An uneasy feeling washed over me as I tuned into CNN's live election broadcast. Donald Trump was winning. Hillary Clinton was losing. And even though the count was still in progress the news commentators were already concluding that the brash, tough-talking property developer would win.
What is happening? I wondered. How could this be happening? Is this seriously happening?...
And in the minutes that followed and as I continued to listen to these opinionated political commentators, the shock set in as I tried to process what was happening: Donald Trump would be the next American President.
"Who would you vote for?"
With two unlikeable presidential candidates, answering this question proved tough. In the months leading up to Trump's historic win, I had been asked several times who I would vote for. As an Australian trying to follow the election, here's how I tended to respond when asked this question:
"I wouldn't vote for either. But if I had to choose the lesser of the two evils, I'd pick Hillary. I just don't like Trump's ego, his racist misogynistic rhetoric and that he's a climate change skeptic. He also seems to put money first and people second. But then, I don't like Hillary because she's part of the Establishment and if you follow the "money trail" there are some serious conflicts of interest there too. But then I like that she's inclusive and that she understands female issues. But then I like Trump's stance on protecting local industry. But I think I'd still vote for Hillary. I think.
Anyway, when it all boils down to it, as a non-US citizen and non-US resident, does it really matter what I think? And clearly the universe proved to me just how irrelevant my thoughts were, because yesterday at around 5:40pm AEST, I learned that Donald Trump had been elected 45th President of the United States.
The analysts called it the triumph of the common people over the educated elites. It was a Brexit all over again. But worse.
As I sat desperately trying to focus on work and summoning all my willpower not to surf my favourite online news haunts, the New York Times, Washington Post and The Atlantic as well as avoiding the distraction of social media, my uneasiness turned into mortification.
Donald Trump is President. Privileged rich kid turned billionaire property mogul turned annoying reality TV show star turned The Most Powerful Man in the Free World. Shit.
The same thoughts repeated itself over in my mind: Have the Americans done the right thing? How did Hillary and the Democrats fuck that up? Will the climate change skeptical President pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement? And what does that mean for our environment?
Just like the British before them, Americans had used their votes to cast a strong message: Let's look after ourselves first before we start looking after everyone else. That means we come first. Not the immigrants. Not the environment. Us honest, hard working folk. We have to protect ourselves from the decisions of these so-called educated elites who keep creating problems for us!
I think it's misguided, but I don't blame some Americans for feeling this way. I really don't.
Processing the election result.
The mindful, the leftists and the millennial communities were left in disbelief. If the United States election campaign was polarising, the outcome is even more so. As I type this, thousands of Americans march in protest in cities across the United States shouting: "Not my president!"
But the feelings of these young protestors aside, the impacts of globalisation, of losing jobs to immigrants and the we-never-get-anywhere traditional politics were concerns that continued to crop up in my online conversations. Fear influencing those on both sides of politics.
I admit for a moment there I felt afraid for our future too. Trying to process what President Trump means for feminists, open-minded and sustainably-minded folk like myself, I shared my own concerns on the Eco Warrior Princess Facebook page:
Needless to say, the comments left on this post by readers is evidence of just how divided Americans are on the result, and how insulted a few of them were with my sharing my opinion. One in particular stood out:
Eco Warrior P...have you travelled to china? Russia? Any Middle East country? And you are worried about the US? Get a grip, get over yourself and stop insulting the American voter who actually works and produces for America. For too many years they put their faith in the so called educated elite, and all that got them was 20 trillion in debt and a potentially corrupt federal govt. In our country, we don't have a coup...we vote.
There was also this comment:
Really why don't you go to China , Africa , North Korea and address them on how there [sic] destroying the earth?
I expected the trolls to come out in full force. I just didn't expect it so soon.
On investigating who these people were, I wasn't surprised at all to see what they looked like as I Facestalked them. I was really hoping to be proven wrong but alas, they fit the political analysts' typical profile of a Trump supporter.
But that's besides the point now isn't it?
Seek first to understand.
I am left-leaning and "prejudiced" towards empathy, inclusion and cultural acceptance. Having said this, I don't want to demonise people who have different opinions to me, who sit on the right and are more capitalistic and anti-socialist in their views. I respect democracy and diversity of opinion. It's what pushes us to be better humans, a better society as well as an innovative one.
Furthermore to reject a different perspective just because it's not in line with my own is neither constructive nor productive. We all are raised differently, educated differently, work differently, think differently, and come with our own individual set of unique experiences that help form our biases and opinions. We all have our own unique ideology but its important to point out, that we all have something to contribute. Each and every person. Just because we're "mindful" doesn't make our beliefs and opinions more important or more valid than someone else's.
Millennials - like myself - tend to describe themselves as "conscious" and "tolerant" and "accepting" and automatically reject those who don't think the same way. But this a mistake that we must try to avoid. If we claim to be open-minded, let's keep our minds open then, shall we?
And I guess because I am a writer and interested in stories, first seeking to understand rather than to be understood comes naturally to me. And I think that that's what the American people need most: understanding.
More empathy & compassion needed, not less.
The way I see it, if Trump lacks empathy and compassion, so us taking it away breeds more of the same right? I am in shock and I am disturbed by the result, but that says more about my own complex feelings about the state of the world and less about my feelings towards Trump supporters. I respect democracy and I respect people's right to an opinion, even if they differ from my own. Besides, criticising Trump voters is a futile exercise. It doesn't get us anywhere.
Instead of focussing on our differences, I want to focus on what we have in common. So here's what we can at least agree on:
- that people want what's best for themselves, their families, their communities and for their country
- that people want the freedom to express and to have their voices heard
- that people want their lives to matter
- that people want the freedom to chase their dreams and to aspire for more; and
- that people aren't inherently evil.
When I reflect on this, I refuse to believe the worst in those who voted for Trump. They have aspirations, dreams and desires to be better, to do better, to have better - just as I do. If Americans on both sides of politics can find this common ground, I think healing can finally begin.
Plus, when I see how some "mindful" people have behaved and the colourful language they've used to describe Trump and his supporters, I am appalled. Calling them all the vile names under the sun does not make us any better than Trump himself. Am I right?
As I reflect on Trump's victory "The Day After" I realise more than ever that I - and in fact all of us people who sit in the camp of trying to elevate consciousness - need to work harder at reaching people who don't think like us, talk like us or act like us. To break down the walls that divide us and begin to have deep, meaningful, thoughtful conversations with the purpose of understanding so that we can finally solve problems together. Understanding is crucial. Alienation is infantile.
And didn't Gandhi say, Be the Change you wish to see in the world? Change first begins with us.
So for now the USA is a divided nation, but my hope is that they are strong enough to get past their differences and unite in solidarity. If we want a better world, cooperation is essential. And if we're part of the "conscious" community, shouldn't we be the first to extend the olive branch?
How do you feel about Trump's victory? Shocked? Angry? Happy? Feel free to share your thoughts below.