Like many people, one of the first things I do when I wake up is grab my phone and scroll through my social media feeds. It’s usually a harmless exercise. Even an inflammatory post can have the motivational effect of angering me enough to get out of bed.
On Wednesday morning, I couldn’t bear to look at my phone after reading the New York Times alert that Donald Trump was officially our 45th president. Nor could I process the fact that Hillary Clinton, the most qualified candidate in modern history and someone who shattered boundaries—glass, emotional and otherwise—that stand between women and the possibility of leadership, was not our president.
No positive, light-hearted images—nor the outpouring of hand–wringing blanketing my feed like the first snowfall of a long winter—could possibly alleviate the lump in my throat, the pain in my chest and the deep, urging desire to pull the covers over my head and remain in bed until January of 2021.
Having been up past 1 a.m. the night before checking the news and watching as state after state turned red on our country’s map, it was not that the result came as a surprise. But its impact on my physical being and psyche was a shock: I don’t remember the last time I felt so desperately disappointed in the state of our constituents.
Mixed in with this consuming sadness was an all-too-real fear. As a woman and a minority, I had never realized truly how much of our country hates people like me for qualities that, a) I can’t change and b), I wouldn’t change, not for one millisecond, regardless of what obstacles are placed in my path as a result.
Naïve? I guess so. I grew up in a household of two working parents, with a mother who had not only a top-notch education and a master’s degree, but a career of passionate work that ended up spanning thirty plus years. With such an intelligent, accomplished woman as my model, I took for granted my own privileged education, the emphasis placed on my academic success and the assumption that I would find my own career and pursue it with the same work ethic and drive that my mother brought to hers. It never occurred to me that I might be of a lesser value because of my gender or that my mixed race, while confusing from the perspective of identity, would hold me back from what I wanted to do. I was lucky. Very lucky.
Others are less so. And I fear deeply for their prospects now that we have an incoming president who has proven again and again his shocking lack of respect for women, his disdain for any minorities and his disinterest in creating progress for all Americans, including those who, like my mother and my father’s family, immigrated to this country seeking freedom and opportunity. But perhaps equally frightening to me is not just that such a man exists in a high power seat—I may have had a good childhood, but I am no stranger to sexism and racism on a personal level—but that his path was paved with a level of misogyny, homophobia, racism and general xenophobia that I did not realize pervaded our country to such a broad extent. A demagogue is only as strong as the people who fuel his actions and support his vitriol. And America’s fuel reserves are far greater in 2016 than I could ever have imagined.
I am no pundit. Nor am I a soothsayer. I cannot say whether we should have seen this coming—though the summer of horrific violence, often targeted at racial minorities and the LGBT community, might have been a tip off. And I have no idea what a Trump presidency means for women’s rights, reproductive and otherwise, over the next four years, though my visuals are soul-crushingly gloomy.
The only thing I know for sure is that I cannot wallow in this mire of despair. Hillary Clinton has taught generations of women that you can and should pursue your passions to the ends of the earth. My mother taught me that as a girl and now a woman, I have just as much worth in this world as anyone else—and that women are as strong, smart and capable as men.
And so, this awakening to the darkness embedded in the heart of modern America holds one minor blessing in disguise. I had become complacent in the liberal bubble in which I exist, assuming its borders extended far beyond what reason would suggest possible. I am wide awake now. And whether it is through charities and volunteer work or my own professional output or simply leading by the example of my existence as a woman who refuses to have her rights or the rights of anyone else revoked based on a chromosomal difference, I know the only way through the next four years is to do justice to the immense precedent that Hillary Clinton, my mother and countless other women have set. Godspeed.