The day after the election, I cried. I cried all morning when I woke up and the reality of what had happened sank in. I cried when I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton concede to Donald Trump. I cried in the bathroom at my office and on the bus on the way home. While I cared a lot about this election throughout its incredibly long run, I’ll admit that my emotional response surprised me. I have never felt a political loss so deeply or taken it so personally. I couldn’t process what was welling up inside me. I completely retreated. I left work early, shut out all social media and news outlets for days, and instead looked inside myself. So, nearly a week after the historic night that shook my world, and at the risk of adding to the incessant noise that is the post-election media blitz, I am going to unpack it here. Bear with me.
There is the first, most obvious fact that I didn’t expect to feel the pain I did because I didn’t think Hillary would lose. I had worried that not enough people would turn out for her. I’d thought about the impact of some of Trump’s policies if they were enacted. But when I thought of election night, I saw one thing: celebration. So there’s that.
There is also the second obvious fact that Trump will be my President. Not only will he challenge or impede progress on many of the issues that I care about, but I fundamentally do not feel represented by my leader… and as a middle class white person, I recognize my privilege in feeling that for the first time. It is shocking.
But the fact that Trump will be my President is separate from and in addition to my sheer disappointment that Hillary with not be. I do not mean to minimize the justifiable fear and insecurity that much of the country is grappling with when coming to terms with a Trump administration, particularly those groups who feel personally targeted. But when I truly ask myself what made my stomach sink that day, it was mostly about Hillary’s loss.
She may be a member of the political elite who did not fully grasp the frustration and despair of many Americans who do not feel heard. That is a fair criticism, and one that I hope will create change in the Democratic party and a curiosity and empathy across our country. But she is also an incredibly smart person who understands the complexities of the challenges our country faces; does not give up in the face of persistent hardship; and has been effective at reaching across the aisle and making things happen in a slow, bureaucratic system. Independent fact-checkers show that she is one of the most honest politicians on the national stage, and frankly she is also one of the best qualified to do this most difficult and demanding job. So, I had a difficult time understanding the sentiment that was thrown around throughout the campaign that America had two equally bad candidates to choose from.
Now, of course there are plenty of people on the right (and on the left too) who have philosophical differences with Hillary and disagree with her vision for the country. And that’s allowed. Disagreement on the issues is the underpinning of healthy debate. But policy disagreements aren’t what dominated the anti-Hillary rhetoric during this election, and they’re not what have dominated the anti-Hillary rhetoric over the course of her public life. Unfounded scandal and dislike have.
When I have been faced with low expectations or implicit bias in my own life, my strategy has been to put my head down and let my work speak for itself. I had the same feelings during this election. I pushed aside all the frustration throughout the last 18 months — frustration at a news cycle that felt like the gossip column, at the constant distractions from real conversation, and at the inability to reason with crazy — and thought that if we could just get her elected, she would quiet all the knee-jerk haters through action. She would get into the White House, roll up her sleeves, get shit done, and prove them wrong. She would show the country and the world that after working so hard to get here, putting her own career second after her husband’s, and putting up with so much scrutiny, that she could do it.
Maybe this was a naive daydream. Maybe the divided state of our country would have made compromise, and therefore action, impossible. Maybe the opposition would have continued to drudge up things to scandalize. But throughout her career, Hillary’s approval ratings have dipped during elections and been strong during her times in office. And I hoped the same would be true this time. I guess we will never know.
During her concession speech, Hillary said that nothing has made her prouder than to be women’s champion and apologized for losing. She is the first candidate to say “I’m sorry” during a presidential concession speech (and, incidentally, the first woman to give one). In that moment, you could feel the weight of responsibility she felt to be a voice for those of us who believed in her. Well, she was my champion, and I am deeply saddened that this time reason and hard work did not win out, that we don’t get to see what an HRC presidency would have accomplished.
Disappointment and outrage at the outcome of this election are not enough. Words are nothing without action, and there will be plenty of need for action over the next four years. I know. But for right now, this is all I’ve got.