On November 8, 2016, I woke up feeling so, so happy and proud to be an American. I went to work listing to Beyoncé’s Run The World on my iPhone and sporting my “I Voted” sticker I had been specifically saving for the occasion. I did mini-Election Day lessons with my 9th and 10th graders, and collected Election-based essays from my 11th and 12th graders (as we had just spent the first two months of the school year studying the US Elections.) I came home feeling giddy, with a grin slapped across my face. I changed into my “The Future is Female” sweatshirt, poured myself a gin and tonic, and toasted to Hillary Clinton with my flatmates– whom we were certain was going to become our first female President-elect.
When I suddenly awoke at 3:30 am France time on the 9th, I was determined not to glance at my phone– I had a long day ahead of me and I needed my sleep. But of course, I couldn’t help myself– and when I saw Donald Trump in the lead, I knew that I would not be going back to bed.
I joined my flatmate in her room across the hall, where we had wine and were streaming CNN, NBC, and ABC on various laptops and tablets. It was still early and the polls were still open in many of the westernmost states. Trump and Clinton were pretty neck and neck, but the fact that Trump had already gotten halfway to 270 was pretty shocking to all of us.
But then, Trump took Florida. And then he took Ohio. And then he took Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania.
My friends across France and the UK had also been up since about 3 or 4 am; my phone was literally buzzing nonstop from friends based in the USA and Europe as I set it down and jumped in the shower. Although the results were still not called at 7 am, I knew what was going to happen. I left the house and biked to work with my headphones streaming CNN, in the dark.
I work with a handful of American colleagues. I had been upset on the tram, and was a bit relieved (in the worst way possible) that I was not alone. My students were shocked; many did not understand. My colleagues gave me their condolences– as if someone– our country— had died.
I remember just going through the motions that day, and the week that followed. I had therapy on Wednesday afternoon, and my American therapist and I talked of little else. Later that evening at debating club, we streamed Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. At home, it was somber. No one really knew what to say. We just all hugged each other and sobbed.
That weekend, I barely left the house. Until this election, I had never voted for a president who had lost. I had never had a president I hated. I’d never felt so devastated over the results of an election. The last time I felt something remotely similar was Brexit.
Because the thing is, I wasn’t prepared or expecting a Trump victory (or for that matter, a Republican majority in the Senate and the House). And because I didn’t actually think that Trump was going to win, I didn’t really give much thought to a post-Trump reality. I didn’t think about how it would make me feel towards my family and friends , or how I would move forward with my relationships with these people I do love and care about back in Wisconsin, whom I know either voted for Trump or against Clinton, because I really, truly thought that Hillary Clinton had this election in the bag.
I’m hurting– so many of us are hurting. Because I know a lot of good people who casted a vote for Trump– people who care about their retirement savings and their health insurance and their loved ones and the US economy. But something about how easily people I know and love were able to look past the dangerous and horrifying rhetoric that a Trump leadership supports for women, sexual assault survivors, minorities, people with disabilities, religious minorities, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, scares me. It just doesn’t sit right.
There are many things to take away from this election. First, don’t ever underestimate how much the world hates women, and really, people will literally vote for anyone– including a giant, orange Twitter egg, before voting for a competent, qualified, deserving woman. Secondly, we are a deeply broken, divided country. I realize now more than ever that as an American expat, I live in a bubble of progressive, inclusive, open, accepting people. It was a shock to realize that many more people than I wanted to believe do not think like I do. There are a lot of things that need to be fixed. One thing that does not need to be fixed, however, is the greatness of America. We don’t need to be great again, because we are already great. Clinton said it best:
“We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought, but I still believe in America and I always will. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American, and I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us. Because, you know, I believe we are stronger together, and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that.” — Hillary Clinton
It heartens me to know that Clinton won the popular vote–more people are on our side than Trump’s. And even though we were on the losing side of history this time around, I truly do not believe it is the wrong one.
This past Sunday, I celebrated my fourth annual Thanksgiving in France. I’ve started to slowly, but surely, find the best parts of America, and the American, in me, again.