In Retrospect: A Letter to Myself, Before the Vote

Dear Pre-Election Lucas,

Trump won. I can’t remember the air ever feeling heavier. I know you can’t imagine it still, but on Tuesday night, you’ll watch and realize ever so slowly that the unthinkable is happening.

You’re full of cautious optimism. The election looms and you’re confident (at least externally) that you know who will win. You think you understand history’s patterns. Trump must be an anomaly and no textbook will ever read: “Donald Trump, the New York billionaire populist, won the 2016 Presidential election.”

I’m not here to scold you. Optimism is contagious, and you really were taken with it. Of course, there’s more you could have done, but what matters now is what you learn, and what you do to call attention to the plight of those most affected by whatever comes next.

I’m writing this to address something specific. It doesn’t have to do with the results of the election but rather the qualities in you, and everyone else, that are more important than ever. You’re going to say something this week that will sound fine at the time; you won’t think much about it and you’ll conclude that you responded in the moment as best you could. What you’ll say will seem safe and non-divisive; but in earnest, it was a spineless platitude and a statement of belief that you, in fact, don’t believe.

Let me provide some context: It’s Nov. 5 and you’re in Mt. Baldy Village. After two nights up in the mountains, you’re struggling to figure out how to get back to campus. You and a friend planned the trip: two friends would drive and leave you up there, you’d enjoy the stillness for a couple days and then come back. Yet, there was no plan to get back. You eventually decide to hitchhike.

After 20 minutes, a white pickup truck pulls up, a man in big-rimmed sunglasses rolls down the window, and he agrees to take you down the mountain. He has a subtle accent, not-so-subtle biceps, and there’s a cat wearing a vest lounging on his neck. As you rumble down the mountain, the man asks what you’re studying and you tell him that you’re a politics major. By the time you’re at the bottom, he wants to know what you think about the election.

You have lots of thoughts about the election. You wrote a whole column voicing some of these thoughts. Yet, at the time, for reasons that then seemed safe, you didn’t share your real feelings. Before he prodded, the man said something along the lines of “You can’t trust either of them, the country is doomed either way.” Slightly fearful that your ride might be cut short, or that the cat might be revealed as a predator, you said, “There are definitely pros and cons to each, and a lot of people are upset about the whole thing, but if I had to choose a side, I’d probably choose hers.”

You had succeeded. The man issued a slight harrumph but didn’t leave you marooned. But what kind of victory was that? You sensed tension and skirted it by pretending you were someone else–by saying something so meaningless, unrepresentative, and sterile that you couldn’t possibly be accused of having any real opinion.

If Hillary had won, maybe I wouldn’t be so harsh. If there weren’t stories of voter intimidation and suppression, of blackface the day after the election, or even of hate crimes following the results, I might let it go. But there are too many, and political speech is too important to let it just be. Voter intimidation is a nasty, corrosive force in America today, and the man about to assume its highest office sanctions it. Intimidation will extend far past voting now that Trump is President. It will come from the top down in the form of policies that threaten the rights of any person in this country, whether documented or undocumented.

You felt intimidated in that truck too. You wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I’m saying it now. I wish you would have responded differently, saying something like, “I’d rather not discuss it,” or even better, “I strongly support Hillary Clinton.” Some situations demand the first, some demand the second, but overall, I want you to go forward with greater confidence in your voice. I want you to believe in its importance and speak up especially loudly when you know you should. We all must stand up for ourselves and for what we believe is right. We must believe that we still have power because otherwise, all that optimism will have been for naught.

Grandma gave us that optimism in the first place. It was her admiration for Hillary Clinton that inspired you. It was her hope that a woman would be President that, amongst many other reasons, makes you want this so bad. She set the tone for this election long ago, and it was her I called first to set the tone following the election. Her response, though I could hear her voice shake, and almost see her words wilt, was still hope. She was disappointed, but not angry, and was hopeful that us and our cousins would be inspired to work, fight, and carry on with life as passionately as our mothers (her daughters).

One of the last things Grandma said during our conversation was, “Sometimes, when we lose, we win.” You’ll see pain in people’s eyes soon. You’ll hear fears of deportation, of loss of civil rights, of disrespect, disregard, and disdain. You’ll be in absolutely no position to tell those people that it won’t be as bad as it seems, because it just might be. But Grandma was right. We lost. But the fact that we can say “we,” means that we haven’t lost completely. Amidst all that hurt and dread, you’ll see community. People who now share a connection they never hoped to feel. We win because we all sense the potential. We win because we all know that there are people more vulnerable than us. We care, we empathize, we respect, we unite. We win because we still have a voice.

Lucas Carmel PO '19 is studying politics and history. He also does improv and works with the Rooftop Garden Project.

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