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This Is Not The Piece I Intended To Write

People stay outside the Jacob Javits Center waiting for election results following a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in New York Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (Craig Ruttle/AP)
People stay outside the Jacob Javits Center waiting for election results following a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in New York Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (Craig Ruttle/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.
COMMENTARY

I planned to write something very different: a joyful piece about suffragette white and pantsuits and shattered glass ceilings.

Instead, 60 million Americans, overwhelmingly white, voted for a candidate who ran an openly racist, misogynist, nativist campaign. “I need change!” these voters screamed with their ballots. What precise change, we don’t quite know. It feels like a tantrum-throwing toddler screaming “No! No! No!” about Legos and plastic spoons.

So now we have a president-elect who plays on people’s fears instead of aspiring to their dreams, and has no knowledge of domestic policy or foreign affairs. He’s boasted about sexually assaulting women, he won (and accepted) an endorsement from the KKK, he’s asked, with genuine interest, what nuclear weapons are for if they aren’t to be used, and he’s proven himself to be a narcissist with an honesty problem. Trump’s election night party continually erupted in jeers of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” It’s horrifying. Apparently none of this mattered to half the nation’s voters.

It is so tempting, now, to quit and never look back -- but it’s never been more important to stay in the arena.

Combine a Trump-Pence White House with a Republican Congress (and judiciary) and my thoughts about the future — at least right now — are bleak. It feels like the apocalypse. Four years of Trump. At least four. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to explain this to my daughters, who will be confused. “Donald Trump is a bad guy,” they’ve been saying. They’re 3-years-old.

On Monday, a friend in Los Angeles shouted back at a man who catcalled her: “We’re gonna have a woman president so shut your mouth!” she yelled, emboldened by a mix of anxiety and excitement over the election. I fist-pumped to Katy Perry on a jog in broad daylight, floated from door-to-door for Hillary in New Hampshire and proudly wore white on Election Day.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I am stunned, confused and heartbroken. I can’t believe I live in a nation that holds this much contempt for women, people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community.

I’m angry: at CNN and other networks for normalizing Trump’s extremism, at James Comey for interfering in the election, at Republicans for systematically disenfranchising voters. I’m so angry.

And yet, Hillary didn’t perform as well as nearly everybody thought she would among college-educated voters, people of color, women — anyone. She lost states Democrats haven’t lost in generations. Everyone was wrong. Up is down, day is night. It’s the American equivalent of Brexit. Sorry, world.

It’s a crushing disappointment, far worse than the outcome in 2000, when I was a 22-year-old kid in my first real job as a field organizer in St. Louis on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. After he lost Missouri, I road tripped with my coworkers to Florida, where we learned to discern hanging and pregnant chads. I was eating dinner at strip mall when the Supreme Court decision came down, handing the presidency to George W. Bush.

I was ready to feel like that little kid. I was ready to be giddy about a president-elect who looked like me...

There is something inherently hopeful about hitching your future to somebody you believe in. I’ve been thinking about all the young people at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, and across the country, who bet on Hillary and worked so hard to make history. They did a good job. They did the right thing.

I am now grasping for anything — anything — to keep me from spinning out into the abyss. I’m grasping for grace, even though I just want to scream and cry, because that is what I think Hillary would want me to do, out of respect for our democracy. I’ve come to a few realizations.

First, I live in a bubble. This isn’t news to me, but last night was an anguishing reminder. All of my friends are Democrats. They’ve been to college, and live in or near major cities, primarily on the coasts, where they listen to NPR and read the New York Times. It’s a nice little life, but it’s vastly different than the majority of Americans. If I ever have any hope of understanding what’s happened — and the voters who made this choice — I need to find some way to reach beyond my circle.

David Plouffe, the architect of Obama’s 2008 campaign, assured people that Clinton would win 330 electoral votes. Of course he was spectacularly wrong. Early Wednesday morning he tweeted, “the idea of our country has always been stronger than an election.” I’m holding onto that. The dream for America I believe in — a tolerant, diverse, inclusive, and just America — is still here. We can still raise our children to love, to treat all people with respect, to be generous and to do good. I can still tell my girls they can be anything they want to be — even president. Fittingly, they woke up yelling at 5:30 a.m. this morning, a reminder that the world still spins. We cannot despair, we most not lose hope.

Finally, and obviously, elections matter. Politics matters. Going door-to-door, giving money, voting, wearing a pantsuit -- all of that matters. It is so tempting, now, to quit and never look back — but it’s never been more important to stay in the arena. The 2018 election, after all, is just around the bend.

There is widely circulated photo of President Obama leaning down to let a little African American boy touch his head. He’s saying, “Hey kid, that’s right — my hair feels just like yours.” I was ready to feel like that little kid. I was ready to be giddy about a president-elect who looked like me — someone who knows what it’s like to wear heels for eight hours and birth a baby and be the only woman in the room.

Well, not yet.

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Cloe Axelson Twitter Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.

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