Our New America: The First 48 Hours

I had planned a humor piece for today but I am not really in the mood for it right now.

Instead I’m going to share my own thoughts and experiences surrounding the election.  Before I do, I should warn my readers:   I am one of those people who believes we can build a better, more equitable, more compassionate world, we can treat one another with decency and love, we can practice justice tempered with mercy.  There.  You’ve been warned.

I don’t know that I will ever understand what happened.  How this happened.   There were so many voices, from all parts of the political spectrum, issuing utterly unprecedented, dire warnings about the Republican candidate.  Conservative newspapers across the country not only refused to endorse him, but implored their readers to look hard into this man’s soul before choosing.   The Harvard Republican Club called him,  “a threat to the survival of the republic.”  And on and on.  And yet, as we now know, it was all for naught.

On the night of the election I was away from my family, in New York on business, and so I spent most of the night on social media.  My little corner of Facebook seemed like it was peopled by zombies – all of them looking for consolation – from one another, from strangers – but nobody with any consolation to offer.  People spoke openly of weeping.  One Facebook friend said she’d vomited.

I thought of the famous aria from the opera Turandot:  Nessun Dorma.   “None shall sleep.”  That was what it felt like.   A night so horrible there can be no sleep.  No solace.  (Although my brother the Opera fan later explained to me that in reality the rest of the aria has a rather different meaning).

I was in lower Manhattan, the financial district, for work the next morning.  Trump received exactly ten percent of the vote in Manhattan, and everyone on the train looked miserable, sleepless and deathly.  Several people, including myself, were dabbing their eyes, fighting back tears.  I had a fleeting, sickly vision of some bleak train scene from Fascist Europe.

That afternoon I received a phone call from a friend who was nearly hysterical.  His wife, who is an American citizen of Indian descent, had been harassed on the bus by a Trump supporter telling her she was going to be deported.  “What the hell am I going to do?” he practically pleaded.   He too had been reduced to tears.  My friend is himself of German descent.  The parallels to the brownshirts of Nazi Germany are as terrifying for him as they are for me.

After work I briefly stopped at the World Trade Center memorial, which was just two blocks from where I was staying.   I remembered back to 9/11, how on that day it had felt that our world had changed irrevocably.  That we had just lost a certain kind of innocence.  In many ways, this feeling turned out to be prescient.   Yes, we have laughed and smiled since then, we have been ironic and irreverent and lighthearted.  But the anger we’d felt after the attacks – completely reasonable at the time – never subsided.  Somehow, it only grew and magnified and mutated.  And now, with this election, looking out at the memorial, I had that same feeling: an irrevocable loss of innocence.  It would never be the same.  Only this time it was entirely self-inflicted.  What have we done with our beautiful country?  Why?

I used the new World Trade Center subway station – the Oculus – to get to my office.  While the new tower and the memorial are – at least for me – a bit uninspired, the Oculus is a great piece of modern architecture.  Grand in the way it should be, but still also sleek and beautiful.  I felt genuinely privileged  that I got to pass through it going to and from work, felt proudly American, proud of what we are able to accomplish.

On Thursday, I attended a large business meeting high in an office tower.  As is typical in these meetings, a Hispanic woman  served snacks for us.   She was small and meek, scurried quietly, did her best to remain invisible.  But there was no mistaking the distressed look in her eyes.   I felt quite certain she was an illegal immigrant.  I bitterly thought to myself:  How great this is going to be when she is deported!  How much better much life is going to be for all of us, when we no longer have to be affronted by her different skin color, by the look of affliction in her eyes!   This is going to be great!  We are all going to be so much happier once she is gone!  Only, if immigration was such a plague, then why is New York, the immigrant gateway to America for the last century, a city that is still teeming with immigrants, also the nation’s financial capital, one of the world’s great cultural centers, one of the most vibrant cities you will ever visit?  Why is it prosperous?  Why does it have one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in the U.S.?  (Contrary to Trump’s ravings, the crime rate across the country is a near a fifty-year low, but even against this backdrop, New York’s is particularly low).

Trump started his political rise with the paranoid invention, based on absolutely nothing, that Obama was born in Kenya.  He ended it with the even more demented, more insane claim that, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”  In between were enough indications of a severe personality disorder to fill a psychiatric textbook.  That he is a sociopath with paranoid tendencies – the exact psychological profile of all of the worst dictators of history – seems so palpably clear, it scarcely needs defending.  And this is who now controls the levers of government.

Thursday evening I was again taking the subway back from work.  In a single subway car in Manhattan,  you will likely find yourself among people from five continents and fifty ethnicities.  This car was no exception.  The person next to me was writing in an alphabet I didn’t even recognize.  At one of our stops, someone had accidentally dropped a cellphone, and someone else had found it and started calling out, “Did anyone leave their cellphone?” Soon more people were calling more loudly up the car, stepping out onto the platform and calling out and trying to help.  What’s more, nobody worried about who was of what race.  People were just volunteering, spontaneously, to try to get the phone to its owner.  There was nothing remarkable in this.  But again, I fought back tears.   This is my America.  This is my country.

And maybe this is part of what we all can do now.  Just be decent to one another.  “Be the change you want to see,” Gandhi said.  Well, I am surely no Gandhi.  Not by many miles.  But I feel like this is the right message.   Love one another.  Not just friends and family.  But all people.

And for those of you who are still feeling despondent, let’s remember the greatness of which humanity is capable.   Beauty.  Art.  Nessun Dorma.  Sung here by the brilliant, blind tenor, Andrea Bocelli:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SZsxTBCzoA

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56 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful piece. You put into words the collective shock, fear and despair many of us have been feeling.

  2. Reblogged this on Bible Belted and commented:
    I was especially touched by your mention of Ghandi ,and you are right.We can do that.My neighborhood is not as sensible as NYC .I live in Indiana.Here ,we are terrified .Partly by our neighbors.In a huge part of this country ,Trump supporters are acting out with racist,sexist,homophobic slurs .Many Black and Latino people are being told that Trump winning has given White people their country back.Women are being chased and told they better run ,or they will have to give birth ,because Trump will put them in jail if they try to go to Planned Parenthood.My community are hearing the word “faggot” for the first time in years ,and told we will be locked up and “butt-raped”.That has happened to me.So,taking time to stop and think about the peaceful protests in NYC ,is very consoling.Thank you again for the moment of Ghandi .

    • very, very scary. as far as i’m concerned, he is a true fascist, inciting violence in his wake as with all the fascists of history. but that doesn’t mean the country will devolve into fascism. we all need to make sure it doesn’t.

      • Civil disobedience is one useful tool,and art (writing ,theater,music,etc.) is another.I am a composer in search of a script writer and lyricist.My original idea was to write about what I know: Gay Christians being treated like we are outcasts by the church.But,now ,I ‘m not sure that something imbedded in the bible belt is really dangerous ,and needs to be exposed.We’ll see.

  3. Hi Dan, this post of yours made me stop, think and then reflect on how this outcome happened. Your experiences in NYC drew me into comparisons to what I see here in my native Chicago. We are the “second city” but in this city voters who chose Clinton amounted to 83% of the total, making our results quite similar to NYC’s. Another way to look at election results that is not the typical Democrat vs. Republican is as a contest between Cities and Rural areas. The answers to what this means exactly and what can be done about it are still to be identified as I see it. Thanks again for your post, Rich Mullen

    • yes, the rural / urban split is extraordinary. also the upside-down economics: the republicans for so long were the party of the rich. they are still the party of tax cuts for the rich. but they attract fewer and fewer affluent voters every election. my own town, an affluent, very white town is a perfect example. these are the people who will actually benefit from the tax cuts and it used to be republican. this time it voted 75% for hillary. thanks for the comments.

  4. Thank you. Here on Gabriola Island, off the coast of BC, I have been watching my neighbour, America, and feeling stunned, shell-shocked. Your column is the first thing I have read that has given me a feeling of hope again. Yes, love each other. Radical love – what else can possibly counter this craziness? ❤️

  5. A wonderful piece. I am despondent, but I am becoming heartened that Trump’s electoral victory has renewed activism on behalf of those he wants to marginalize. I hope that there writers and artists of all kinds will be inspired to create in order to point out the facts, the wrongdoing, the deception. This man will surely try to distract our fellow citizens with hatred of the Other in order to insulate himself from blame for his inevitable failures when he doesn’t bring their jobs back or build walls or make any one us safer from those who would do us harm.

    • i would not say i am heartened, but definitely sitting in silence does not help. for me, the things we can never, ever compromise on are the democratic institutions themselves. when i read (as I do almost daily) about journalists critical of trump receiving death threats…and that he never condemns it, in fact quietly encourages it. that is the stuff that just starts to make my hands tremble. i know with certainly that many people who voted for him are not bad people. but i am equally certain that he is phenomenally dangerous – that somehow they missed the signs. and then other of his supporters are truly scary – the thugs that surround every cultish Fascist movement. thanks for your thoughts.

    • I believe you meant to say -We can’t stay quiet in the face of hate.You’re right,if THAT’s what you meant.We have to speak up if we see ,or hear discrimination of any kind.Being an example of love ,or peacefully resisting like Ghandi ,does not mean we are silent.If we love our neighbors that are different from ourselves ,we must speak up ,call the media,or at least use social media to inform the world of each incident of hate.Staying quiet is very dangerous ,as the German’s found out in the 1930s .We are expected to hold each other dear,as good Americans should,but never let a single incident of racism,homophobia,sexism,or xenophobia go unchallenged.We don’t survive this being silent.We speak up ,and together we put things back on a righteous path.One thing that I find most disturbing, right now,is what is going on with native sacred lands in the Dakotas.Haven’t we taken advantage of the native population enough? I realize it’s an issue that has nothing to do with this posting,but I believe being a “good” American includes speaking up about injustice.So,that’s my two cents.

  6. We have seen what raw hatred can do. We have seen the rise of fascist dictators, war, the murder of millions. We say “Never Again” like it’s some kind of mantra. We know. Will it be enough to save our America? Because we have seen? Because we know?

    • the parallels are so terrifying. one of them is how we keep underestimating. we underestimate how extreme he is. we underestimated that he could win. we say, ‘he’s not really that crazy, he’s just riling up the crowd’. the exact mistakes that were made in the 1920s and 1930s. a lesser circulated quote from Trump about the Tiananmen Square massacre is i think the single most horrifying thing i have seen. he admired it! admired a totalitarian regime that murdered its own people! it showed ‘strength’. and just in 1930, half the country – some of them good people – are blind to it, because he is picking on the “undesirables”.

    • i’m not sure that it would have affected the piece. if i had detailed all the reasons i find this man terrifying, it would have already filled a book and not a blog post. i can handle a rough four years. not looking i just want to know we will come out of it. i don’t want to be going to sleep worried about a megalomaniac madman trying to dismantle the checks and balances of our government.

        • a very good idea. honestly one of the things that gives me comfort is the supreme court. Roberts is a more classical conservative who believes in civil liberties and strict interpretation of the constitution. he is intelligent and seems to be someone of integrity. kennedy is similar. they must be thinking already that this man is incredibly dangerous. a friend of mine just started giving to the ACLU. i have to decide where to give but i may do the same.

  7. If you want to understand this find Mike Rowe’s Facebook Post (the intelligent, eloquent and funny writer of “Dirty Jobs” fame).

    Personally, I was horrified, disgusted and frightened by the election of Obama 8 years ago. A man steeped in Communism and Sal Alinsky who wanted to fundamentally transform my country!! I have endured his attacks on the Police and his support of the racist Black Lives Matter group, his radical policies in the EPA that decimated the the coal industry and the communities of West Virginia and Kentucky, his dictatorial elimination of hundreds Armed Services Generals and officers that disagreed with his vision, his name-sake the utter failure Obamacare that kept businesses from growing, forced people off of good insurance plans and penalized people who could not afford to get on it!!! This community organizer who never did anything to stop the violence in Chicago or encourage the youth to change their lives through education and having families with a mother and a father disgusts me. Democrats promote dependancy not self-sufficiency. Obama allowed our troops and influence to be kicked out of Iraq, thereby setting the perfect stage for ISIS to take over!!! He gave Iran hundreds of millions of dollars in cash which they promptly spent on their military and nuclear program!!! People at Bengazi were ALLOWED to die when no troops were sent to rescue them and then Susan Rice was sent to lie about a movie on You Tube as being the cause!!! The absolutely atrocious policies of the radical man in the White House led to the slowest recovery from a recession ever. Obama could not run a lemonade stand successfully and he knows nothing about creating conditions for business to succeed. He has piled on regulations that kill the creation of jobs!! He is the worst this country has had in Washington since Jimmy Carter and his years of malaise.
    I and my Puerto Rican husband voted for Trump last week because we need a change. My husband worked his way out of the tenements of the South Bronx. He knew education was his only way out. He attended Cornell where he got his BS and MS in Electrical Engineering and he attended RPI for an MBA going to school at night when he worked for General Electric. All of his siblings have had successful lives with college degrees, some aquired over years taking one class a semester. We have moved around the country following my husband’s career. His last corporate job was with Microsoft working on the XBox. Three years ago we bought a recruiting business that finds contract jobs for people at businesses such as Microsoft, Facebook, etc. and finds people for contract job openings at the same companies. We need a businessman at the helm of our country to create better conditions for job creation. We need to rebuild our military and reinvigorate our influence and reputation around the world. We need to develop American sources of energy and stop supporting Saudi Arabia. Build a wall with Mexico and unhandcuff the Border Patrol. Fix immigration by requiring immigrants to be admitted only if they have money to sustain themselves, sponsors if they do not (as was done with Vietnamese refugees), classes in English and civics lessons. A pathway to citizenship for those already here…even Trump realizes you cannot round up 12 million people. They must agree with our values that men and women are equal. We agree with Trump’s ideas of term limits for Congress and restrictions on lobbyists.

    The last thing we would have voted for was a continuation of Obama under Hillary, a corrupt politician who looked the other way while Bill ACTED OUT every fantasy that Donald talked about.

  8. I have been unfriending people on Facebook for calling President Obama a Communist,or for that matter besmirching Hillary Clinton with all the lies that Trump placed on her.I will not actually comment on what you have said ,I will simply leave you with a thought.What would you country be like without the help of immigrants,who labor diligently doing many of the jobs that people who believe themselves to be too good for lesser work .I would also caution that Canada would love to adopt our west coast ,and northeastern states,and perhaps Chicago .I wonder what your country would look like without those financial hubs…

      • I read every single word of “Carrie”‘s reply ,and would not have done so,if I was not trying to give everyone the benefit of a chance.But,if you read the entire thing,which I assume you did,you will realize that a person that has those baked in political views doesn’t want a debate.What was going on was a rant,and I do my fair share of ranting in the other direction.So,I see no point in us wasting that much of your site space with bad typing.I misspelled “your” in my third sentence ,because I wanted to rip the person’s head off.But,I didn’t .I only spoke some food for thought in reply,and if you feel that I shouldn’t do that ,then I don’t need to keep reading ,or responding ,or something.You tell me .Should I stop ?

  9. Well said. Jefferson said the price of libery is eternal vigilence. We will need to be more vigilant. Dictators and their destructiveness can be hard to escape.

  10. I’m not one for warm fuzzies all the time, but this post prodded me in that spot that needs to be engaged during times like these when logic and rationality are not as useful. Thank you. Also, can I ask where you are from if you are simply visiting Manhattan? As a nascent New Yorker, reading your apt descriptions of your travel through the city was also particularly touching.

    • hey. thanks for you comment. i grew up on long island but have lived my adult life outside boston. i still have family on the island and do business occasionally in manhattan. so boston and new york both feel like home to me.

  11. Beautifully stated. As others said, one of the best pieces I’ve read since the election, and I’ve read many. I agree with being the change, love everyone and all, but I’m just not there yet. I need to calm down enough to think taking cookies to my neighbors is a better idea than fantasizing about burning their house down. I don’t know how to love hateful. Also, kudos to your readers – unless you are moderating prior to posting, only one tried to correct you and that’s okay – I want to correct her use of exclamation points.

    • thanks much. i agree with you, i have no desire or intention to love the haters. and no, i have not moderated the responses. i’m just lucky to have great readers. :). thanks for the comment.

  12. Thanks for this lovely post. I have forwarded it to friends. I also think it’s important not to abandon the many people who did not vote for Trump, but who live in red states by demonizing those states on the whole. It’s in those areas where communicating working together is really going to matter. And anything those outside of those states can do to help is useful. Thanks again.

    • Sorry, had some grammar mistakes there: Should have a “comma” after states, and an “and” between “communicating” and “working.” (And should have proofread!)

      • thanks much. i would go even further. i do not wish to demonize many of those who voted from trump. some yes are flat out racist and haters and that is completely unforgivable. others…i just refuse to believe that many people are full of the hate and bile and cruelty that he spewed. and we have seen before how demagogues have drawn in many who are not horrible people, who were just under their charismatic spell. right now i feel like we need to find common cause with all decent people, whatever their party, to defend our democracy.

    • Thanks for that, Kathy. I’m blue in MO and my daughter is blue in TX. It felt pointless for me to go vote, but I did, and I took a water bill for I.D. after the experience I had in primary voting. We had offers of housing in France right after election results. Hard to resist for me, but my daughter is young and a true change-maker, so I’ll be right here continuing to fight the good fight.

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