During the last week leading up to the presidential election, Canadian friends were approaching me with questions. Chief among them was “what the hell is happening down there” and “they wouldn’t really elect Trump, would they?”
It reminded me of a Twitter conversation I had back in January of 2016 with a farmer in the Lethbridge area, who was confident in the sanity of the American electorate and their ability to reject the carnival show that was Donald Trump. My reply to him at the time was “don’t be too sure”. And my opinion never really changed.
So when friends asked, “could they really elect … him?” My reply was “yes, they could.”
I didn’t want to believe it. I pointed out that Hillary had much more support than the media was giving her credit for, but the media wanted a horse race. If it meant pretending she had lukewarm only support, or glossing over Trump’s many failings and flaws, they were going to do it. The news is a business with a bottom line at the end of the day. It needed clicks. Views. Eyeballs on pages and screens.
And I know the land of my birth. I know too well who many of them really are.
Americans are not post-racist. They are not post-sexist. They are not interested in what the world at large thinks about them. They do not care if their misplaced trust in the Republican party burns down everything they managed to salvage and cling to since the financial dumpster fires of 2008.
They see themselves as victims. As standard bearers in a holy war against a world that doesn’t listen to them and is therefore a threat to what they perceive as a god granted right to rule us all. For our own good. And their material benefit.
And finally, a lot of mostly white Americans are interested in the one thing they can all agree on, it’s time for payback. And that payback, for them, is the promise Ronald Reagan made back in the 80’s, a return to a time when America was great. A greatness that relied on heavily on inequality fueled by racism, sexism and classism.
Make no mistake. The hope Trump supporters are banking on is that he is able to squat in the White House just long enough to unravel decades worth of civil rights, environmental protections, financial regulations, social safety nets, and cultural progress. That this unraveling might have unintended consequences hasn’t occurred to them though it’s clear to the warily watching world.
Election night I fielded stunned texts and Facebook messages. And I admit, I was a bit stunned too. Not that I didn’t think it could happen. I always knew it could happen.
But my faith in people had been shaken. Not the fact shunning or the gleeful anarchist types. It was by the friends and family who voted for him and who I thought I knew better than I clearly did.
When the American media report on families and friendships torn apart by the election of Donald Trump, they are barely scratching the surface of the carnage.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a tale to tell about friends they no longer have or family from whom they are now estranged.
The “secret” Hillary supporter group on Facebook, Pantsuit Nation, is awash in stories of lost friendships and family holidays that were cancelled or ended in heartbreak or tense truces.
What my Canadian friends wanted to hear – still want to hear – is that “it’s all going to be okay.” That’s the universal assurance given when the unthinkable happens and usually, it’s correct. Sooner or later.
But I couldn’t make that promise. I still can’t.
It’s not going to be “okay”. Canada’s next door neighbor, a lumbering, thoughtless elephant in the best of times, is a simmering wooly mammoth with berserker tendencies now.
Sure, our Prime Minister sallied forth and played the savage beast to the delight of resisters everywhere, but delightful social media memes are not going to be our salvation anymore than Melissa McCarthy, Teen Vogue and the US Park Service can defend the world we thought we lived in.
Truth is we have been smug and complacent. Thinking we’d vanquished the antiquated prejudices and barriers of our parents and grandparents day when we simply tweaked things in ways that helped some, but not all, congratulated ourselves and then forgot about it.
Whatever happens. Whatever comes next. “Okay” would not be the word I would use to describe it. That implies a return to a broken status quo that no longer served if it ever really did.
Things will not be okay. It might improve over time. But it will most probably get worse before that happens.