Thoughts on the U.S. Presidential Election, From Afar

by | Nov 9, 2020 | USA | 18 comments

Yesterday morning, I woke up and watched a recording of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ presidential election victory speeches. I was extremely far removed from that stage in Wilmington, Delaware — sitting in bed at my house in Johannesburg with my iPhone balanced on my knees, watching the speeches on YouTube. I was happy and excited but didn’t expect to feel overly emotional.

As I watched Vice President-elect Harris walk up to that podium, smiling radiantly in her cream-colored suit, I broke down before she even began to speak. Amidst all the stress and worry of this sickeningly long election season — the deadly violence and hatred; the endless, screaming word vomit; the ugly presidential debates; the raucous, mask-less, super-spreading election rallies; the despicable spewing of lies; the infinite stream of deranged, all-caps tweets — I had nearly forgotten that if Trump lost this election we would have the first woman vice president, and the first vice president of color, in America’s 230-year history.

Before it happened, I didn’t allow myself the luxury of considering how that might feel.

When President-elect Biden took the stage, looking more animated and energetic than I’d previously thought possible, I sobbed even harder. I ugly-cried for the entire broadcast, soaking up every hopeful, reasonable, not-at-all hateful word of those two speeches. I didn’t have to avert my eyes, or fast-forward through the most unpleasant parts, or cover my ears and yell “La-la-la-la-la-la” to drown out the ugly rants of a despot.

Watching those speeches was fucking wonderful. For the first time in a great many years, I felt proud to be American.

I think the majority of Americans — and many non-Americans — have experienced trauma in some form during the four long years of Donald Trump’s presidency. For some, the trauma was (and still is) painfully tangible: The preventable death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the denial of political asylum, the mortal fear of sexual and racial violence, police brutality.

For more privileged people, like me, the trauma has been more subtle and emotional: Four years of feeling ashamed of my country. Four years of trying not to sink into a well of despair as I watched American democracy crumbling. Four years of coming to terms with the reality that America isn’t, and never has been, the country I learned about in school. Four years of telling myself that surely it wasn’t so bad — that I was being too dramatic and things could always be worse — as I watched white supremacists wield burning torches through the campus of my alma-mater, running down and killing counter-protestors in the street. Four years of watching from afar, wincing, wishing I could hide my accent so I didn’t have to talk about Trump ten times a day with every South African I met.

I greatly underestimated the relief I would feel, watching those speeches and realizing that at least some of the weight from those traumas is lifting. I’ve become so accustomed to living in a constant state of simmering rage and dread, bordering on all-out panic.

Trump’s loss isn’t going to solve everything. America’s government is still in shambles, Trump is still refusing to concede, the Supreme Court is stacked with right-wing hacks, the pandemic is rampant, climate change is raging, systemic racism and sexism are alive and well, and more than 71 million Americans — way more people than the entire population of South Africa — voted to keep this lunatic in power. No society in human history has ever been more sharply, angrily divided than American society is today. It’s horrifying.

But I have a lot more hope than I had four years ago. Now that this weight is lifted, at least for now, I think I can start to better address some of the nagging challenges in my own life. I can move beyond the sadness and grief that’s been weighing me down for the past four years. America can do better and so can I.

P.S.: If you need a laugh, please read this article about the Trump campaign’s curious press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping center in Philadelphia. It made my morning.

18 Comments

  1. Stephanie Bolstad

    YES YES YES!!!!! My thoughts exactly.

    Reply
  2. Albert

    I have decided to keep the bubbly on ice until the court cases have been settled and the final electoral college votes had been cast and tallied, lest this be another Gore 2000 moment. The whole US electoral system seems baffling to outsiders.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Trust me, you can pop the cork now. This election is nothing like Bush/Gore 2000 — it’s not remotely close.

      Reply
  3. ced

    You starry-eyed view might be a little dimmed if you Googled Biden’s debate with Secretary of State Haig about South Africa.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I haven’t got stars in my eyes. But I’m relieved we’ll have a sane person on office again.

      Reply
  4. Maarten

    Heather, just like you I’m happy when listening to the victory speech of Biden and Harris. I’m also hoping with you and all the other Americans that this period will end soonest. Trump the Evil is still with us and he will never ever accept that he lost the game. He will go on and on and on to bring down this democratic process and bring down the hopes of so many people. I hope with you and all others that somebody will stop this evil guy and give Biden and Harris the chance they need to clean the rubble and chaos in the US. Victory is still not 100% and Trump will take every chance he can find to break the victory. Let’s hope for the best……

    Reply
    • 2summers

      He’ll be leaving on 20 January whether he concedes or not.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Urban

    I’m deeply relieved the Electoral College votes are secured for Biden. However I am anxious about all the stuff that might still happen in the weeds to January 20…

    It’s deeply concerning that so many voted for Trump; Trump’s presidency has given the bigoted often unthinking right a chance to come out in the open and reinforce their ranks; perhaps the unmasking gives a more realistic picture of the USA? That could be a ‘blessing in disguise’ – in knowing the actual lay of the land.
    The future in the US as in South Africa is multi racial and multi cultural. That is a strength.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I’m also trying not to think too much about all the damage he will inevitably do before he leaves in January…Maybe Congress needs to rethink the length of the transition period going forward.

      Reply
      • Margaret Urban

        I agree about the transition; one month should be sufficient. After all folks no longer have to travel or send communications via horseback :-/

        Reply
        • 2summers

          Hahaha, exactly.

          Reply
  6. Nancy McDaniel

    Thank yo u Heather. I feel much as you do. We have a lot of work to do here to make things better for all Americans and begin to heal. But at least with Joe and Kamala, we have a chance. I cried too. A number of times. And who knew that a hymn could be an earworm (especially for an agnostic like me). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSjkJiuCaVI

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Haha, I actually hadn’t listened to the song until now.

      Reply
  7. AutumnAshbough

    I think we all hoped, but then remembered the shocking loss 4 years ago. So we squished our hope down, even as all week the numbers showed that Biden-Harris would win. And then we erupted and we cried and realized that the car was not in fact going to go over the cliff. Not today, anyway.

    I kept it together mostly. Until people started posting pictures of their girls of color watching the Vice President Elect.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      God, I lost it so badly and totally wasn’t expecting to. The same thing happened to me when Nelson Mandela died.

      Reply
  8. Graeme Adamson

    Such a good post! I’ve spend the last four years in horror at what’s happening in the US. Its still terrifying how many people voted for that monster.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thank you. It’s all quite horrifying!

      Reply

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