A Muslim living in Toronto comes to terms with the rippling effects of the 2016 US Presidential Election, and what that means outside the scope of America itself.
At the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I was sitting in a bar. The walls were plastered with a photography series of double exposures that juxtaposed Republican candidate (now President-Elect) Donald Trump’s yelling face with images of his supporters. Many of them held signs with hateful rhyming phrases.
“DRUNK ON TRUMP,” read the bar’s signage. “(Free consolation shots if he wins)” the menu promised, underneath themed cocktails named “#Imwithher” and “WRONG.”
I walked out of class to come here – not to collect free shots, but to be around people. I couldn’t bring myself to care about hypothetical case studies when this was in the air. It didn’t matter that I was in Toronto, Canada, seemingly removed from the issue. I have family and friends in the states – many of them in red states. And if your downstairs neighbour is making a ruckus, you hear it.
On my way, I was so distracted by live updates on my phone that I lost my sense of direction and planted myself in a nearby kabab shop. My fellow South Asians helped me situate myself. None of them thought that Trump would win.
Nor did anyone around me, until Florida. That was when we started holding our breath. Apparently, three fights broke out in that particular bar over the course of the night. I didn’t care. I was engaged in a hopeful back-and-forth with my American friends – “F*ck Florida!” and “Don’t worry, there’s still the west coast!” among my cheerful offerings. Then there was still Michigan, then Wisconsin.
Then there was stunned, unbelieving silence.
“The damage is already done. The Pandora’s box of regressive rhetoric has already been opened… And the people I love have to deal with the outcomes.”
The worst moment of it was when Arizona – my favourite state — was still uncalled, and one of my friends there sent a distraught message. Her vote wasn’t counted. The reason was something about “signature verification” – what does that even mean? She didn’t know. She was notified after the polls closed.
It’s not just about him. This is not just about an individual, or what he can and can’t do. Even if Trump turns out to be less destructive than he has promised to be — and that’s a big if — the damage is already done. The Pandora’s box of regressive rhetoric has already been opened. A significant number of white Americans voted to align themselves with this hateful climate – or at the very least, with a man who openly incited it. And the people I love have to deal with the outcomes.
From the moment the result was announced, I couldn’t stay still, and I couldn’t be alone. I slept light. I talked to everyone around me. I drew out conversations so I wouldn’t have to let them end. When I wasn’t talking, I was walking. I overshot my destinations so I could keep walking. I sat through classes drumming my fingers against eachother, wondering how I could possibly be expected to think about anything else – but wanting to think about anything else so badly. I kept reading the news because I was searching for something in it – something that I wasn’t finding yet.
At 2 in the morning, twenty-four hours after the election was called, I finally cried. I cried because I expected better of people. I cried because I work in a field of progressive optimists who consistently try to improve the world, but sometimes people can’t even help themselves – or would rather tear down others in the process. I cried because, on a selfish level, I had so much work to get done, and no energy left to do it. I cried because people important to me were over there, and I couldn’t do anything to change this. It was a helpless cry. I cried because it was done.
“I kept reading the news because I was searching for something in it – something that I wasn’t finding yet.”
I turned off my phone. It stayed off for the next two days, while I spent time with my family. I watched the news disbelievingly. I exercised willpower in not looking at social media. I caught up on Bollywood movies. I drank a lot of tea. I played VICE documentaries in the background while I drew. I withdrew. Not everyone had the privilege of doing this, I know. I was far enough away that I could.
When I turned my phone back on, it was Friday afternoon.
Some time after Pandora’s box was opened, unleashing all its horrors into the world, Pandora went back and opened it one more time. There was something else in that allegorical box: a tiny, glimmering thing called hope.
I looked for flecks of blue in the red states, representing counties where my friends and family live – where they wouldn’t be alone. I read impeachment theories, crossing my fingers, while knowing that removing a figurehead wouldn’t remove the climate of hate that placed him there, but finding solace in it all the same.
I geared my mind back toward community work, and looked for new ways to support causes I believe in. I saw others do the same. I retroactively watched my friends, scrolling back through conversations, come to terms with the reality and what they were going to do next. I watched them make themselves strong.
Friends, I love you. Stay safe. Stay resistant in whatever ways you can. Stay RESILIENT, and stay hopeful & driven for the future.
— Zen (Zenventures) (@chai) November 9, 2016
I wrote this out because I have to let it go. I have to get back to my normal. I have too many things that matter in my life to let an oppressive human pumpkin drag me down for more than a few days.
I wrote this, too, for those of us who are still dragged down. When I walked home the morning after the election, every face I passed exchanged a grim look with me. The people-traffic crawled along at half the usual speed. That universal sadness, while fading, is still in us. Confront it – figure out what you are going to do with it.
That’s what I’m trying to do.
My mom volunteers with kids. “We asked them about personalities they look up to,” she said to me just now, “And all the boys said Kyle Lowry, Michael Jordan, sports personalities… The girls all said Hillary Clinton. They said they want to prove that they can do anything, and they want to change the world – these little, little girls.”
This tiny, glimmering thing called hope.