing was ‘I can’t vote for a woman, but especially not a woman that doesn’t act like I feel a woman should.’ ”

Hillary Clinton, you are smart, experienced, and effective, and you were extremely qualified for this job. Because you were qualified and also because you would have been the first woman president, many of us supported you enthusiastically and wholeheartedly (even if we supported Bernie Sanders first). You had to fight against ethics charges that never panned out, and standards and stereotypes that are not applied to male candidates. You made a courageous effort, and half of America thanks you for it. We are truly sorry.

It rained today here in upstate New York (someone’s little girl said “The whole world is crying”).

I haven’t cried; besides the obvious, it hasn’t been such a bad day. I fixed a doorknob that had been loose for months. I watched my cat, who used to poop in the corners of rooms, use the litter box he has finally grown accustomed to. And after several failed attempts since Sunday (Subaru owner’s manual no help), I finally figured out how to change the time clock in my car.

Next, I am making dinner for the boys and myself. I have always found cooking to be one of the most soothing things I do. Still undecided on a sauce for the chicken, but I’ll get there. And it will be good, and the boys will like it. And the sun will come up tomorrow.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Leon


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