At 4:40am on the 24th of June 2016, I tried to wake up my flatmates whilst I sobbed. We, in a free and fair referendum, had voted to leave the European Union. I had been a polling agent for the Stronger In Europe campaign and the Leave propaganda was almost trivial in Scotland because it just didn’t seem possible. I had said that surely it couldn’t happen, we were safe. When it did, I thought it was the biggest political catastrophe of our lifetimes.
On the 8th November 2016, I sat with about 15 friends in Santa Cruz, California on my year abroad. We were all clad in suits and dresses as we had joked about how the election deserved our respect. We ordered pizza, excited for the night ahead, making a drinking game out of the swing states. Soon after, the mood began to shift. Zain, my Muslim, Pakistani-American friend, sat with his arm around me as I cried when reality began to set in. “What’s going to happen to the brown people like me?” he asked in a quiet, joking voice. He was trying to be lighthearted, but we knew that concern was serious. Once it became clear which way the election would go, people began to mobilise on campus. Over 2,000 students marched defiantly, chanting “Mexico”, “F*** Donald Trump”, and “Love Trumps Hate”.
I have never felt so disheartened and so demoralised as I did when we found out that ‘the Donald’ was soon to be ‘President-Elect Trump’. I told my friends that I didn’t know what the point in being a politically engaged young person was anymore; I couldn’t understand how I ended up feeling so betrayed by both countries.
The morning after the election, Marisela, my Mexican-American roommate, spoke of the uncertainty for her family of immigrants. We cried as we watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech urging young people not to lose hope. Students told tales of their professors breaking down midway through lectures. My Constitutional Law class was put on hold as the Professor hosted an emotional discussion on fear instead, with ‘Welcome to the Apocalypse’ written on the blackboard.
It is despicable that the winner of the Electoral College doesn’t have to win the popular vote. No doubt there are deep-rooted problems in the American political system. But Trump’s success was not his alone, but his voters’ too. Whether you see it as a success or failure, he won the presidency through legitimate means, and the message it sends is much bigger than one man. I know liberals who were rightfully appalled by Trump refusing to promise to accept the election results and threatening to sue if he lost; that are now protesting the result themselves because it didn’t go the way they wanted. We shouldn’t protest against democracy. We should rally to enhance it. We should challenge Trump along every step of the way, on his repulsive behaviour and terrifying policy proposals.
Millions of Americans felt the disenfranchisement on November 8th that was felt by millions of Brits on June 24th. In both, the difference in rural versus urban results were significant, as well as economic and educational backgrounds. The cracks of division have deepened and the rhetoric is becoming only more hateful. But this is the time to engage and do all we can to unite. Above all, we cannot be beaten by complacency and apathy. If that happens it will empower and legitimise this hate, and eventually it will be the narrative we expect from our politicians. As put by President Obama, “we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens”.
One of the kindest people I have met on my year abroad is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant, a prime example of a victim of the poisonous hate that Trump espouses. He now lives in fear everyday. The glass ceiling wasn’t shattered into pieces like many, including me, hoped. Dark times lie ahead for both Brits and Americans that will only be made worse if everyday citizens forget the audacity of hope.
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore