Despair may not be a useful answer to Donald Trump, but it’s mine. I’m not ready for can-do optimism or failure-is-not-an-option activism just yet. I’m not ready to make a list of things I’ll do. This is not the day for a cup half full. My cup is dry, ok? The American election this week was an emotional rout. So I’m starting with despair. I’ll get to resistance. I’ll figure out how to fight the man and turn this week’s psychic lemon into lemonade. But first: despair.
Perhaps you are a man or woman of action, a social entrepreneur and civic crisis opportunist who must, simply must, do something at all times. You are a doer. You are a list maker. You get things done. You go forward.
Or you’re already a nonstop activist, or a journalist or a pundit, maybe even a blogger (yo, wassup!), and you can move right along into the new story. There is always a new story.
You are a talking head and you are talking, talking, talking. Or you tweet all day. You’ve got work to do and you’re ready to do it. You are a leader. You have no time for tears, regrets or crippling fear. I saw your pep talk and action plan on Facebook. You posted it to Medium for maximum visibility, didn’t you? Thank you for the fund-raising email(s) this morning. That was quick thinking. Good for you. You are awesome.
I’m not. I’m slower. I need to catch my breath. I need to pull up the covers, shut down my social media, take some time to think this through and hide in a hole for a few more days. I need to hug my family and figure out how to keep them safe.
As I write, it’s the third morning of President-Elect Trump. I can’t believe I’m saying that. I can’t believe anyone is. It doesn’t feel better. I don’t feel better. I feel like my country has lost its mind.
I don’t know why he won other than that’s how America’s weird Electoral College works. I get that poor and poorly educated white men voted for him. Apparently so did many other kinds of people, including enough well-educated men, women, Latinos and Muslim Uber drivers to make a difference in the results. I don’t really get why anyone voted for him. I’ve read and heard about the missed story of alienation in rural and formerly industrial America. I get that storyline, but not the vote. I get anger, disappointment and voting for change, but not for a hateful man so clearly obsessed with himself that we can’t even call him stable. Will he be a benevolent dictator, revert to his libertarian instincts on social issues, lock arms with his neo-Nazi KKK honor guard, defer to the anti-woman zealotry of his Christian-right vice president? Will he mow down national forests to search for coal, or make war with the next nation that mocks the size of his hands? We don’t know. How can anyone vote for a bully who exudes and uses fear and loathing, to say nothing of serial bankruptcy and thuggery, to divide and conquer whoever stands in his way?
Don’t talk to me about empathy. I’m listening, my heart is open. But I don’t feel empathy for voters who could consider tolerable a relentless record of dehumanizing disdain for women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, foreigners, journalists and the truth.
I feel despair.
I can’t explain why we’re here, or rationalize the “will of the people,” or suggest how to smooth this over, ride it out, be classy, look on the bright side, focus on the battles ahead or wish a bon voyage and smooth sailing to the new gang of deplorables who will shine Trump’s shoes, prop him up and drag the nation down in a cloud of privatized, deregulated smoke. No. Fuck that. Fuck no. I didn’t think this could happen. It did. Now I’m terrified that anything can happen.
I’ve lost faith in the goodness and common sense of my fellow citizens, in the systems that led them to this suicidal and disrespectful choice. So I’m starting with despair and sticking with it until I figure out where to go and how to get there.
What is despair? It’s an emptiness, a void of hopeless, powerless, pointless futility. It’s the bleak, dark depth of depression, the fourth stage of Kübler-Ross grief after denial, anger and bargaining (and before acceptance). I’ve skipped ahead in the process and hope to backtrack to anger, and to channel that into opposition, or creation, or both. For now: despair.
My point, for now, is that this feeling of doom isn’t wrong, even if it’s as pointless as the feeling itself. It’s part of grief, as human as rage, sexuality, music, laughter, ingenuity, language, loss and the story-telling and sense-making we all crave. Don’t tell me I’m stupid or pointless or weak or impractical for what I feel. Don’t tell me how to grieve, or when, or that I need to get over it, get up, get to work and keep up with someone else’s schedule.
This was, after all, a passionate and strangely human election, wasn’t it? It was just strange in the worst of ways: driven by bleak, angry, mean and desperate feelings, but also by stories of family, privilege, sex, corruption, foreign interference, deceit and pervasive distrust. For all his ugliness, and whatever comes of it, Donald Trump tapped into powerful emotions in a way that Hillary Clinton didn’t.
I’m still too numb to think clearly about what went wrong to get us here, but I’m clear enough to know that many things went wrong, not just one. So we can’t fix the one thing that, when fixed, will give us the right result next time. Getting rid of the Electoral College would have changed the results this time, but even that may not help next time. It wouldn’t change the fact that millions of Americans accepted or ignored Trump’s venom and instability. Next time, there could be more of them.
There’s so much to fix: the economy, climate change, race, justice, income inequality, the status of workers, industry and labor unions, healthcare, technology disruptions, the gig economy, journalism, disinformation, cybersecurity, voter suppression, prison reform, discrimination, opiates, the Middle East, values, discernment and critical thinking. The polls were wrong. The analysts who interpreted the polls were wrong. Their commentary was wrong. Everything that led us to here, to this state of disbelief and despair, was completely, utterly wrong. You can even say it like Trump, or Alec Baldwin as Trump: “Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.” Who’s laughing now?
America feels broken – really broken, not just tweetable broken. So I feel broken too.
For those of us who believed Hillary would prevail, our trust in what we know is now shattered. We all missed the story, not just the media, or the third-party don’t-give-a-fuck voters, or the “protest” nonvoters. We all missed it.
So yes, there are many things to work on. But denying the emotional depth of this mind-bending civic and cultural failure isn’t one of them. I had faith that the election and my country would turn out alright this week. They didn’t. For me, for now, the only thing to “do” is obvious: despair.
I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair. – Paul Krugman
But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals— that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do. – David Remnick
What the everlasting hell are we supposed to do with this nightmare circus of infinite fuck? – Paul Ford (@ftrain)
Photo: Dark Subway Girl NYC, 2014 by Andrew Nachison. All rights reserved.
Andrew Nachison is founder of We Media. He lives in Reston, Virginia.