Against all evidence to the contrary, and despite the unprovable but definite slowing of time since we swallowed that bitter pill four years ago, we made it. Somehow. Election day 2020.
Everybody has their own election night 2016 story, and mine isn’t particularly riveting. I hosted a party at my house, which was, of course, a terrible idea. When things started turning ugly, most people left on their own, bummed out enough that they didn’t want to be around people. A few lingered, and I had to apologetically ask them if they could hit the road too, because the chemicals in my stomach were starting to churn and I didn’t feel like playing host anymore. Whatever alcohol was in my system by then was not nearly enough to cloud the ugly reality before me, and in fact the incipient buzz quickly turned into that rotten “not quite drunk, not quite hungover” shadow zone that just made everything worse. My wife and I walked around the neighborhood for a while, and because my brain automatically goes to the darkest place imaginable, I began to wonder if I was in danger for writing negatively about Trump. As in, maybe after they sent all the important journalists to the gulags, they’d start poking around for the likes of me. Would we have to move? I was never one of those “I’m moving to Canada!” types, and I certainly didn’t want to leave because of a president. It’s my f***ing country too! But my people don’t have the guns…
You get the point. The anxiety ate at me, writing was the only respite for a week, and it felt like everything we valued and loved was collapsing as the worst, most aggressive, most cruel and greedy people rose to control everything. Looking back at myself and the people I know, it’s abundantly clear that we weren’t ready for what happened. This was the political equivalent of a punch in the mouth, and it caught us with our guard down.
Now, it all looks a bit melodramatic and even self-centered. None of my darkest visions played out materially. I had a good life at the time and I still have a good life. I failed to understand Trump’s true nature—the bizarre mix of egomania and incompetence—that would unleash horrors by small degrees, mixed with significant doses of failure, and mostly affect people who weren’t like me. I started out white, educated, and firmly middle class, and there I remain.
Even so, while conceding that other people have had it much, much worse, I can tell you that it hasn’t been a joy ride emotionally. Between that original fear, the seething rage experienced in impotent moments while reading about the child separation policy or the empowered fascist thugs in the streets, and the near-constant anxiety as my child was born into a world that I didn’t quite recognize and that is dying a lonely hot death while we twiddle our thumbs…well, it’s been a shitty ride. There are mental health consequences to living this way, everyone feels it unless you’ve had your empathy and decency fried enough that you actually support the guy, and in general we’ve been psychologically flooded with the maddening, smug, mean idiocy of a man who represents the worst of humanity.
And if you oppose Trump, that stress is the best-case scenario. That’s the price you pay if you’re one of the lucky, comfortable ones. For others—like the parents who watched their own children suffer the lifelong trauma of separation—the horror is more present, less of a psychological abstraction. The cost for them is infinitely dearer. To greater and lesser degrees, he’s taken something from us all.
But you know what? Screw him, because here we are, four years later, still around. I know this has the potential to be very corny, and I know I’m not exactly history’s saddest victims—you are absolutely within your rights to be rolling your eyes at me right now—but we don’t get to pick our struggles, and this is the one they handed us. And whether you’re a leftist like me who doesn’t particularly like the Democrats, including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, or whether you’re a #resistance liberal who still has faith in the party, we’ve all shown our share of resilience. We’ve dealt Trump three straight emphatic losses in national elections, and later today, hopefully we’ll deal him a fourth.
But even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that we’re here shows that we’ll still be here every day to come, we’ll be here in Nov. 2024, and we’ll fight on even if we’re fighting a losing battle. Things might get worse. People like me might have to experience some of the suffering that makes us so angry, that afflicts the poor and marginalized and people of color before it ever gets to us. Trump could win, and if that happens, we’ll all feel extremely hopeless, particularly if it requires the Republicans stealing the election. Even if he goes down, the fight continues—our problems, from global warming to COVID to healthcare, aren’t going away, and the Democrats haven’t shown a great inclination to change the status quo. If we don’t act on a potential advantage, what comes after Trump when the pendulum swings back might be worse. Or it might just be the same old status quo, which in the era of climate change is almost as bad.
This is not a victory dance. Not even close. Still, you have to take your positive moments where you can get them, and before we settle into the dispiriting madness of Tuesday night, just take a second to remember where you were, and how you felt, when Trump won in 2016. Remember the pain. And look at yourself now. You’re here, in 2020, and even if the time that passed felt like an eternity, you bridged the gap and you didn’t give up. Drew Magary recently wrote that “You and I just gotta do the work and remember that fighting evil—win or lose—is its own reward.” No matter what your personal fight was, whether it was energetic activism or simply hunkering down and keeping your brain from melting into a puddle of stress and anger, you fought.
You fought, and you made it through. And the greatest sign that you’ll make it through whatever comes next is the fact that you already did it once. This past week, speaking with friends and family, I realized we’re better prepared for the worst-case scenario if that’s what awaits us tonight. A Trump win won’t hit us with the same impact as 2016, and we won’t panic like we did then. We’re battle-hardened now, corny as that sounds for a bunch of civilians whose surface lives might not be so different from what came before. But we are; we’re tougher. Battle-hardened people can’t be stunned, and battle-hardened people can keep doing battle, if that’s what it takes.