I was off the grid when Donald Trump got elected. Tucked in a small secluded homestead cabin in the Joshua Tree desert. I was surrounded by mountains, and a quiet so distinct that any sound I heard, the buzzing of insects, the breeze whispering over the sand, a jet plane flying over the nearby military base, was by magnified by ten. It’s a place were dirt roads have homemade street signs with names like Mars and Saturn. In truth, it does feel like I’m on another planet.
I checked Facebook for election updates because there’s no television in the cabin. I saw posts of women wearing Super Hillary and Nasty Woman T-Shirts, group selfies of those gathered to experience the day when the first woman president would be elected into office. For them it made sense that America was ready to progress beyond the first black president. Maybe they believed the myth of a post-racial America.
My newsfeed also included posts from people who were tired of educating friends about Black Lives Matter, sexual predation, climate change, transgender bathrooms. One woman declared her intention to “tap out” completely. She’d had enough and was making a list of her “enemies”. “There’s no turning back,” she wrote.
T-Shirts and hats, calling out the opposing team have been the signature of this election. People quickly allied themselves with their candidate and became human billboards.
Make America Great Again!
I’m With Her!
It struck me that this election had morphed into a more of spectator sport than a process by which we choose representatives to advocate for our best interests. The Democratic and Republican parties are now the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees with a rivalry just as bitter and violent. What are the odds that wearing Hillary or Trump merchandise will result in a vitriolic confrontation? It seems quite high if you believe the media reported violence about protesters being punched in the face at Trump rallies and Bernies Sanders supporters defacing Republican state campaign headquarters and attacking Trump backers.
Is it really that violent on campaign trials or are these reports simply political theatre to keep “the us versus them” environment taut and voters allegiant?
Much of politics is theatre, of course, and there is documented evidence that explains why governments feel it necessary to keep citizens pliable by controlling information. Look up Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, to see just how the masses are viewed by influential institutions.
If voters are not cognizant about specific issues or the manipulation of the political system, how can they be expected to make informed, unemotional decisions? Where do they get the information they need to be responsible participants in democracy?
The respected news sources have all but lost their objectivity. Pundits seem more interested in their own celebrity than reporting relevant or issue-based segments about the candidates. This is not uncommon for networks that rely on ratings to survive, but there came a time when people really feared for the future of the country and needed real information. And it seems that was the desired effect.
Criticism of the media’s complicity in a Trump presidency for giving him months of free advertising and bolstering his antics for reality show ratings is perhaps something many on-air personnel are considering today.
What we’ve learned from this election and from Obama’s presidency that America is sick with hatred and misunderstanding. So easily persuaded and led by totalitarian perspectives, we have become dystopian robots. We don’t really know our neighbors, co-workers, friends, beyond the commonalities that keep us in each other’s lives, nor, in most cases, do we want to know.
Knowledge of someone’s racism, mental illness, sexual predation, addiction usually triggers defense mechanisms like denial or removal because we most of us see damaged people as dangerous, but there is more to it than that, there’s the overlooked responsibility of society in the creation of this damage, in our candidates and in our community, that goes unchecked until someone is hurt. And sometimes injury is still not enough for us to look deeply at society and ourselves.
What role do we play in racism, sexism, classism? There’s no simple answer. Silence, privilege, what we’re taught about gender, negating that our country has historically thrived at the expense of vulnerable people, only scratches the surface of what needs to be diagnosed and treated.
Was Hillary’s loss a result of her own corruption, as some say, or is there a double standard that punished her for doing what her male counterparts are praised for daily?
If it’s sexism, then what does that say about us, our conditioning? Perhaps we are not as progressive as we’d like to think we are, and further, maybe our own self-delusions have blinded us to the reality of how pervasive ‘isms” are in America’s cultural fiber. I’ll let you think on that for a while.
Before we can fix anything, we’ll need to understand the real problem. We’ll need dialogue that transcends T-shirt logos to find common ground. These conversations are taking place, around the water coolers, in classroom, at bars, in quiet rooms where people feel safe. These seeds will take some time grow, some time before those sometimes awkward and painful conversations will mature into action.
The morning after the election many people felt depressed and disillusioned by America. It’s not the country they thought they lived in. We’re not the people they believed we were. Some of us already knew this. For those who didn’t, a Trump presidency will force those like the wide-eyed Hillary supporters to re-evaluate their idea of America and the Non-Hillary supporters to take responsibility for what’s to come. Or not.
Andrea Roach is a writer of memoir, essays, and creative non-fiction. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University.