The Winter of American Discontent

History books will be analyzing this Presidential win from many angles for many reasons and over many decades. A complete political outsider, without much support from his own party, won against a complete political insider who had her party’s full support. The disenfranchised voter surge for him laid bare our deep class, race, and gender divides — but, more than anything, it made clear that non-college whites up and down the country categorically reject the status quo. Blue states flipped to red, changing the electoral map entirely. The games Trump played were unconventional, particularly in how he used both traditional news media and social media. The proliferation of fake news and the audacity of blatant flip-flops and lies in the face of hard evidence by Trump and his team were unprecedented. The role of journalists in soft-pedaling and allowing someone like him to get so far will be picked apart with great scrutiny — as it should be. And, finally, the entire polling industry’s collective inability to make accurate estimates will be analyzed and criticized a fair bit.

As an immigrant and a woman of color, I voted for Hillary Clinton to become the next US President. Even if there had been another, more moderate Republican candidate, I would have wanted her in the most powerful position of the world — for her politics, her personality, and her lifelong political and public work experiences. I was never among the Bernie crowd, though I truly respect his platform. I was always with HRC from the get-go, even before she lost to President Obama in 2008. She has always been an inspiration.

Watching the vote-counting unfold on Nov 9th, like many, I reached a point of feeling a physical sickness when I realized that Trump had it locked in. That, after everything HRC has done from a very young age, after all that she has soldiered through professionally and personally, the world is not ready for a woman as President. That people would rather vote for a racist and sexist fear-monger who lies, cheats, and treats women like sexual objects. That all the terrible things we learned about him in the last one and a half years were not considered bad enough when compared to a woman who has done much good. America, as some TV commentator said, chose white male supremacy on Election Day. Instead of HRC breaking the glass ceiling into millions of pieces, Trump broke the blue wall in unforeseen ways.

Look, I’m a realist. I know politics is a dirty, messy game. A career politician like HRC has definitely made errors of judgement, silly mistakes, and even intentionally bad calls. There are skeletons in her closet, for sure. Some of them came to light during her campaign.

But, the man who stood against her has been forgiven a whole lot more throughout his entire life: his racism when dealing with black renters and accountants; his many promiscuities and marital infidelities; his sexual predator behaviors with women just because, by his own admission, he is rich and famous; his revengeful suing of business partners; his cheating other business people out of the money he owed them; his angry tweeting against people he does not agree with, and so on. His misdemeanors are a whole lot more egregious because of the hate, fear, anger, divisiveness, vindictiveness, and ignorance that his fascist and ill-informed ideologies and toxic bullying have encouraged.

Not only is Donald Trump the first US President with no prior government or military experience, but he is also the oldest one. This is not ageism — I point this out to highlight that he has lived some seven decades on this planet perpetrating his brand of crazy and consistently getting away with it. He has always been a  power-hungry, impulsive, out-of-control sociopath. When someone keeps repeating certain harmful behaviors, we call it a pathological disorder. There should be no place for any such person in any leadership position. If your capacity to make a difference in the world is based on bringing out the worst of human nature in yourself and in others, then you are not fit to lead. Period.

I lived in the rust belt of America (MI, OH, PA) from 1998-2008, working in the manufacturing/industrial sector. 9/11 happened during the early half of that ten-year period. I experienced, first-hand, the kinds of attitudes and beliefs that Michael Moore bluntly described here. Towards the end of that decade, thanks to Republican economic and financial policies, the country faced the worst financial crisis in its history. Again, I experienced, first-hand, the painful impact due to the terrible decline in the housing market.

So, I completely understand the pain and loss white, non-college, middle America has experienced as their steady, comfortable of life has changed drastically, even as technology has continued to do away with blue-collar jobs or send them overseas.

What I cannot wrap my head around is why this segment of America would vote for a man like Trump, who has never shown any of the god-fearing, hard-working family values they consider to be under threat. We have never heard about Trump’s faith in the Christian church, though evangelical Christians support him for political reasons (anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights, etc.). We know Trump has not had to work hard as he was born rich. We also know about his marital infidelities and lying/cheating in business. I suppose, the one area where white, non-college, middle America and Trump absolutely align is in their fear and hatred of minorities, particularly the college-educated ones who come and take all the better jobs.

Yes, even after reading this excellent article about how half of America lost its f***ing mind that all but predicted Trump’s win a month before the election, I am not able to fully accept it.

Still, in the end, this whole thing with voting for a “change” is going to backfire. I cannot help but equate this Trump vote to the Brexit vote, where people woke up the day after uncertain about what the “change” would actually bring them. (And, as in the Brexit referendum, this group of voters was seriously underestimated throughout the entire cycle by all — the political parties, the media, pundits, pollsters, etc.)

Given all that, there have been many other articles and social media posts proclaiming the end of the world with a Trump Presidency. I am not thinking in such extremes. There are checks and balances in the overall governance system and the country has survived bad Presidents of the past.

That said, the Republican Party now has both the House and the Senate. They will control the executive, legislative and judicial branches. This gives Trump even more power. And, with that, if he delivers on even a quarter of his “big, huge, fantastic” campaign promises, we are all in for a rough ride in the next four years. Imagine: repealing Obamacare, building that wall, lowering taxes, renegotiating NAFTA, killing TPP, growing US jobs, ending terrorism, increasing deportations, putting HRC in prison, adding more conservative Supreme Court justices who are anti-immigration and anti-LGBTQ, and so on. UPDATE: A reminder on Trump’s 100-day plan.

The kinds of people he has surrounded himself with throughout his campaign (his entire life too) is also a matter of great concern. In his bubble in the White House, it is these very people who will be advising him, making decisions on his behalf, and speaking for him.

Further, if we consider how his supporters behaved towards immigrants, women, people of color, non-Christians, and LGBTQ people during the campaign, let us have no illusions that they will soften their stances now that he is poised to take power. They got their guy onto the highest seat in the country with an unexpectedly large margin of victory. This can only bring validation and a deeper entrenchment of their attitudes.

On a personal note, as an immigrant woman of color, if I had not had first-hand experience of some of these racist and sexist behaviors in the corporate world at the hands of educated white male professionals, I would have found them hard to comprehend when the press first started reporting them from the Trump campaign’s front lines. From daily micro-aggressions to more substantial inequities, double standards for women and minorities exist even in 2016. It is why, the higher I got up the corporate ladder, the harder it was to get through a workday without a Herculean amount of cognitive energy to deflect/deal/discourage such attitudes. So much so that when I dragged myself home at nights or weekends, I had no energy left to do anything else — I collapsed like an empty, limp, useless sock.

Many women like me will be thinking how they cannot look up to this man as the country’s leader; how they cannot tell their children, students, nephews, and nieces to look up to him either. There is nothing to admire. Even considering the simple fact that this man, who has hardly read any books at all, will eventually have a Presidential Library named after him turns my stomach.

And, yet, we must continue on, right? We must allow ourselves to get through the grief cycle with its various phases of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. And then, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue doing the following, more urgently than ever before:

1 Helping and supporting other girls/women and minorities in our immediate families and social and professional circles — to aim and reach higher with their ambitions. One frustrating phenomenon, with this election cycle, is how HRC was reviled for her “ambition”, even by many women. No one talked about how awful it was for a man running for President to have similar ambition.

2 Actively changing how women are perceived and treated across different cross-sections of society, including, most importantly, in our immediate families and social and professional circles. I continue to see men I know and care about talk down to women or talk over them, while paying more attention to other men instead who are, often, saying the exact same things. When I was in the corporate sector, I mentored younger women professionals to speak up, be strong, insist on being paid attention to. Now, I try to give voice to marginalized women through my writing.

3 Support the rights of women and minorities — whether it is their reproductive rights or their rights to partner with whomever they choose. UPDATE: Here’s an excellent list of ten more things people can do as active, concerned citizens. And, here’s an excellent way we all can increase our awareness of issues that are being put forward in Congress, register our own vote so it is sent to our reps, and then follow the outcome.

I ask you all — men and women alike — to do the same. And, though my head and heart hurt for HRC, she is not a person who gives up. I have no doubt that she will mobilize some kind of movement directly or indirectly. I intend to actively be a part of it so that we might yet see a woman President in our lifetimes and younger generations of women never have to witness/experience the vicious double standards that she was (and has been through her entire career) subjected to on a global stage.

Let me end on an upbeat note. Here are a couple of verses by one of my favorite Urdu poets, Iqbal.

Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se khud pooche: bata teri raza kya hai?

[The above means: Elevate yourself so high that even God, before issuing every decree of destiny, will ask you: Tell me, what is your intent?]

Tu shaheen hai, parvaaz hai kaam tera.
Tere saamnay aasmaan aur bhi hain.

[The above means: You are a falcon, your task is to fly. Before you, there are other skies as well to conquer.]

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