On the evening the 2016 American presidential election results were announced, I went for pizza. The verdict had shocked most of us, and, in a stunned stupor, I enlisted autopilot to make the choices that I suddenly had no conscious interest in. Pizza for dinner was one of them.
Like many others around the world, earlier that day I’d watched a virtual red bar on my friend’s computer screen inch towards a finish line. I’d developed an irrational theory — borne out of fear, as irrationality usually is — that if my fingers typed in the URL and I waited for my screen to load, the results would affect me more than they would behind the shield of my friend’s shoulder. Alas, I was still devastated.
It was said many times leading up to results day that, despite his ‘successful’ campaign, when it came down to it, the notion of Trump becoming the president lacked any kind of weight. It was one big joke that had been taken too far, because, he couldn’t really win it guys, could he? I’d looked on in disbelief as the red bar scooted right, right, right, until it had won the race. Afterwards, my American colleagues quietly ruminated.
In need of consolation, we all clung onto the fact that most of the capital cities had voted for Hillary, and that, had it been just millennials voting, Hillary would’ve won (much like the Brexit vote). These facts consoled us; not everyone is, what we consider to be, backwards. But, thinking about it later that day, it seemed that too many people with authority were. The election results came just days after the Chinese government waded into Hong Kong affairs (when two lawmakers expressed anti-Chinese sentiments during an oath-taking). I’d wondered why Hong Kong and China couldn’t find some kind of political equilibrium, an agreement to civilly exchange nods in the school corridor. The only answer I could conjure up seemed dismally unhelpful: even small countries free of obvious, heavy turmoil were at odds with someone or something.
I remembered the day of the Brexit vote results. How, that morning, I whizzed around South London in a noiseless train carriage that felt more like a deflated bouncy castle, us commuters flattened by the heavy folds of political PVC. I remembered how I gazed out of the window and ended my years-long decision about emigrating somewhere with a better system, whatever and wherever that might be.
After arriving at the pizza place and ordering a slice of margherita, I chose a seat facing the window because I wanted to see the people. I saw them, but they weren’t alone. Through the window, on the painted black wall opposite, wobbly, red spray-painted lines demanded: ‘destroy racism’. This is not some kind of numinous message, I told myself. Still, I knew what I was seeing. America and much of its progress in retrograde, unable to outrun the conveyor belt, which was rolling at considerable speed the opposite way and heading straight for the fiery pit of the past.
As a shallow well of oil spilled and snaked around the contours of my pizza slice, I thought about how lucky I was to be in Hong Kong, even with its own political question marks. Hong Kong is by no means free of the problems that plague many other developed cities and countries. But that night, it felt safe, like a guardian protecting everyone that had found themselves there, and those who were yet to arrive.