Reflections in the Divided States of Trump

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016 I ugly-cried often and hard, at the slightest provocation. The bubble I’d been living in had burst and the expanded reality I encountered stunned me. I am not an emotional person, but I find that the tears lap at very flimsy floodgates now.

I am a first-generation Chinese-American woman. I am a born-and-bred New Yorker (Queens, represent!) living in Brooklyn with my white husband from New Hampshire. I am educated and I am building a career. My life has not been and is not perfect but I am definitely currently part of the privileged set.

My concept of the United States of America was developed through school and experience.

In school I learned that Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America, and what followed were a series of events that included the Native population being decimated by disease brought over by settlers. They alternately tried to defend themselves against these invaders — unsuccessfully, in the face of more advanced weaponry — and tried to help them. Their home was taken away from them, to be parceled back to them in small portions later, as alms.

I learned that the United States of America was founded by immigrants to this land, who revolted against their rulers across the ocean, in part because they felt it was unjust that they were here doing all this hard work of building up a new world and paying taxes without getting representation in the governments taxing them.

I learned about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, checks and balances, etc. — I learned about the principles upon which this country was founded.

I learned that as this country grew and society evolved and the principles that had been set forth in writing were found incomplete, lacking, or lagging, amendments were made.

I learned that the principled people who founded this country imported human beings to use as slave labor — captured them and ripped them from their homes, and shipped them over as cargo to be used as slaves, servants, and rape and murder victims.

I learned that even after a civil war was fought and these slaves were freed, they were still seen and treated as less-than, that laws were passed to try and strip these human beings of their civil rights. I learned that this went on for centuries and continues today.

I learned about the many ongoing fights for civil rights for many groups of human beings, not just here but around the world — for African-Americans, for women, for the LGBTQ community, for people of many faiths.

I learned about unsafe working conditions for people all around the country, from coal mines to sewing factories, and the fight to protect workers’ rights. My own father is a union man, stoic and hard-working, nonplussed to be on medical leave instead of bringing home the bacon.

I learned about world wars and international conflicts, about America’s place in the world, about our role in history. I learned that history doesn’t look the same everywhere — truth comes in many versions and in the best cases, that’s because truth is complex and comprised of people, their circumstances, and the decisions that were made in their circumstances. In the worst, because history is being wielded as a tool to propagate an agenda.

9/11 was the fifth day of my freshman year of high school. My high school was a 5-minute walk from the Twin Towers.

I started to learn about the influence of the presidency and of the government. It’d always been so conceptual up until that point. I don’t remember politics ever being a topic in my house. I was just a kid that grew up in a family more concerned with the health of my little brother who has Type 1 diabetes, our educations, money for the present and saving for the future.

I was just a kid when Bill Clinton was in office — all I knew was that he was the president, and he “did not have sexual relations with that woman” (what are sexual relations?), no wait he did and he’s sorry. I knew Hillary Clinton was the First Lady, his wife and mother to Chelsea. That was it. I had no significant exposure to the politics or rhetoric.

My own mother was devoted to me and my younger brother. She’s an independent woman so she often tried to work but never found enough job flexibility to be reactive if something happened with my brother. Our education was the most important thing because she firmly believed doors would be opened to us if she could just get us down the right path.

My parents taught me to work hard and see the bigger picture, to always keep in mind the future and what I am working for. There was only one time they ever addressed one of the myriad issues we are faced with today: when my mother told me to remember that no one is ever going to automatically register me as an American because the first thing they will see is my Asian face, and that I would always have to work twice as hard just to prove myself.

It was not a hard truth to confront then because I dismissed it. I was arrogant, wrapped up in my New York privilege — anyone who’s seen me walk, anyone who encounters my resting face will know I’m from New York Fucking City. I’m more fluent in English than I am in three dialects of Chinese!

It became a more difficult truth to confront later, compounded by the truths I learned about what it means to be a woman.

What does it mean to be a woman? It means that even though my mother wants me to be a self-sufficient career woman who always has a cushion and exit plan, she’s also comforted to know that I “have the option to marry well”. It means that sexual harassment has been deeply ingrained in my day-to-day life since I was seven years-old, when a man in the neighborhood exposed himself to me on the street. It means that I have to think twice about everything I say and do at work because my behavior is open to misinterpretation while the same behavior in a man is not. Just to name a few things I personally encounter as a woman.

These are some of my realities. Even today, even in this city I have called home my whole life. This city where the concept of “diversity” didn’t make immediate sense to me because people of all colors and languages were my neighbors and classmates, my peers, my fellow commuters, my coworkers, my friends and chosen family. This city where I had previously been fortunate enough to believe the opportunities before me would never be affected by my race or gender.

I was sad to be divested of these illusions but relatively unfazed and determined to persevere. I am a pragmatic person at the end of the day. I am opinionated but usually unemotional.

The results of the 2016 elections have devastated me. Like so many others — women, people of all colors and religions, friends and strangers — I have been deeply wounded. On election night I posited, in a haze of grief, that perhaps our shock is indicative of an abiding faith in our fellow countrymen and I wondered in the ensuing anger whether they deserved that faith.

I don’t dismiss all the men and women who voted for Trump. I know there must be people in that group who don’t agree with the hate rhetoric that he and his team have espoused. I know that these men and women have legitimate concerns — fears of being left behind in a changing world, of a disappearing way of life, fear and anger over job loss, grief and anger at unfettered drug addiction claiming lives they care for, frustration at feeling like their interests have not been represented, and so much more. I know that these legitimate concerns might also be true for many of those who do agree with the hate rhetoric.

I wish that we had done a better job of listening to these concerns before, and communicating that we do care. I truly believe Hillary would have done her best to try to help them. I think she actually had ideas that would help, buried somewhere in her myriad policy proposals.

But I also feel like these people made a choice to burn it all down around us with a risky bet on an unfit candidate whose choice of VP may actually be a demon (slightly hyperbolic but seriously — conversion therapy is an evil farce and P.S. stay out of my uterus and P.P.S. show me your emails). The idealist in me thinks, “They could have organized! They could have gathered their communities and made a statement — aren’t open letters all the rage these days? — and said, ‘As decent human beings, we cannot support Trump. Hillary, we are voting for you but we expect you to pay attention to these issues and put in place policies and programs that will help us dig out of these holes.’”

Two groups of people — these people who are probably mostly good people… and a second group of racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, violent, nativist, hateful nationalistic xenophobes (I wonder again what this Venn diagram looks like?) — occupying influential electoral geographies, joined together to throw their support behind a candidate whose administration is a danger to me, everyone I love, and everything I believe in.

I believe that women have the right to make their own choices about their bodies — what goes in, what comes out, what is adjacent to — my body, my choice. Let’s all just mind our own bodies.

I believe that love is love no matter who loves whom — same sex, different sex, changing sex, biracial, whatever. Let’s all mind our own relationships.

I believe that human beings should be able to use the bathroom designated to the gender they identify with. Let’s all mind our own bodily functions.

I believe that Black Lives Matter. Do they matter more than non-black lives? That is not the point — these are the lives under attack from implicit and explicit bias. These are the lives we are losing even though a bright spotlight has been shone on the biases attacking them. We must listen to what that is telling us, and it sounds like a dangerous combination of institutional racism, willful ignorance, and privilege. Let’s mind this one together.

(Is racism like energy? Never destroyed, only transferred? If so, let’s not forget the other vulnerable groups who might be next.)

I believe that immigrants built this country and contribute to our economy. I believe immigrants broaden our collective human experience by exposing us to different cultures. I believe most of us, no matter where we’re from, want the same things — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These don’t change whether we’re American, immigrant, refugee, or ex-pat.

I don’t believe climate change is real — I KNOW it’s real. Science says so and we can literally see it and feel it. Get on board and let’s get to work.

I believe in gun control and common sense gun laws. I don’t believe background checks and waiting periods threaten the Second Amendment. There is no reason we shouldn’t study gun violence — to understand the problem is to better address it. The right to bear arms is most threatened by those who abuse it.

I believe the Constitution is a living document. It was written in a world and set of circumstances that have since evolved and changed many times. We must preserve the intention and spirit of its principles while adapting its application to the times we live in.

I believe we are a global power and part of a global economy, and as such, we cannot retreat from the world of which we are a part. We must find a way to reconcile domestic and foreign interests, as well as the policies governing them.

Never before has a presidential election affected me so deeply as this one. (Granted, I’ve only been eligible to vote in two before this, and my candidate won both times.) Barack Obama’s appointment was monumental, a validation of the hope I and millions of others felt. But my first vote for him was shallow — yes, I liked his message and his promises but I didn’t deep-dive into his policies. I liked the person he seemed to be and voted my gut.

It seems almost laughable to declare: I do not regret it. He has given me no reason to. I believe he has done the best he can for as many as he could. His many achievements are beyond impressive, especially considering the many obstacles he’s encountered along the way, not the least of which was an obstructionist Congress. He has handled himself with grace and class, calm and level-headed, and eminently human. I think he will go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents to ever serve this country.

But if he had lost, I think we would have been all right. There would have been a difference of opinion on the details, but the bigger picture would have remained intact. Maybe slightly fuzzier and farther away, slightly bruised but whole.

I believe that Hillary Clinton would have been a great President. I like her more than I like Bernie and his ideas (to be clear, I do like Bernie and his ideas). I think she would have enacted policies and governed in the way that benefited as many people as possible, and I think she would have listened to everyone who had something to say. Her most loyal staffers have said that one of her most annoying qualities is the tendency to incorporate too many of their opinions and recommendations — this is not a woman who leaves people behind. This is a woman who listens and seeks advice, and also a woman who is not afraid to make the tough decisions.

(And I think we can all agree that if Hillary had been elected, she would have been held accountable for every single action and inaction under scrutiny by the left, the right, and everyone in between.)

I think Hillary gets a bad rap that many women are intimately familiar with — being held to a different standard, scrutinized more intensely, having to work harder for less, being misinterpreted, minimized to a gendered set of expectations. I think the right wing has been playing the long game when it comes to Hillary, seeding their message and spinning the truth for so long that no one knows why they dislike and distrust her but everyone thinks they have all the reason in the world to find fault in her character.

You know that game where you’re blindfolded and get spun around and around and around, so much so that you don’t know what’s up or down but what you do know is that you’re dizzy and nauseated? That.

The results of this election drops us into the throes of uncertainty. Again, Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence and every one of the extremists they assemble endanger me, my loved ones, and everything I believe in.

It has taken me a week to begin processing my thoughts and feelings. In that time, Trump has complained about how unfair it is that hundreds of thousands of Americans are exercising their right to protest; half-heartedly condemned the hate crimes being perpetrated in his name (“if it helps”); reached into the “swamp” he’s promised to drain and plucked out an opportunistic coward to serve as his chief of staff; and finally, placed in equal power as his chief strategist an unapologetically racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist white supremacist who spent most of the past decade propagating hateful lies and conspiracy theories, first at Breitbart and then as Trump’s campaign chief.

And even in the face of all this, I find that the result that affects me more is what the hate rhetoric of this campaign has unleashed upon us, the people who have been emboldened over the last 18 months, the people who have immediately reacted to this “win” with deplorable behavior. I look at Shaun King’s coverage of Day 1 in Trump’s America and I am sickened by what I see. I worry about my family’s and friends’ safety and I am enraged. I feel the added burden this puts on me when I walk out the door every morning as an Asian-American woman and I am furious.

I had hoped Trump and Pence would lose by a wide margin, that America would send a message saying no, this is not who we are. But that is not what happened. What has happened is a slap in the face, an assault on everything I am.

I heard somewhere that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

I know how I’ll be channeling my fury — donating to organizations I believe in, speaking to my representatives in government, organizing with my communities. I will work with those who want a better future for us all because we do need innovative solutions to bring us together and raise us all up. I will be fighting back at hate.

I know I am not alone.