women fists raised in air

Written on November 7, 2020

Today I've been thinking a lot about how I felt in 2016 when the election was called for Donald Trump. I remember dreading going to school and dealing with the gloating of every person I'd ever gotten into an argument with about women's rights or marriage equality or white privilege. I remember walking to class with another nervous girl in my grade while it seemed like everyone around us was celebrating. Our school mock election revealed that only about 34-40% of students (if I'm remembering correctly) indicated that they would have voted for Trump if they were eligible (he still won, the majority was split among the other candidates), but that 34% was loud on that Wednesday morning. I don't remember what we did in class that day, but I remember feeling more scared than I'd ever been that the people who were supposed to want the best for our country were unfit for the job. And they were.

The Trump administration time and time again did things that actively harmed and killed people. The administration emboldened and normalized violent white supremacy, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. These problems did not originate with Trump, nor will the end of his presidency be the end of these problems. But he did everything he could to solidify the place of these prejudices in our country, giving them a platform and using his highest position of power to support them. And he did all of this while people sang his praises for it.

The most curious thing to me about it was that the people who supported him the most -- boomers, the poor and working classes, and people who lived in rural communities -- were often among those he harmed. He appealed to their biases. He made them feel like they were above being vulnerable to the impact of legislation because they were men, or white, or heterosexual, or cisgender, or Christian, while at the same time denying that these privileges even existed. We have seen now that no one is immune to harm from a government that does not act in the interests of its people.

I watched him sustain a following as his administration locked children in cages, as he was accused of sexual assault 40+ times, as he insulted our veterans, as he frequently used derogatory and violent language against minority groups, as he took great strides to suppress the votes of BIPOC, as he threatened a non-peaceful transition of power, as he placed a Supreme Court justice with the intent of overturning Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, and -- most damningly -- as he allowed 238,000 people in our country to die from a pandemic that he had the opportunity to prepare for and act on. And I was really scared that the following, along with the effort that he made to suppress the Black and Indigenous vote, and the apathy of those who remained removed and uninterested in politics, and the fact that there was now a Supreme Court stacked and ready to side with him should the election be contested there, would carry him to a second term.

Of course, his supporters were never the majority (not even in 2016). People always stood up to him, correcting his lies and condemning his prejudice. Community leaders, activists young and old scattered across the country, knew that we could do better and demanded that our government take notice. These were the people who gave me hope.

Since the day that Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, I have had a quote from the film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Two Towers written on the dry erase board of my dorm. It was the monologue that Sam delivered, the one about the folks in the stories who "had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding onto something. That there's good in this world...and it's worth fighting for." Even though it felt like the world at large was big and chaotic and broken, I watched my roommate throw herself into organizations that emphasized sustainability. I watched my parents work tirelessly as educators to teach the next generation and make education more accessible for all students. I watched my sister sign up to be a poll worker because she was too young to vote, but she still wanted to make a difference. I watched my best friend speak up time and time again in defense of marginalized people, spreading information, and preaching tolerance. For every person I knew who would bring their hate to the voting booth, I knew two who would bring their love for others and their passion for equality instead. This is to say nothing of the activists in the Black and Indigenous communities who led and organized, and who guided others through the voting process so that as many people as possible were able to have their voices heard. Without the efforts of Stacey Abrams and other activists like her, tonight would have been very different. 

I am aware that neither Harris nor Biden is above criticism, but I am thankful that they will be taking office. I am thrilled that little girls have a powerful new role model in our Vice-President Elect. I am thankful that Biden intends to reduce polarization in our country, and I look forward to the execution of his plan to finally react to this pandemic. This duo was not as progressive as I had hoped our 2020 candidates would be, but before we can rebuild the house, we must put out the fire. Biden makes for an excellent fire extinguisher. We must be ready, through lobbying and civil engagement, to remind him that his obligation is not the appeasement of fascists, but the liberties and security of the people. The work is coming, and we must take advantage of that moment when it arrives. 

But for tonight, we will go to sleep with the knowledge that Trump’s time in the White House is coming to an end and that we are finally going to put out some of these fires. I've seen videos of people dancing together in the street, celebrating. I feel proud of my country tonight in a way I haven't been able to feel in years. While there is still so much work to be done, it feels like many of us are finally able to let go of a breath we have been holding since 2016.

I have erased the quote on my board, not because it is no longer relevant, but because I no longer feel the need to be reminded on a daily basis that the strength and passion of good people will always, always overpower the rhetoric of hatred. We proved that. We made history tonight, and we’re just getting started.