A bottle of bubbly was chilling back in our hotel refrigerator, waiting to be uncorked when it was announced at some point that evening that Hillary Clinton would be the first female President of the United States. It would be a historic event that I would share with my family, and with dear friends who were also on the trip with us.
I was on the boat back to our hotel when I got the text from my best friend asking if I had seen the news. What news? I responded. That Trump may take Michigan and Wisconsin. It was then that I knew something was going very wrong. I was educated during this election cycle, and I knew the swing states and what that meant. If he had Michigan and Wisconsin, then there was a good chance he would take Pennsylvania and Ohio. And a few others. And I was right.
The whole thing happened so fast. I broke out the bubbly, but only because I needed a drink to watch the news unfold. Hours earlier, the news media was so sure of her win. By the time I turned on the TV back in my hotel room, you could see the writing on the wall from the way John King was talking. And when Vance Jones gave him impassioned, impromptu speech about what he termed the "Whitelash," I shed my first tear of the evening. It wouldn't be my last.
I'm the first to admit that I have a love affair with the Clintons. It began back in 1992, when for the first time in my life, I become fascinated by politics. I was from a liberal, Democrat family in the heart of suburban Cincinnati, and the majority of my friends' parents were voting Republican. I was 13 and awkward and not the most popular girl in school, and in some ways it filled a void for me. I recorded the debates, and the inauguration, and I vowed to be President someday. Or at least work in politics, for someone like Bill Clinton.
Seven years later I would follow that path straight to the White House as a summer intern, but by that point, it wasn't Bill Clinton that I wanted to work for. It was his wife. When I filled out my assignment preferences, my first pick was "Office of the First Lady." I can't pinpoint why, but over the years, the subject of my admiration had moved from the President to her. I respected her intellect, her passion, her tenacity, and the fact that she had withstood more public criticism and shame than any other public figure I had seen in my lifetime. There was talk that she would run for Senate, and if she did, I wanted on the bandwagon.
I had hoped that my White House internship would be a life changing experience, but admittedly, it wasn't. I felt like a fish out of water in Washington. I didn't know anybody, and I didn't know how to respond to the namedropping and ladder climbing and manipulation that went on, even amongst the interns. It scared me, frankly, and instead of rising to the occasion and getting back in there after my college graduation, I cowered. I moved to England for two years. And then I went to law school. And the rest is history.
During my days in law school, and even more so when I started my first big law job at Skadden Arps, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't constantly questioning my direction. Why had I abandoned my political aspirations? Why wasn't I in DC, working for something I felt passionately about? Working for Senator Clinton? Or at least trying to? I don't know the answer. Perhaps it was fear, risk aversion, a sense that that ship had sailed on without me, and that I was in too deep to a different career. I felt lost. In any event, once I had my children the decision was easy - I would be a stay at home mom and leave a job I was never passionate about in the first place.
In the aftermath of the election, there's been a lot of talk about bubbles. And my God, do I live in one. Half of the American people voted for Donald Trump, and I can honestly say that I only know two of them. I live in Bethesda, Maryland, right on the outskirts of DC. In DC proper, Hillary Clinton received 93% of the vote. In my county in Maryland, she received 76% of the vote. I don't know a single person in the DC or Maryland area that voted for Trump - at least, they wouldn't admit it if they did. And I suppose I don't blame them - in my community, admitting such a fact would be shameful. Myself, and those around me, viewed Trump as racist, sexist, ignorant, and dangerous. If people disagreed, they didn't make it known.
In Bethesda I live amongst the 1%, and I am one of them myself. I live in a new construction home in a nice neighborhood. We send our three kids to private schools, and have access to excellent healthcare. I was in the incredible position to be able to quit my job and stay at home with my kids when they were young. Someone comes and cleans our house once a week. There is an expectation that my kids will go to good colleges and get good jobs.
It's hard to remind myself of how lucky we are at times, because where I live, this is all normal. Our friends are doctors and lawyers and government employees and professionals. They are African American, gay, Muslim, and hail from various different countries. We aren't extravagant, no one owns their own jet, and no one really views themselves as "rich," even though I am sure were are considered so by objective standards. I drive a Honda minivan, will only buy retail if something is on sale, and have never owned a designer bag. But we don't stress about money. And I know that if a crisis occurred, whatever that would be, financially we could weather it.
I know this isn't the normal America.
I have read about the depressed parts of the country - where there are no jobs and factories are closing and heroin addiction is rampant. I drive through these communities on occasion, when I drive through Pennsylvania or Ohio on the way to visit friends. I shudder and think about how fortunate I am when all I have to do is pass through. And I have to admit, I don't feel all that comfortable there. A month ago, when en route to my 20th high school reunion in Ohio, I was aghast at the number of Trump signs in the yards. Who are these people? I thought to myself.
In the days since the election, I have been reading voraciously. And a few articles have answered that question I posed back in October - who are these people?
I've been comforted to realize that most of the people who voted for Trump aren't the racist, sexist, bigoted people that you see on the news at Trump rallies. Instead, they are economically depressed, left behind, and desperate.
Today, in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Debbie Dingell, the House Representative for Michigan's 12th Congressional District, wrote the following:
The ordinary working man or woman in this country isn't asking for a lot. They want to make a decent living. They want to be able to provide for their family, buy a home in a safe neighborhood, put food on the table, go to the doctor when they need to, afford their medicines and educate their children. What many don't understand is how these things are in danger of becoming unattainable for too many Americans.
Reading this jogged my memory of something I read back in June by Michael Moore, about the Rust Belt and the "5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win":
From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England - broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we used to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who'll write them [a] nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.
It's easy for me to feel self righteous when I have the ability to. When it comes to political issues, I focus on what I feel are social ones. These are deal breakers for me. Racism? Sexism? LGBTQ rights? Restricting access to abortion? Restricting access to healthcare? Gun control? These are important to me, and I vote accordingly. The fact that a Democrat in office may mean that we pay more taxes is irrelevant to me. I feel that the amount of money we would lose out on is worth it for the greater good. Economic considerations are the last on my list when it comes to politics.
I have the luxury of feeling this way.
But what I have realized in the past few days is that most people don't.
David Wong, in his article entitled Don't Panic, said it best:
That sick feeling some of you have right now? [Trump supporters] had that for the last eight years. Call them racists if you want - some of them definitely are - but mostly they're regular people who want jobs, security, and safety. Part of [the] bubble effect is that we're often shielded from "the other side" just enough that only the loudest, craziest assholes leak through. Some of you never had a single polite conversation with a Trump supporter, but did hear about hate crimes and the baffling Reddit spammers and Breitbart bigots. You didn't think Trump could win because you didn't think half the country could be crazy assholes. Well I've got good news: You were right. If you focus on the racism and ignore the economic anxiety, your intentionally blinding yourself to much of the problem. It doesn't matter how much you hate them; their concerns must be heard and addressed or else this will happen again.
As a woman, I never experienced blatant workplace discrimination. Law firms do a pretty good job of recruiting women, at least at the junior levels (becoming partner is a different story), and they walk the PC walk. But they don't always talk the talk. And when it came time for me to have children, and ask for a flexible work schedule, I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I felt that asking for more of a balance was an admission of a lack of loyalty and passion for my job. That I wasn't being a "team player." Men didn't do that, that's for sure, and I didn't have any women mentors to look to who had paved the way. Though my request for part time was eventually approved, it was met with resistance. And in some ways, I never fully recovered from that. It was easy to eventually quit.
Since leaving my job, I have become much more aware of struggles women face in the workplace, in raising their children, and in ultimately re-entering the workplace. It's tough out there, and we women get little support. Little support from employers, from fellow women, and from the government - the United States is the only developed country not to offer paid maternity leave, and the options for affordable childcare are deplorable.
And as a mother, I also started noticing some other things.
I started noticing that there were "girl" sections and "boy" sections in the toy store, and what was marketed to each. Girls are mothers, caregivers, and beauticians. Boys are train engineers, builders, and mechanics.
I started noticing that in Disney movies, the women are always scantily dressed and pining after "Prince Charming." I mean, have you really taken a look at Ariel lately?
I started noticing that terms like "throw like a girl" and "cry like a girl" are derogatory by their very nature. I was shocked and appalled to realize that at a young age, my boys would balk at the color pink because it was a "girl color."
When I breastfed my three babies, I started noticing that there really wasn't a convenient place to do so in public. I endured nasty stares from random strangers, and the insinuation that I was doing something vulgar or wrong. I started noticing that I was the one that always had to change the baby's diapers when we were outside of the home, because men's public restrooms never have changing tables.
And as I started thinking about re-entering the workforce, I realized that this "break" of motherhood I had taken was really frowned upon. I started thinking about "resume gaps" and salary reductions and a general notion that I had jumped ship and no one wanted me back on.
I started realizing that patriarchy is alive in well, in subtle and not so subtle ways.
When I initially started admiring Hillary Clinton back in the 90s, it wasn't because she was a woman. But when she received the Democratic nomination for President, the fact that she was a woman was especially thrilling.
I watched most of her speeches and every debate. I watched her outfits get analyzed and her rare demonstrations of emotions be judged. I watched her be criticized for the infidelities of her husband. I watched her get threatened with imprisonment, be faced with her husband's mistresses at a live debate, and be called a "nasty woman" to her face, and her not even flinch. She stuck to message, stuck to the issues, and handled it with grace and dignity in a way that I never could. And what choice did she have? Could she vehemently defend herself? Get angry? No, a woman can't do that. A woman who did that would be a "bitch." She would be "unstable." Or, I suppose, a nasty woman.
Throughout the campaign, there was constant talk of how hated Hillary Clinton was by a large portion of Americans. For the life of me, I don't understand why. Because of emails? Because of an attitude problem? Because of allegations of corruption for which she has been cleared? Because she was stoic and strong and rehearsed? Because she's changed positions on issues, like every politician to ever run for office? I'm not saying she doesn't have her flaws, but there is a hatred towards her that eclipses hatred for any other politician in our modern time. Is her biggest flaw that she is a strong, independent woman? Is that too hard to handle for men and women alike?
Here's how I view Hillary - This is a woman that has devoted her life to public service and endured scrutiny, abuse, and humiliation, and she kept on going. She is smart, she is strong, she is experienced, and she is inspiring.
Hillary Clinton is a hero and I will make sure that my kids know it.
She would have made a great President.
On election day I woke up in a sleep deprived, hungover haze, and gathered the kids and luggage and went to the Orlando airport, to take our flight back to DC, and back to reality. Once we had made it through baggage claim, my father called. We spoke briefly, but it was enough.
The tears flowed, and I had to sit down and have a big, ugly cry. And I couldn't stop them. Walking to the gate, running to the bathroom, boarding the plane. I looked around at everyone else and everyone seemed to be carrying on as normal. Checking their phones, buying a coffee, pulling their luggage. I wanted to scream out - DON'T YOU ALL REALIZE WHAT HAS HAPPENED? DON'T YOU REALIZE THE WORLD HAS CHANGED? HOW CAN YOU ALL BE ACTING SO NORMAL WHEN THE WORLD HAS BEEN TURNED UPSIDE DOWN?
This isn't to say that people weren't reeling inside. I'm sure many were. But I was desperate to find someone else who looked distressed, who looked shell shocked. I wanted to hug a stranger more than I ever have in my life.
Instead, I took out my phone and scrolled through my Facebook feed. I found solidarity there. I joined every Pantsuit Nation Facebook group I could find. But there is something to be said for personal contact. For not hiding behind our phones and computers. For getting out there and comforting each other. And so yesterday, I went out sporting my Hillary T-shirt, which had ironically arrived the day after the election. Just in case someone else needed to know that they weren't alone.
In dealing with my sadness the past couple of days, my first reaction was to hide my tears from my children, who are too young to really understand the ramifications of the election. I didn't want to scare them, and I didn't want them to see me being "weak." But eventually, I changed my mind. I want them to see this. I want them to remember this. I want them to say, when they are older, that they remember the day Donald Trump was elected president. And that they remember their mother crying.
I come from a long line of political activists. My paternal grandparents were both communists in the 1940s, and loved to brag that each of them had their own FBI file. My Dad participated in the March on Washington when he was 19 years old, and went on to protest the Vietnam War and join the Peace Corps. My great aunt and uncle were marching in protests until they got too old to march anymore.
|My Great Aunt Evelyn|
I'm not proud of my complacency and my willingness to live happily ever after in the little bubble I've been residing in.
This week, my bubble has burst.
I don't wish failure upon Donald Trump's presidency. I hope that he renounces the bigotry and racism some of his supporters have shown. I hope he backs off on the various threats he has made during his candidacy, like banning Muslims, building a wall, punishing women for having an abortion, and prosecuting Hillary Clinton.
But if he doesn't, I am going to do what I can to fight. I'm not sure what form that will take, but I vow to do it to the best of my ability, even if it involves time, money, and sacrifice. I alone cannot change the world, but I can, as Gandhi so eloquently put it, be the change I wish to see in the world.
I start with this post. Numerous times times during the past few months I considered writing about the election, but I hesitated because I didn't want to delve into politics on this forum, and didn't want anyone to feel ostracized. Fuck that. This is just a small blog with a small readership, but it's my space, and shame on me for being silent.
None of us can afford to be silent anymore. Particularly in the next four years, we must make it our mission to understand each other, to speak up and defend those who are vulnerable, and to make personal sacrifices to fight for what is right.
To those who aren't in a bubble, and who have never been in one - I promise you that I will stand with you for the next four years, and as long as it takes. You are not alone.
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