Twenty Sixteen

How many of my friends will be alive four years from now?

‘We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.’
‘It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
In this dust that was a city.’

It keeps happening the same way. I turn the news on at kickoff hopeful that people did the decent thing. It’s close, but polls are favourable, and the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. First signs are mixed to good, although we’re told not to read into them. Then there’s a shock result—in Nuneaton, Sunderland, Ohio—and things begin to slide. By half past four I’ve chosen sleep over sitting through a drawn out defeat. Checking my phone on waking up quells any uncertainty I’ve clung to. That’s how it was last summer and this summer and last night, and now the US president elect is someone recommended by the klan.

I’m not American. I don’t have skin in this the way friends do. But today people on the train in east London were shaking and glancing about themselves, and I’ve been getting messages from queer friends who don’t want to be alone. It isn’t just about the city on a hill, the long shadow of US elections. It’s that what happened here has happened here. Across the continent, racism and nativism are taking hold: we’re getting used to the polls being wrong, a technocratic centre left collapsing to a conspiracist far right in its industrial strongholds. Anti-establishment, anti-globalist, post-factual—the votes that handed victory to Trump resemble those that delivered Brexit, and which are squeezing social democrats across Europe. If Washington can fall, what hope is there?

The Doomsday Clock has been at three minutes to midnight for the last two years, its most precarious angle since 1988. In January, when the clock is reset, Donald Trump will receive the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, with every branch of US government controlled by a party that yearns to build more bombs. Fiftysomethings I know tell me they haven’t feared nuclear strikes this much since the Cold War was at its peak. Of course, there are more conventional ways to die.

Just as after the Brexit vote, attacks on minorities are going to spike. There will be more queerbashings, more trans women killed, more black kids shot by police and licenced gun owners; more Pulses, more Charlestons, more Santa Barbaras. Muslims and Jews already have reason to be afraid, and—wall or not—things will get worse for immigrants. As results came in overnight, suicide hotlines for queer youth were reportedly swamped. Trump’s incoming VP Mike Pence advocates public funds for the same so called therapy that led to Leelah Alcorn’s death, and I know far too many people who’ve discussed ideation today. I worry for them and myself.

I admit: I’ve thought about giving in. In the six months after David Cameron’s reelection, I went through my worst spell of mental health as an adult. In the US, I sense Cameron was eyed as the kind of conservative the GOP needed more of: progressive and pro-gay, someone at home in a room with Obama and Clinton. As I’ve explained to American friends, the UK had no Obama: here, under the Cameron governments, the crash of 2008 was answered with a programme of austerity the Tea Party would have approved. Its impact on poor, queer and disabled people (as well as the country at large) has been catastrophic. Thousands have died.

I’m a homeless mentally ill millennial, raised on a council estate by a single mum on benefits. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn twice, and would have voted for Sanders during the primary. The Tory Party is the sum of everything I hate and that has ever hated me: I struggle to name anything I wouldn’t do to injure it. Last summer I found myself wondering how long I’d take to join its ranks. Over the preceding decade, Cameron had won every major democratic contest in the UK: the majority he achieved that May, as unexpected as Trump’s path to the White House, seemed to spell neverending defeat for the left. That’s how they get you, I recall being struck—not by waiting for you to grow up and drift to the right, but by making you desperate just for once to be on the winning team.

I don’t know how many of my friends will still be alive four years from now. I don’t know whether I’m going to be. Hurting myself isn’t something I want to do—hasn’t been for a decade plus—but I don’t know how many more defeats I can survive.

The author has chosen not to show responses on this story. You can still respond by clicking the response bubble.