Across time zones, we watched. Children had been allowed to stay up late; habitual late risers had forced themselves awake; at workplaces, everything came to a standstill. The punditry was excruciating in its attempts to fill every minute of the wait. It all seemed so important and yet so dull. Then his numbers began to rise, the red bar creeping towards the crucial figure of 270. We watched in shock, disbelief and dismay. And then it was all over. Later, in my social media echo chamber, a word I spotted often was ‘grief’. There had been a bereavement. Certainly for many a dream had died, but there was the additional calamitous blow of the dream being replaced by a nightmare.
Our echo chambers make us feel safe and that is perhaps one good reason to remain there. But they leave us completely ill-prepared for dealing with a situation where the will of the majority is so ruinously at odds with our own beliefs. The electoral system that gauges their will may or may not be flawed but this is a matter for another day: for now, all we know is that the people have spoken.
It is impossible to ever be accustomed to this kind of event but some of us have experienced it before. Like the US election, the 2014 parliamentary elections in India and the Brexit referendum were preceded by long and divisive campaigns filled with lies, hate speech and bursts of violence. The results in each case seemed to sweep away certain ideas that many of us believed to be part of the social contract — and by us I mean liberals, believers in equal rights, metropolitan cry-babies, take your pick. It is always a good thing to have to account for your convictions but to have to try to explain yet again why misogyny or racism is wrong?
So yes, some of us have been there before, and fellow left-behinders in America, here’s what you might discover about your friends, relatives and colleagues, over the coming weeks.
- Some of them will have supported Donald Trump all along, it’s just that they never made it explicit. This will probably change.
- Some of them will call you a ‘sore loser’, a ‘broken record’ and possibly some new social media-friendly portmanteau word intended to denigrate your concerns about white supremacy and misogyny. In the case of Brexit, ‘Bremoaners’ is not particularly elegant but I suppose it does the job. Perhaps Americans will be more creative.
- Some of them will say that this is all just politics and that you are foolish for taking it to heart. Governments come and go. And when you point out that the language of this politics hooked its claws into you and tried to strip you of every shred of dignity because of your gender, race, religion, caste, sexual orientation or disability, they will shrug and tell you to get a life.
- Some of them will now make excuses for Trump’s most horrifying acts because it is expedient to do so. They will point out that he did in fact apologise for — how to put this delicately —appearing to come across as a sexual predator on the leaked tape. They will point out that he did delete that reprehensible tweet. You will ask: which one?
- Some will laud his most inconsequential ‘achievements’, no matter how trivial or unconnected to his administration. They will do so even when this amounts to nothing more than traffic running smoothly at a nondescript junction in your town.
- Some will throw themselves into the normalisation process with glee. If they can, they will take a selfie with Trump. Soon it will be a hashtag.
- Some will speak of isolated incidents. When you point out that just yesterday someone was humiliated on a train, someone was spat at in a school, that people who had always believed they were home were told to return to where they came from, they will remind you that the altercation could have been a lot worse. And in this, they will be right.
There is, however, a bit of an upside. You will feel even closer to the people whom you trust because they will check up on you and get drunk with you and make grim jokes long into the night. If necessary, they will wipe your snot and they will drive you where you need to go. They will bring cake. They will encourage you to get off the internet and in the next moment sneak a look at their Twitter feed. They will sleep on your floor, their phone occasionally emitting an unfamiliar beep. They will encourage you to get some fresh air, which is really an excuse to buy more booze. And you will all make common cause as you look to the next election, the next opportunity. And for the darkest hours there’s art, music, books, and failing all else, panda videos. You’ll keep working, watching, talking, planning, challenging, donating, hoping. But this time, so much more.
Mahesh Rao is the author of the novel Smoke is Rising and One Point Two Billion, a collection of short stories