It was early. I was tired. At five in the morning, here I was, trekking from Pomona’s South Campus up to Scripps. The phone bank awaited.
The energy in the air was exhilarating and tense. Many, many years of waiting, working, praying, and fretting were about to conclude. One way or another, it would be over. Looking back, I pity myself; I was eager – longing, even – for the election to come to its end. Now, I would give anything to have that hope back.
The election viewing party began at around 4 p.m. that day. I ran straight from class to start setting up on Kravis Lawn. The polls were closing. I needed CNN. I opened my laptop and put it on the grass in front of the Cube. It soothed me to watch Wolf Blitzer and Gloria Borger banter, John King’s 3D maps of the U.S. – the sights and sounds of an election.
I don’t remember when I started to panic. When my face started getting hot. When my hands started to jitter. I remember North Carolina being close. The very state I had been calling all week, all morning. Why did I leave the phone bank to go to class? Didn’t I know how important this was?
All hell broke loose. Florida was gone, and the sprinklers on the lawn went off. Chaos. The feelings inside my body leapt up to exit their cage. We ran, screaming. Staring at the soaked food, I recalled a conversation from the previous night. I had begged a friend to come with me to phone bank today.
“Why won’t you come? Is our democracy not important to you?” I hissed.
“There’s no point. He’s not going to win. There’s no point.”
Of course, he hadn’t canvassed. He hadn’t seen the fury in their eyes. The passion with which they spoke of deportations, “locking her up,” guns.
The lawn sprinklers kept whirling, uncaring and uninterested in the inhabitants that had been, not more than 20 seconds ago, crying atop the lawn. I walked, dazed, eastward. To where? Who knows?
I wound up in the Hub. Hordes of students buzzed about recounts in Wisconsin. Or was it Pennsylvania? Nearly in tears, I left the café and dialed my dad only to have him remind me: “It’s such a shame about Merrick Garland.” Oh God, the Court. The presidency was doomed, and with it the Supreme Court. The liberal judiciary within reach was suddenly wrenched from my grasp; my thoughts turned to back-alley abortions; gay couples being ripped apart; rampant, unchecked gun violence.
The air left my lungs. My body felt weak. I could go no further. I turned my phone on airplane mode, shutting myself off from the world, and walked back to Pomona. I returned to my dormitory, which I had left only 20 hours prior, so hopeful, so excited.
As I hastened to my room, I passed my friends laughing, trying to lighten the mood. One looked at me, and I felt it instantly: the heat back in my face. My vision start to blur. “I’m fine! I’m fine,” I exclaimed. He wrapped me in a bear hug so deep and warm that I burst, pouring tears all down his comfy sweatshirt. Ashamed, I ran to my room, shut the door, and sat in silence.
Later that evening, I hopped into bed, numb. In the heavy darkness of my room, I just stared at my phone, then threw it at my desk, as far away as possible. I got back up, crossed the room, and set my 9 a.m. Wednesday alarm. No matter what, I go to class tomorrow, I thought. Keep your head down. Study. Focus.
The next morning I woke, this time with the sun. I reached for my phone and unchecked airplane mode. I prayed. I really, really prayed. It was a mistake. They miscounted. The networks were wrong. It was never true.
NIGHTMARE, my neon green HuffPost alert read, DONALD TRUMP ELECTED 45TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
I rolled back onto my side and wept.
Then, I picked up my phone, tuned into CNN, and watched Hillary Clinton concede.
With her, the America in which I had believed was gone. In its place stood fear and hate and hopelessness. Logic didn’t matter. Facts didn’t matter. All that mattered was noise and flash.
This year has shown me the very worst of American politics. A Congressional majority that absolutely refuses to check an unstable president. An administration willing to lie to the American people without hesitation or remorse. A government that targets the vulnerable and functions on behalf of the wealthy and powerful.
Yet, I’ve also seen the best of America. Hundreds of thousands of people marching through the streets. The judicial system at work, nullifying illegal actions by the administration and uninhibitedly probing criminal conduct by both the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
During the election campaign, I swore to myself that I would leave if America elected Donald Trump to be president. And I may yet do so. What on Earth would compel me to live in a country that elects as its leader a man who physically sickens me with his antipathy toward democratic principles and truth?
But as much as I wish to renounce any ties to a nation led by such depravity, I shall not abandon it without trying my very hardest to set it right. The country that loves and protects immigrants, that welcomes outsiders and scorns bigotry, that celebrates differences and encourages discourse is buried within the very heart and soul of the United States.
As a patriotic American, it is my duty to help revive that country and make it a reality. In doing so, I shall follow the lead of Hillary Clinton and continue onward.