Donald Trump’s election is such a rupture in political life that I have been suspicious even of my urge to understand it. In conversation yesterday, in email threads, in the private glow of my computer screen, I tried to draw a lesson from this disaster. I read articles about exit polls, considered the Rust Belt, weighed gender against race. This went on in a manic and useless way until something in a friend’s email forced me to recognize the repeated waves of feeling I’d been pushing aside about every half hour. The feeling was of strangeness, of failed recognition. The next president will be Donald Trump. The next president will be Donald Trump. I felt Tuesday’s vanished contingency keenly. She didn’t lose by a lot—she just lost by a little, in a lot of places. A weather event could have kept turnout low in some neighborhoods. I could have switched my registration back to Pennsylvania, where I grew up. Clinton’s campaign could have put more resources into Michigan. But that was two days ago, and now it can’t. Now Sarah Palin could hold a cabinet position.
It seemed better to quit my internet browser and sit with these feelings for a while, to notice the textures of what will be one of the most important political experiences of my life. My compulsion to consume what newspapers pass off as “analysis” was part of the texture of this experience, but it was obscuring the other parts. My college student brother, who cast his first-ever vote for Clinton, said he hoped Trump would recognize the gravity of his new job and think hard about the decisions he had to make. My mother said she was now certain she would never see a woman president in her lifetime. My partner kept thinking about the girls who now attend her Christian high school in Georgia, how badly the conservative boys would treat them on Wednesday. Hearing these things wasn’t shocking in the sense of Trump’s election, but each one was a surprise, because I had not previously imagined the people around me having to react to Trump’s election. I deleted my phone’s media-accessing apps and made a resolution to check the news just twice a day, rather than in a continuous feed. I’ll keep that resolution for as long as I need it.
Attending to experience is valuable when it’s too early to know what to think, but it’s also true that you can’t help thinking. I watched Clinton’s concession speech, the outpouring of sadness that followed, and I thought of Susan Sontag’s editorial from two weeks after September 11: “Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together.” I have never felt much animosity for Clinton, nor do I think she would have been a disastrous President. But she was a disastrous candidate, and the Democratic Party should not have nominated her. The kind of Democratic Party I was raised to cherish, the kind of party I cannot bring myself to personally dislike, has to be done, or else Trump will get eight years. No more Clintons. No more centrism. No more permanent global war. No more inane late-night satire. No more byzantine tax credits in place of a real minimum wage. No more Obamacare tweaks in place of universal health care. No more partial debt relief after X number of years instead of free public college. No more technocracy in place of politics. No more supporting a party that excuses its contempt for working class people by saying that racists get what they deserve. For years, we’ve been told that you can’t say “No” to Republicans unless you say “Yes” to Democrats, but it’s time to say “No” to the Democrats, too, until they say “Yes” to us.
I thought that, and then I went back to noticing the different ways I felt sad. I wanted to see people, to have dinner at a friend’s house and ask everyone about their day, but my copy editing job ran late, and I was stuck in Midtown. At around 7 o’clock, a protest marched by my 6th Avenue office on its way to Trump Tower, and I ran downstairs to cheer for them from the sidewalk. I was glad they had assembled so quickly. I got exhausted thinking about how many times we’ll have to assemble.