It’s summer 2002. I’ve just turned eleven, and because it’ll be another year before my mum has her own car, we’re being driven somewhere by her best friend, whose niece is in the back with me and whose tape deck is stocked with contemporary Christian music. The niece is younger than I am, and at some point she asks if I know what my job is yet. I haven’t given it much thought. ‘My job,’ she says, ‘is to bring children into the holy spirit.’
Eight out of ten white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, a third more than for Mitt Romney in 2012. In megachurch America, a cryptofascist of dubious faith is still better than a Mormon; you don’t have to be saved, Jerry Falwell Jr. remarked on election night, to be God’s chosen candidate. I grew up with Christians who thought along those lines, praying to a god who used you, hard and without safewords, to further his designs. Everyone had an assigned destiny: family members were called to do mission work, and I knew church wives who saw childrearing as something they were born to do, children who were taught how to pray in tongues for their role in the coming culture wars. It may not make encouraging reading, but there was some comfort in knowing you had a purpose.
A friend of mine died a few weeks ago. If you follow my other blog, you probably heard about it. Niki was thirty-five, and chaperoned patients into and out of abortion clinics. She was an activist for humanism and reproductive justice, an author of nonfiction and erotica, an atheist from a religious family, a black woman who asked her friends never to call the police on her behalf. She was queer—bi and ace, like me—as well as mentally ill and physically disabled, and as a result of all the above, was food-stamps poor. ‘I firmly believe’, she said once, ‘that just being a minority in America is a traumatising experience.’ Niki didn’t survive the Obama presidency, and part of me is glad she didn’t live to see Trump win.
I don’t know how many of my friends will still be alive four years from now, I wrote this week. I don’t know whether I’m going to be. The election result hasn’t helped anybody’s long-term odds. ‘You and your friends will die of old age,’ a staffer reportedly yelled at DNC leaders, ‘and I’m going to die from climate change.’ It doesn’t feel hyperbolic to ask if the Trump win has doomed us all—to environmental degradation, dictatorship, nuclear war. For the first time, I feel armageddon looming the way my parents did decades ago; the acute sense of my life expectancy being shaved.
At twenty-five, I’m already older than I ever planned for. As long as I can remember, things have been on the brink. I was homeless before my first birthday; grew up with a parent who once tried to kill me; attempted suicide during GCSEs; spent university reeling from the impact. I’ve been homeless for the last year, cut off from family, with cycles of depression and anxiety. I’m realising the toll of all of this on my physical health.
As one Tumblr user puts it in a now-viral post (emphasis mine):
Being mentally ill and suicidal at a young age (before eighteen) is strange, because you grow up with this idea that one day you’ll finally snap, turn off, be brave enough to kill yourself, so you don’t really plan for the future. Adulthood—further life—isn’t for you[.] It isn’t part of your life plan. And then before you know it you’re eighteen and you’re an adult but you never thought you’d get this far and sure it’s great that you’re still alive you guess but also you feel so alone and lost in a world you never expected or planned to be a part of. All my life, the world has been ending.
I turned eighteen the year Obama took office. I’ve been on autopilot since, drifting through the world doing nothing except survive, with no sense of a purpose driven life. The world has always been ending for me—perhaps it was always ending for Niki too—and I’ve never known how to do much more than stay alive. Now, as 2016 draws to a close, I’m scared, and I’m desperate, and I’m fine.
If the world is a stage, people my age came in during the interval. Our childhoods were spent between the fall of a wall in Berlin and that of two skyscrapers in New York, when history still seemed to be over, and we grew up informed we had no need of politics. Until this week, those of us forced to acquire them were still being told there was no point: that liberalism had won out, that the nuclear question was settled; that white supremacy was over and the glass ceiling a fantasy; that gay people could even get married. Then the US elected Donald Trump.
From January, the world will answer to a man whose fans spell his name with a swastika, whose fondness for sexual assault is public knowledge all over the world, but who won the White House with no experience of government—beating a woman with decades of it, whose emails damaged her campaign more than confessing to a crime hurt his. As neoliberalism’s wheels come off, migrants in Europe and America are under fire—increasingly literal—from people who voted to build a wall, and in the fallout of Trump’s election, those who say nuclear bombs keep us safe should tell us: how safe do they feel?
If you had any politics before this week—leftist, feminist, anti-racist, queer—you had to argue for their relevance, expected to make your case to a world not quite convinced anyone still needed ideas like those. Now, from the other side of a mostly-red map, that argument is in the ground.
The Trump presidency is my generation’s crisis—our First World War, our depression, our Jim Crow, our nazism, our red scare; our Stonewall, our Vietnam, our AIDS, our 9/11. It’s the crisis I’ve been waiting for all my adult life, failing to concentrate on anything but survival, clinging on for dear life to politics the world seemed to find quaint. My generation wasn’t meant to be political, but now that everyone’s world is ending, it has no choice. Those of us who’ve been fighting all along never had one to begin with.
Today I know what my job is. My life from this week on is about what it’s always been about: keeping my head above water, handing out as many life jackets as I can. Now, that’s what it’s allowed to be about: pushing back against everything that managed to win on Tuesday, the reservoir of fear and fascism that rose up through the cracks this year but ran beneath us all along. I don’t know whether I’ll get out of it alive—either the next decade or whatever version of armageddon follows it—but until then, I can deal with that. My world’s always been ending, after all.