Take a deep breath, I keep telling myself.
Now that votes have been cast, the results counted, and the election decided everywhere except my home state of New Hampshire, which is Too Close to Call, and should, at this rate, be decided just in time for the 2020 election, I have now had a few days to digest the shocking, shocking truth: Chris Christie’s political career might not actually be dead!
Oh, and DONALD TRUMP is going to be President of the United States!!
(Remember that scene in “Jaws” when the shark boat captain scrapes his nails down the chalkboard and everyone in the room cringes like when someone brings up Colin Kaepernick around your elderly grandmother? That’s me every time I hear the phrase “President-Elect Donald Trump.” I cringe. Because it’s just not right. It’s like saying, “President Al Capone.” Or “President Roger Goodell.”)
What the hell happened?
A whole metric fuck-ton of rural white people voted, that’s what happened. People from towns where they talk politics at the feed store, towns sung about in John Mellencamp songs, towns where they hate John Mellencamp (that’s all of us — can we agree?) Many of these towns are located in an economically depressed region of Appalachia called “The Rust Belt,” which has a lot of angry voters, and which you really need to make sure you wear with “The Brown Shoes” (located in Louisiana, or wherever we last took them off).
Rust Belt men and women voted at rates never before seen, except in rare cases — such as any time Kim Jong Un’s name is on the ballet in North Korea. That’s the kind of support Trump got. By “turning out” in “droves” in “swing states” (defined as states that love their wives, but also enjoy being with their neighbors’ wives), these voters were able to “tip” the election to favor their “nominee,” Donald Trump, who enjoyed a “wide margin” in his home state of “Hades.”
On Tuesday morning, most of “blue America” (defined as the places where a car breaks down and no one knows how to fix it) was left scratching their heads as to why anyone would vote for a man with the attention span of a caffeinated Border Collie.
I was, like almost everybody in the nation — except for Donald Trump, who’s like the one goat who’s so far behind that he thinks he’s ahead — completely in shock about the election results. We’d just lived through a dramatic campaign, thought that we finally knew what we were getting, and then — right at the goal line, everything was taken away. With apologies to my friends who are Patriots fans, call it a Malcolm Butler moment in U.S. politics. (And I’m sorry to say: both times, Bill Belichick came out on top.)
I had started the night confident. As results came in — first Virginia was razor-close, then Pennsylvania looked shaky — confidence gave way to a sense of rationalization. That led to inebriation, followed by incapacitation, and the next morning, Tylenolization. With my head ringing, I stared at the computer screen in utter disbelief. Ironically, the man who’d railed against the “rigged system” had finally been saved by the system: the Electoral College.
I’d woken up in Donald Trump’s America.
My initial reactions were not very mature.
“We need to get out of here!” I exclaimed to my wife. “How quickly can we sell the house and you learn German?”
“Alden, calm down.”
“But they’re coming for us!”
By the time I’d roused myself from existential despair enough to feed and clothe myself, I found myself thinking: okay, this is it. The American experiment is over. Done. We’re well on our merry way to a fascist state. How could we not be? We’d just elected a man who’d said or done at least 4,276 separate, patently appalling things, each of which would’ve been immediately career-ending for any other candidate in my lifetime. But his poll numbers hadn’t budged an inch. Wasn’t Trump’s Teflon status the plainest evidence that he’d been willed to office not so much by an electorate as by a worshiping cult — one that would not just excuse but eagerly endorse whatever domestic genocide he’d perpetrate from the Oval Office?
As I drove to work, I thought of all the fun things I was going to miss now that I was living in Trump’s America.
I thought about my favorite hobby: aviation. No way my small flying club would survive the inevitable stock market crash. At least we’d all get plenty of air time in the next few years. Too bad it’ll be in Trump’s Air Force — dropping bombs on, say, Washington State.
And what about our cherished freedom of the press? Won’t Donald Trump — emboldened by his apparent victory over the media’s predictions — at best lord it over them, at worst throw his presidential weight behind neutering them? In three years, we’ll probably have one choice of newspaper: Trump Times, which he’ll control just like Oprah controls O Magazine (except a little less dictatorial — let’s not go that far). We’ll have one choice of TV provider only that will use an evil staff, shady sales practices, and a total monopoly to drive up your prices. In other words, it’ll be exactly what we have now. Except instead of “Time Warner,” it will be called “Trump TV.” And the content will be vastly different. Oh, there will still be “news.” Except it won’t be “the dishonest media.” Now every night we’ll watch a docile Lester Holt — wearing bracelets at all times, just in case he tries anything funny, like quoting reality — along with a glassy-eyed and possibly lobotomized Chuck Todd reading the day’s latest news: “This just in: President Trump has the largest hands ever!”
And what about my beloved line of work: public education?
A few weeks ago — before The Shock — I joked to a colleague, a Social Studies teacher, that his work would be doubly important if Trump won the presidency.
“You’re assuming we’ll still have high schools,” he said dryly.
But now that Trump won, how was I supposed to be a teacher? How was I supposed to tell a room full of teenagers that their arguments need facts and evidence — when half the nation’s electorate apparently went “truth-free” about six months ago? (That’s sort of like going “gluten-free,” except less trendy.)
I don’t know what Trump will decide about education. You can’t underestimate a guy whose idea of educational policy was Trump University: basically the educational equivalent of those scammers who call up my 98 year-old grandmother and ask for her ATM code.
But then again, he knew how to game the system, right? So we should trust him to fix it. That makes perfect sense, right?
In the end, the best thought that I have is this: Maybe this election is a useful look in the mirror for America? Because you know what’s genius about the First Amendment? The answer to hate speech isn’t to ban it — it’s to encourage more speech! Why? Because you want to know who the racists are. You want to know who the bigots are. You want to know the names and faces of the Neo-Nazi supporters, of the race-baiters, of the serial p—sy-grabbers. Censor speech — even so-called “hate speech” — and you push it underground. It doesn’t resolve itself there. It broods. It festers. It takes on strange legitimacy. But it never gets better, and we never move forward as a country until we confront these latent undertones head-on: through debate, through discussion, through understanding where the other side is coming from. Journalists mused that Donald Trump was the Republican party’s id during the primaries. Maybe the role of Trump is to bring the ugliness of America — and this campaign showed us something ugly — out into the open so we can finally reckon with it?
Some of us thought that we’d wave our magic wand, elect a black president, and suddenly we’d live in post-racial harmony. That’s clearly not the case. Maybe this election is one giant chance for all of us who were scratching our heads and moving our investments (if not our homes) to Switzerland on Wednesday morning to start to understand exactly what it is that we’re up against. Maybe this election was one big, giant explosion of that best of American rights: free speech.
I just hope it doesn’t end free speech for good.