The American Election

I’ve tried writing this three times now, but each time it comes out as too focused on the narrative of my experience of the election, a long, self-indulgent sort of story about a rough and lonely night. Given the stakes faced by a lot of Americans, it seems unimportant to publish. Suffice it to say, the election of a man who has accused friends of mine as harboring terrorist sentiments and of being the worst of the worst in our nation, threatened the freedom of the press and the safety of those who speak out, and who has been described by those who know him well as having “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” I feel far from home, and focusing on my project has been nearly impossible.

I’ve also tried to write about the subject is some way that could be tied to my project, exploring how my emotional reaction to Trump is tied to my research on grief. But there’s a lot of people writing and talking about grief and the election, and my writing fails to acknowledge those who are tremendously excited. Certainly an elite political order has been overthrown (though I would ask if an Administration led by a billionaire, the head of the RNC, a former Speaker of the House and the Mayor of the NYC can really be called a populist revolution). But still, the election has awakened the dominant political order to the system’s failure to meet the needs of millions, leaving 60 million people to throw a molotov cocktail at Washington and millions more to stay home in disgust. Those voices matter, and I’ve been guilty of ignoring and belittling them.

And I do believe in the democratic process. By our rules, Trump won, even if it was through a historical quirk. As an American, I wish him luck insofar as he works to uphold our values and better the lives of all Americans. But he doesn’t get a blank slate, he’s not free to create a new persona separate from his campaign persona. The increased violence against minorities and the spike in LGBTQ suicides? This is what happens when you talk like President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence about people, telling your supporters to beat up those who protest and describing immigrants as rapists and terrorists, in total disregard for reality. To the extent our differences in politics are due to different reads on classic political dilemmas, a government that helps the vulnerable versus one that minds its own business or other legitimate tensions, I respect their right to a different philosophy. But to the extent the Trump Administration moves against values I view as fundamentally American, like the freedom of speech, assembly, press, and religion, each of which been challenged in the first week after the election of our new President, I will not view the debate as in good faith or deserving of the benefit of the doubt.

And I hope my friends, who are doing more than I out in the streets this week, are ready for the long haul and are ready to make new alliances with people we’ve ignored.

All of this is to say my head is not really in the project right now. I have a long blog post that was put on the backburner for a while I’m just going to publish after a little cleaning up, because I need to move on. I’ve Skyped friends back home more regularly, finding people to share in my anxiety. That’s been my focus.

And here I’ve gone on longer than I told myself I would, regurgitating things I’ve seen elsewhere. I think anyone who wants an insightful take on this election should look elsewhere. I’m going to take the advice given to me Sneha, the Watson Program manager, when I woke up at 5 AM on the 10th with a strange weight on my chest and needing some reason not to just buy a flight home and skip this whole studying death thing:

“We need Watson fellows more than anything right now. Traveling, crossing borders expands minds, opens hearts and makes us more understanding of other cultures and perspectives. In a lot of ways you are the ambassadors to all that is good about Americans…Yesterday a Watson Alum from the 90’s emailed me and shared something she posted. It resonated with me so I thought I’d pass it on:

‘In the absence of leadership we can believe in, we the people must lead. We must be our own hope, our own model of love, of kindness, of resolve, of resilience. We must be the answer that we seek, and the bright light for our children. It is not the time to sit back, but to stand up and lean into the gale force winds of the shadow of our darkest side. America, it is time to shine, shine, shine.’

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3 thoughts on “The American Election

  1. Jesse, you are a wonderful representative of America. Your insightful and empathetic voice is just what the world needs right now. I appreciate the quote you shared at the end of your article. I posted it on my refrigerator (old school!) for some much needed encouragement.

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    1. Hey Theresa! Thanks so much for your kind words. I dunno, if I were to see a sign of hope in this, it’s the number of people that seem ready to face this danger. It’s a scary time, but if we’re ready, I think we can stare it down.

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  2. Awesome Jesse and so impressed…Bev and I are in deep sorrow right now! Wish we could take you to the corner “pub” to share pain!!! More comments as you proceed and thank you! “….., it is time to shine, shine, shine. ” Just wish you could have visited Stratford! 😉

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