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.