Henry Roberts comments
This is not the article I wanted to write. Nor is it what my editor wanted me to write. I was assigned by The Tribe to cover election night 2016, using interviews with students throughout the night to give a broad overview of the mood of the election entire. I interviewed students and worked out a broad structure for a piece in my mind as the night went on. Whilst an article of that description will be appearing soon, such a task requires the merit of objectivity, and I cannot say that I am in such a position to provide this as of now.
What I will write instead, briefly, is more of an open letter. To whom it is addressed I am not sure. To Trump voters, to Hillary voters, to Americans, to non-Americans, to Donald Trump, to myself. It is more of a therapeutic act of unabashed subjectivity written at a time -on little sleep, and a little hungover- where basic journalistic practice seems just a little too much for me. But I don’t think that has anything to do with the lack of sleep or alcohol.
If 2008 was a historic year for its presidential election, 2016 will be more so. Obama’s terms as President saw historic changes, from healthcare to gay rights to international perception of America. A Trump presidency may be marked entirely by a reversal of these things. The progress of the last eight years is in severe jeopardy.
A Hillary Clinton win would have been wonderful for women’s progress, but win or lose this campaign has demonstrated in ways I thought impossible for a presidential campaign that overt sexism, misogyny and rape-culture not only exists but permeates all levels of American society. Slogans and phrases adorned upon caps and t-shirts, shouted at rallies and on the street- words and phrases I won’t repeat here- characterised the Trump campaign. (The same could be said for African-Americans, Immigrants, Latinos, Jews). I, like so many others, as was with Barack Obama and African-Americans in 2008, thought that if their election to President does not prove the end of these problems, it would certainly mark the beginning of the end. Now it appears they have not only been restarted, but also have been justified by democratic process.
(These are views not shared by all Republicans, and to those Republicans of heart who could not morally justify voting for Trump, you have my sincerest sympathy and respect. For those who do not believe in these things but voted for Trump anyway, I as of now have nothing to say to you.)
Social media has gone wild, of course. One post has caught my attention. It imagines the image that will soon take place of Obama shaking Donald Trump’s hand in support of transition, passing over the White House and baton of Leader of the Free World to a man who refused to denounce an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan. As the past eight years have demonstrated so starkly, any claim that race is no longer an issue in the United States is farcical, but this particular changeover of power will speak volumes to the world about America and its people.
I could of course list all the reasons why this is a disaster. From all the things Trump has said he’ll do as President to all the things he’s said in private that should have proven his character unworthy of the office- all things that would have derailed instantaneously the campaign of any ‘normal’ candidate- there are of course a great many. But these things have been repeated over and over again throughout the course of the campaign. Repeating them now seems somewhat pointless. Such is the divisiveness and suspiciousness and partisanship that plagues America today that people in such large numbers voted for a candidate both because of these things, and even in spite of them.
I won’t bother listing these things here. What I will say, however, is what they prove, and that is if you are a certain kind of person, no matter your words or actions, the world is forever yours. Rules and restrictions that apply to most can be ignored and even flouted openly by a small minority and there are apparently no negative consequences. Trump can sexually assault women and still win the most powerful office in the world by will of the people.
I won’t bother making predictions for the next four years, for I, like everyone else, have no idea what is in store both domestically and internationally. All I can comment on is what has already passed. And what has passed is a reminder that we are still living in history. Trump has said that he will be a President for all Americans, and yet there are Muslim-Americans now fearful of wearing their Hijab in public. Women and minorities fearful of their rights and the progress that has been made in recent years will be stripped away from them, and they will lay naked and bare to the populist zeal of a Trump/Pence ticket and what this stands for. Most Presidents act in the name of all Americans. But when a campaign has been forged and won on both the merits and promise of divisiveness, how then can some look at him and call him their President? Indeed, some in time may not be able to.
Whilst this may sound like a journalistic jump to metaphor, the fact that this result comes in on the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall is a sombre reminder of humanity, history, and the mistakes both make. Whether we continue to make new mistakes or fail to learn from the lessons of old ones, I am not sure. But, like that event 27 years ago, this marks the beginning of a new chapter of history. However, this one, at least from my perspective, is not an optimistic one like the wall falling down.
This letter has no intention. Whilst I wish nothing more than for unity and peaceful transition, the letter itself is not a call for unity, or indeed a call to arms. If anything, it was written by me for me. But the fact that I felt the need to write it says something. There is now an international unease regarding the United States that may reverse international relations. The Leader of the Free World, as the unofficial title suggests, has global influence, and unlike in domestic affairs, he has a much freer hand in influencing. I, like every other non-American, have the right to be offended, fearful, anxious, angry at these result. I am certainly all of these things. But right now, as of this writing mere hours after the result was called, I feel deflated. What got me, and so many others, through the past nineteen months of bitterness, insults, racism, attacks, hate was the prospect that it would end with Hillary Clinton being elected. It was instead a precursor to the years ahead.
I hope, of course, that this isn’t true. But then again, I hoped Donald J. Trump would not become Leader of the Free World.