The Morning After
Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them.
— JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
It’s a cool morning in Austin, Texas — only 17°C, which is little enough to have people here kitted out in jackets and jeans. The sky is overcast, but the gloom that pervades the campus is not a result of the weather.
Students wander around aimlessly, with glassy eyes that would not look out of place on a Sunday morning, but seem strange on a Wednesday. Some are hungover, some merely exhausted — but most have an additional weight on their shoulders. At 10:30am, it has been less than eight hours since Donald Trump won the US Presidential election.
I am late to campus, having skipped my first class. The reality of a country which just elected Trump, who grabs women “by the pussy,” who wants to deport Mexicans and ban Muslims, who believes climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, did not feel like one worth getting out of bed for.
There must be people who are celebrating the victory — after all, more than half the country voted for him. But I don’t see many of them. A few frat boys with a pro-Trump sign, a few girls in clothing so fancy I should have known they were Republicans before they proclaimed their support.
Most students just seem shell-shocked.
A protest is already beginning to form on the steps of the Tower — a fitting place, perhaps, given that Trump is a supporter of the Second Amendment (specifically, the interpretation of the Second Amendment that says any American should be allowed to own a gun), and the Tower was the site of a 1966 mass shooting in which 49 people were shot, 18 of them killed.
The quote on the building above them is also poignant: “The truth shall make you free.”
It’s a small group of activists from various groups on campus — some of the more radical antifa and anarchist students have their faces hidden behind scarves and masks, while others simply sit, holding signs — “United States of AmeriKKKa,” “It Won’t Be Fine,” or the simple, classic, “FUCK TRUMP.” The chants are wonderfully intersectional, showcasing the diversity of causes who are standing together against a President-elect who opposes and threatens them all.
“From Palestine to the Rio Grande,” the protestors cry, “no more walls upon our land.”
A girl confronts the crowd, calling for peace, love and understanding. I admire her for facing down the group alone, particularly when they begin to drown out her words with anti-Trump chants. I understand why it’s tempting, to say that we can heal the rift in this society with compassion for those we disagree with. But she is wrong. She claims their words are just as bad as those of the other side, that they are participating in the same toxic rhetoric that got us here in the first place. The false equivalency of comparing their rejection of a racist, misogynistic, authoritarian who was just elected President of the United States, to the words of that same authoritarian, who called Mexicans “rapists,” who is promising to deport or imprison three million people, and who has been accused of sexual assault by a dozen women — not to mention the rhetoric of his supporters, who include the KKK and all the charming people who have taken to spray-painting swastikas on things and attacking Muslim women in hijabs in recent days — is breathtakingly absurd.
I want to join the protestors, but I have class in ten minutes, and have to walk away. As I do, a dude going the same direction as me shouts at the protestors: “I think it’s a good idea Trump won! Make American great again!”
Needless to say, if the liberal girl was ignored, this guy is straight-up booed.
I’m not sure my class isn’t going to be cancelled this morning. The professor is a very political Mexican-American man — or, as he has been saying to people these past few months, Mexican, because he doesn’t feel the US is his country anymore. He has many times proclaimed that if Trump wins, he will flee the country or maybe just throw himself off South Congress Bridge. It’s hard not to be a little concerned about him.
But he’s there, even after being up all night to watch the election, even after not sleeping the three nights before that, a result of the mounting anxiety. And he’s concerned about us, about how we might be feeling. It’s a fairly left-wing class, and a very diverse one, so people are understandably upset. Frankly, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before — any other election, maybe people are disappointed when their candidate loses, concerned about the outcome of policies they don’t agree with. That’s normal. The sense of fear and depression that hangs over the room here is something completely different.
The row in front of me sit with their arms draped around one another, reaching out for support and comfort. People cry throughout the lecture. I am thankful the guy sitting next to me allows me to pet his service dog. She’s probably going to provide therapy for a lot of people today.
The planned lecture for the day, about media censorship in the 1950s, doesn’t happen. Instead, for an hour and a half, this room of a few hundred people share their thoughts and fears about the election.
The lecturer has done this before — 15 years ago, the day after 9/11. I can hardly imagine what that would have been like, trying to support a room full of students whose sense of stability and security had been disrupted by an outside attack. Today, though, it is not just fears for what the future may bring that are reducing people to tears. The profound sense of betrayal is heartbreaking — people who thought they belonged within their society, who thought we had progressed far enough that they were, generally, seen as human beings like any other, were shocked and appalled. After all, the nation had just voted to say that none of this was true.
One girl in the front row tells us that she is undocumented, her parents immigrants from Mexico. She is directly in the firing line of some of Trump’s most extreme and famous policies, the ones he has promised to deliver on the moment he is sworn into office. There were 135,013 students just like her in Texas public schools in 2004–2005; 2.2 million undocumented students nationwide in 2010. Their future in the country is now uncertain. They are even being warned not to apply to DACA, the program introduced by Obama to defer the deportation of students and allow them to work in the country, as it is feared the new administration will use the personal information of applicants and recipients in order to target them.
Another student sobs as she talks about Hillary Clinton’s defeat — the fact that an extremely qualified politician lost to the ex-host of The Apprentice. Her mother, she tells us, used to say she could do whatever she wanted if she worked hard enough. Now, she’s not so sure that her gender won’t get in the way of her dreams. After all, America elected a man who assaulted at least twelve women, who was supposed to go to trial for child rape in December, over the woman who could have been the country’s first female president.
The lecturer looks her in the eye, and speaks firmly and steadily. “Of course you can,” he says. “Of course you can do anything.”
We all want to believe him.
To his credit, the professor wants to hear from both sides. No Trump supporter is likely to step forward unprompted in this room, so he asks to hear their views. Two hands come up. Probably not everyone, but probably more than would have before the election. There’s a reason the polls were so badly wrong.
The guy from the rally is here, the one who antagonized them with pro-Trump statements. Funnily enough, he now says he isn’t really a Trump supporter — he wanted another Republican, but left to choose between the two final candidates, he picked the one who wasn’t Hillary.
The other pro-Trump speaker is a young woman, dressed strangely business-casual for a Liberal Arts class. She isn’t racist, of course — she just thinks it’s unfair for people to come illegally to her country, to stay and work here. We don’t do this, she says, meaning white people. We don’t live in other countires without the proper visas. Ignoring the fact that we do. Ignoring the fact that it doesn’t harm anyone. Ignoring the fact that colonialism.
The class ends, and we walk back out into the rain, emotionally exhausted but relieved to have been able to speak, and to listen.
The rally has grown since earlier. Dozens of people crowd the steps, and many more stand below, looking up at them. Students scream their stories — black people, Latinx people, women, undocumented immigrants, and one very apologetic white guy reject the idea of a President Trump, and stand in opposition to the bigotry that their society has so openly embraced.
Horrifying as this situation is, the sight of so many young people standing up against it is heartening. The pro-Trump protestors are a tiny group by comparison, pushed to the very edge of the square. It’s impossible to think, looking at this, that Trump will last more than a single term.
Of course, it was impossible to think he would be elected at all — but that made apathy easy. If we can say nothing else for certain,we can say that. People will, next time, know that we can take nothing for granted — no victory is a sure thing.
At home, I talk to one of my housemates about the atmosphere on campus. He likens it to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Dementors roamed Hogwarts sucking the life and joy out of everything. I don’t disagree. But I don’t think it will last. Already people are shaking off the depression and channeling it into rage.
Whatever Trump may do in his time in the Oval Office, these people will not take it lying down.