My husband and I were talking about children. That’s what keeps going through my head. We were standing in a long line outside an elementary school in Brooklyn on Tuesday, waiting to vote.
“Think about it,” he told me. “They’ll never grow up in a world where a woman or a black man can’t be president. It will just be normal to them.”
I’m white. My husband is Korean. We walked down a sunny street, imagining a future where it would be normal, unremarkable, for our children to see people like themselves in power. That was the world we thought we lived in, at 10am that morning. We took selfies and made stupid jokes and checked our cell phones, and we were not afraid.
This is what I keep thinking about when I consider what we’ve lost in this election. And perhaps more importantly, this is what our children will lose, particularly our children of color; what our daughters will lose, or have lost. On Tuesday morning, I believed that if I had a daughter, she would always have the legal right to control what happens to her own body. She would have access to birth control and abortions; live in a world where “rape culture” and “sexual harassment” were, at the very least, concepts that she and her peers could name and oppose. On Tuesday morning, I believed that if I had a son, our culture’s racism would lessen over the course of his lifetime, so that by the time he was a man, the bigotry that characterizes the present would seem retro.
I don’t believe those things anymore.
Progress is not inevitable. Movements that once leaped forward can go backward—farther and faster than you imagined. We have turned down a qualified and experienced female candidate in favor of a man who—aside from the multiple allegations of sexual violence, aside from his terrifyingly volatile temper, aside from his total lack of government experience—ran on a white nationalist platform. Should Trump somehow realize that he can’t do the job and hand the decision-making over to vice president Mike Pence, we will be governed by a man who jailed a woman for miscarriage and wanted to defund HIV treatment and legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people. Neither Trump nor Pence will face opposition within the government; Republicans control the House and Senate, and will soon have the Supreme Court. In the case of SCOTUS, the damage will last, at a minimum, for a lifetime.
No matter what, this is an onslaught. If you are not a white, straight man, you cannot expect your government to represent or protect you in any meaningful way for the foreseeable future. Progress is off the table; we can only try to stop the bleeding. I do not know the next time I will walk down the street unafraid. And I know that, as a white, straight woman, I’m likely to be a whole lot safer than many other folks.
Never doubt that a vote for Trump was an attempt to punish women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and people of color. “I’m angry at forced diversity,” one “secret Trump voter” told the Guardian in March. “I want them to suffer the shock of knowing all their torrents of blog posts and Tumblr bitch-fests and ‘I just can’t…’ and accusations of mansplaining didn’t actually matter. That they’re still losing. And that things are not getting better for them. They’re getting worse.”
Still another wrote that “the left’s stranglehold on the national conversation of what is or isn’t tolerable was getting stronger by the minute. It was the year of Caitlyn Jenner. Rachel Dolezal. Black Lives Matter… It had me thinking this was it. We’ve lost.” As Jamelle Bouie has said, Trump’s ascendency is what happens when white people are willing to do anything, no matter how dangerous, to avoid accepting the equality of the humans with whom they share the planet. This is what happens when white people come to believe that being asked to conduct themselves with basic decency means “losing” to another side.
Then, of course, there’s the cruelest twist—that, even in a campaign marked by record misogyny on one side and the possibility of the first female president on the other, white women chose racism over their own futures. By the latest tally, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump—not as many as white men, who have always been Trump’s core supporters. But that’s small comfort. It seems that white women as a group are still so committed to eking out whatever temporary comfort and status they can get from white privilege that they will vote to put a man in office who was caught, on tape, boasting about his sexual assaults. And it seems that they have so internalized everyday misogyny that they are willing to shrug it off and call it normal.
I’ve written a lot about Clinton and gender. But I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the enormity of what we’ve lost here; the grief I see everywhere around me. It’s not just that Clinton lost. I hoped and worked for her to win precisely because I never believed she was inevitable; because I thought women might only get this one shot. Now white men are already aligning to erase sexism and gender from the narrative of this election, to give Clinton none of the credit for making it to the presidential race and all of the blame for losing to Trump. It’s not even that misogyny is so powerful that it can drive us into the arms of fascism. At the very least, I will have a solid example to point to every time somebody asks me why I treat sexism like “such a big deal.”
What we’ve lost is that world I was walking toward at 10am on Tuesday morning. The future I was beginning to plan for. We’d have decades, I thought, to make this country a good place for a child to live. We could work on lowering college costs, getting paid parental leave, expanding access to health care and reproductive rights. We could change the way our culture treats women, gay and trans people and people of color. We could change ideas about power; give our children options. I was thinking about what we could add, what we could push forward. I didn’t think about what we would have to try to salvage as we watched the future shatter right in front of us. The life I was planning for two days ago is gone.
“To all the little girls out there,” Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
When I was a child, no presidential candidate would have thought of saying such a thing to me. The fact that Clinton would is why I voted for her. And now that she’s lost, little girls may have heard that message from our country for the last time. We’ll be pushing them out into the world we broke; asking them to clean it up for us, if they can.