On election night, I took the train home from San Francisco. The only sounds in the city was the ugly din of machines. On the subway platforms, on the train there was not a word. Every face creased, looking to the screen in their palm, stunned as they transitioned through disbelief and despair to..... well, I don't think any of us knew what comes next. The array of humanity could not have been better composed by ad agents. There were faces belonging to people whose ancestry traces back to near and far Asia. From Africa. From the islands of the South Pacific. From Europe. Hispanic faces. There were women in hijabs and men with cross tattoos on their arms. I, transgender, sat among an array of gender expressions and, presumably, sexualities. Together we were afraid. We were afraid for the people and for this city of many nations. Afraid for this nation upon whose shores we reside. Afraid for this world from whose corners and cultures and histories, against astronomical odds, came people to fill my train car, rumbling north into the night.
This is the result I've expected since Trump entered the Presidential race.. Nations, rich in military might, always go down the road of authoritarian rule. The same nations, when faced with startling demographic shifts, must grapple with the question of who will wield that power. Establishment becomes entrenched, usually violently so. Xenophobia sprouts. Even before we were a nation, these nominally united states were a place where power has been held by hands grasping the trudgeon of suppression and oppression among racial lines. Race has ever been central to our national story. We’ve executed genocide against the Natives to build our farms and cities, on land with their natural resources that were taken by force. We descendents of Europe established these powers, singing the dark chorus of villainies that comprised chattel slavery. Regardless, we’ve somehow shambled toward reconciliation. People find freedom in spurts, and it always meets a backlash of repression. A backlash that put bullets in Presidents by killers crying out ‘death to tyrants’. Sometimes it is a backlash that gathers in robes, in the dark, carrying rope and fire. We don’t like to tell of evil voices whispering in the ears of power, just as we prefer to avert our gaze from our dances with abomination. But it is important to remember.
My hope yesterday was that America would somehow, in a hail Mary pass, surprise me. I hoped we’d press forward despite expansion of rights for sexual and gender minorities, and the blow to the sense of decency of an enormous voting bloc that this represents. I hoped that in the context of growing racial conflict between racial minorities and officers of the law, we would look toward the justice that is complicated rather than the vision that is simple. I hoped that in the climate of gun delivered mayhem, we’d seek to allay the nuanced causes rather than choose to escalate the personal possession of weaponry. I prayed that in the context of growing foreign violence and the needs of refugees who look and believe differently than many of us, we’d choose to welcome rather than refuse. I hoped that in the face of entrenchment of corporate power, we’d look at last beyond the lie of an ‘American Dream’ that tells us we’re all one good idea away from achieving the same. I hoped we’d prove exceptional. We didn’t, and we’re not. The same forces of history that have worked on other people and nations in other times work on us today.
The good news in this? It’s that every four years we revisit the question of executive leadership and no President serves more than two terms. It’s that every two years, we revisit the legislative question. It’s that the nation that elected a short fingered vulgarian also elected a candidate from the south side of Chicago who ran on hope and change and the better angels of our nature. An imperfect man, but a better one than most who’ve held the office. The demographic shifts that led to last night are going to happen regardless. The balance of power will be reset in the makeup of a changing electorate. The voting block that gave us President Elect Trump is being supplanted. Something new is happening in our nation and our world. It’s not always easy, and is never without stumbling. We have our reptilian, territorial, aggressive back brain but we also have our rational, compassionate, community seeking forebrain. The latter takes charge in times of stress and fear, but neuroscientists tell us that this cannot be sustained. The forebrain will reassert itself. Somehow, despite everything, we’ve come from overt genocide and chattel slavery to a time where immigration policy is the contested issue. The same questions are being asked, but even in last night’s movement in the wrong direction we see a profound weakening in the will to solve the issue through murder. Now is the time to consider not only the eddies of history that has in times gone pulled our raft to the rocks, but what it’s taken before took to save us. Because we’ve moved toward the light even while we stumbled in shadow. Remarkably, gaining more ground in tiny steps than in broad strides, many among us have begun to know each other. Sometimes we listen, and we even love. As this happens, tension grows, between a drive toward reconciliation and the will to power and domination. But the result is not yet determined. It’s up to us.
So, things are indeed very bad. But, they’re a lot better than they were two hundred and fifty years ago. They’re a lot better than a hundred and twenty-five years gone. We’ve advanced toward freedom, but not without tragedy. This didn’t happen because civic enfranchisement resides only in the voting booth. It happened because it merely begins there. It happened because people refused to accept oppression. They marched. They sat when told to move, and moved when told to sit. They threw bricks through windows when the police raided their havens. They made of civic duty an active verb, refused to be cowed by domestic terror and bloodthirsty mobs. They knew that progress isn’t a straight line. When facing defeat, they refused to surrender and gave the next wave ground to advance.
With nuclear armament in play, we can take nothing for granted. This has been my greatest anxiety. But we also cannot take anything as certain. And we must note that somehow, even with last night’s enormous setback and its grave implications, this violent word is less violent than in history past. Human rights and progress have always reasserted themselves, regardless of profound setbacks. Even though we’ve a shameful draw toward authoritarian rule, the results of this pull have always been thwarted. Not by accident, or without sweat and blood. They’ve certainly not been thwarted by those who fret without engaging, who shirked the toil of progress. They’ve been thwarted by feet in the streets, by voices raised loud enough to be heard in Manhattan penthouses by those who sit on thrones of gold. They’ve been pushed back with fists raised and arms linked. They’ve been foiled because people show up and do the hard, scary work of advancing the cause of humanity.
Last night’s news was grave. It was just about as bad as it could have been. But history and nations play a long game. Somehow, even though I have trouble believing in it, Doctor King’s moral arc of the universe seems to indeed bend toward justice. Americans must grieve, and then we must work because hope and progress isn’t something that happens, it’s something that’s won. Those living outside our borders must be vigilant and engaged in their own political processes because the forces that gave us Trump are a part of the human condition, not just the American condition. Most of all, we must have courage and determination, and we must have hope and heart. We must move forward in love. Not easy, convenient candy-heart love but the difficult love that makes you ache in your bones and keeps you awake at nights with anger and worry. The future’s not set. It never has been. But because it’s not set, it’s ours to make. It will be bloody and sweaty, there will be falling and rising again, there will be moments when all seems lost but hope will lead us forward. Can we lose? Certainly, we can lose. But that’s not yet determined. The outcome in in our hands.
Scream. Cry. Pound your fists against the table. Rise. Look to the good. Fight despair. Find hope. Work. Reconcile when you can, and love your enemies. Get involved. Take courage. You are stronger than you know, and you were made for this moment.