Pardon me while I exhale, slowly. Tomorrow, I want to believe, our great national nightmare will be over. Any hanging chads aside, within 36 hours of this post, America will have elected its new POTUS.
I’m wrong, of course, and I know it, because regardless of what happens tomorrow, the hate genie has been released from its bottle. We are a nation divided and whomever is elected tomorrow — America’s first woman president or America’s first reality television star president (and, dammit, I cannot believe I just typed those words), no matter the margin, lines have been drawn and people are ready to rumble.
This election cycle has put all of us through a beating. We’ve become unhinged, on the precipice of what surely feels like what I imagine America felt like in early April of 1861. For those of you who are not historians, that references the start of the Civil War. And I do not mean to be hyperbolic there. The degree of hate and intractability of whatever position any given American holds feels almost tangible to me.
Families are torn. Generations are divided. White and black and rich and poor and young and old and man and woman and gay and straight and urban and rural and faithful and heathens — we need to categorize one another, size one another up, see which side of the line we are standing on, so we know how to think about and treat each other, depending on how a vote is cast.
It is ugly out there and the resolution that we will achieve tomorrow — ELECTION DAY! — is, I fear, not going to resolve a damn thing. It feels incredibly cynical to type those words, to hold that thought, and if I am wrong, hallelujah, but I don’t think I am.
I remember the anxiety of elections eves in 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2012. 2016 is nothing like those election cycles. The lies and venom are relentless, the distress palpable. I remember feeling hope and pride, a sense of unity and possibility in those days. The good things feel so improbable right now. Tonight I feel dread. Honest to goodness dread. It sucks.
There are slivers of light that I seek out. So many of my friends are going bonkers about #pantsuitnation — a sort of secret, but totally not secret, HONYesque feel good Facebook group for those who support Hillary and want to exercise that support in a safe space online. It’s lovely, really, the stories traded by people who fully support their candidate. There is optimism and hope that is tangible and legitimate.
There is also fear. Legitimate fear. Hard core fear. A Muslim woman fearful for her family and the attacks they experience on the daily from fellow Americans. A mother of a transgender son who moved across the country to escape bullying and ridicule. Two gay men holding a newborn, not wanting to lose their status as fathers. All of these people have so much at stake in tomorrow’s election. Their fear cannot and should not be discounted. Nor should the hate they experience.
I see friends, good and amazing humans, working their asses off to elect the first woman POTUS. Their efforts are genuine and sincere and I applaud them. GO, FRIENDS! I am so proud of you for doing something, engaging, walking door to door, driving across state lines to swing states, preaching the gospel of voting and elections.
But as I keep scrolling, down just a little further, I see other friends, equally good and amazing humans, who are less excited. Holding their nose as they cast a vote for someone they believe to be the lesser of two evils.
These are primarily friends of color who remember a different Hillary, a less enlightened Hillary who talked a lot about super predators and whose husband, during his own tenure in the White House, contributed to a criminal justice system that put a hella lot of people of color behind bars. And welfare reform that contributed to racist stereotypes about African American mothers being perpetuated and institutionalized, while making it harder for those same African American mothers to raise their children. There are other friends posting that if Hillary is elected it will be a win for the white feminist, but not for feminists of color. And why in the Sam Hill is she so silent about the Dakota access pipeline?
The thing is, they are not wrong. It’s hard to reconcile. It’s hard to hope.
I cannot conceive of a President Trump. I cannot conceive of an America moving backwards, in fear, retreating to a romanticized idea of what “great” means. Our democracy is at stake, and, again, I am not being hyperbolic here. American ideals and its revered, if also romanticized status as “the best country on earth” are what is at play on the table. Do we hate or do we hope?
I don’t hate, so I must hope, even when it feels hopeless.
Tomorrow I will vote. My sons will go with me. I will cast my ballot for America’s first woman president. I wish I were more excited about who that woman is, but I can hope and will hope that she has evolved from her past missteps. I can hope and will hope that a ringing of American voices encourages her to put people over politics and donors.
But I have no illusions. Eight years with an African American president has made certain Americans cling to their fading privilege, gasping for those days of yore when America was great. For them. It is inevitable, I know. People cling more tightly when they feel threatened, and an African American president followed by a woman president is very, very threatening to many an American.
Hate and fear are potent forces. No matter who wins tomorrow’s election, hate and fear are now part of the American discourse. We will all be dealing with the consequences, no matter how the election cookie crumbles tomorrow.