Explaining the Loss

She was hunched over her computer, sitting cross-legged on the floor when I pushed open the heavy door to Short-pants‘ bedroom. Fully dressed, ready for school, her purse already draped over her shoulder as though she might need to jump up and sprint out the door at a moment’s notice, her head moved back and forth as she read from her screen.

“He’s winning,” she said, “how can he be ahead?”

De-facto sat on her bed, his hand on her shoulder. I crouched behind her and wrapped my arms around her so I could whisper the news I’d come to tell her.

“It looks like he’s going to win.”

The reality of that – the thing we all thought was impossible – hung in the air over us. It was 6:45 am, the CNN commentators – we’d been up all night with them – were scrutinizing the counties of Michigan and Wisconsin, and though the race had not yet been called in Mr. Trump’s favor, the data did not look good.broken_ideas

Short-pants bent over her screen, her shoulders heaving, letting out her signature moan, a forlorn wail of grief and disappointment.

“But, what about women’s rights? And minorities? The environment? The Supreme Court?”

I didn’t have an answer. I myself was numb with disbelief at how the red and blue graph lines had criss-crossed and grown in opposite directions, a possibility that Nate Silver never ruled out but that I hoped was an impossibility. Even over the weekend, when the polls had tightened, I just couldn’t believe that it could happen. Not in my America. We wouldn’t elect an impulsive, vulgar bully to the highest office in the land, would we?

Absent any authentic words to re-assure her, I simply rubbed her back and kissed the crown of her head.

She began to sob.

When I pushed myself up from the floor and pattered across the hall into Buddy-roo‘s room, it was still dark, just a hint of dawn’s early light squeezing through the shutters of her window. She lay motionless in bed; I crawled in to spoon behind her.

“What happened?” she mumbled, half asleep.

I didn’t answer right away, I wanted to take in the peace of the morning cuddle for an extra beat before spoiling her day.

“Hillary?” she said.

“I’m afraid Trump has pulled ahead, and will probably be the president.”

She’s a lazy riser, Buddy-roo. It takes several nudges, hugs, shoulder rubs and calls-up-the-stairway to be sure she gets out of bed every morning. This time, though, she jerked around and threw off her comforter.

“You’re joking, right?”

I shook my head to answer. She turned back and buried her head in her pillow.

~ ~ ~

The girls took an active interest in the election over the course of the summer. It was hard not to, the media circus that was our election spilled over into Europe. Plus we spent nearly a month in the United States in August, news about the Clinton-Trump red_white_stripedrace was inescapable. These last weeks I was fairly addicted to my various news feeds; by osmosis they had to pick it up on their radar.

De-facto and I lean left, and as long as we’ve known each other (20 years now) we’ve favored the same candidates. Still, we try our best to inform our daughters about politics without indoctrinating them. I know it’s impossible for any parent to hide their bias, and perhaps it is a parental right to pass on political values. But I’ve felt it was important to try to set an example: to speak respectfully, not to be vulgar, dismissive or to demonize the other party’s candidate. That was much harder to do this time around, I’m sure I couldn’t mask my truest fears about Mr. Trump’s character, which from where I sit, was hard to paint in any kind of neutral light. Still, days before the election when Buddy-roo stated emphatically that she hated Trump, I corrected her. She could dislike his ideas but hating him, personally, was not the answer. I suspect my attempt wasn’t very authentic, it was hard to hide my disgust given how he insulted women, minorities, veterans, and the disabled. His cavalier discourse brought out the worst in all of us – on both sides of the ballot.

~ ~ ~

I really want to be a good loser, to take the long view. I want to respect the democratic process. I’ve been reading about the pendulum swings of politics, how it’s going to be okay. (Or maybe it’s not all that okay.) I’ve even been willing to explore how Trump could be a good president after all. I’ve tried to take solace from conciliatory posts asking for respect between sides. Though it’s hard to imagine this when a scan of the nation’s Facebook feeds shows how polarized we are. I’m incensed by the images of racists emboldened by Trump’s election. And just as angry when anti-Trump protestors have turned violent, too.

The meme that tires me out the most is the one about being sore losers. It’s so much more than that. It’s fear. If Romney had beaten Obama four years ago, I’d have been discouraged and concerned, but I wouldn’t have been frightened. I was angry about many of the actions of the Bush administration, but I wasn’t afraid of him. I am scared of what will happen to the rule of law in our country with Mr. Trump as president. I can’t even fathom what this administration will be like to anyone who disagrees with him.

To be blunt, I’m lost. I’ve written before about how I like being other, living between cultures, understanding the codes but at the same time, escaping them. What I know, now, is that I no longer understand the codes of my home country. I don’t know how to explain to my daughters, who still identify as ask_yourselfAmerican despite never living there, when they ask what this means to their future. Even if they never set foot in the states again, they worry about the ripple effect, around the world, of a Trump presidency.

My daughters are worried and afraid. I am worried and afraid. And when they ask me how a man like that could be president of the United States, I have no answer.

How to explain that the party I identify with, a party that I truly believed was trying to do good things for our country and for the world, misunderstood or ignored the suffering and disgruntlement of the large portion of Americans who voted for Trump, or didn’t vote at all? How discouraging that so many people felt so abandoned and ignored that Trump was the candidate they chose. For their sake, I hope they haven’t been conned. Women, minorities, gays, lesbians, non-Christians – and our environment – are all going to pay the price for this decision. If rural, red America ends up getting shafted by Mr. Trump, too, if his promises to drain the swamp of elite lobbyists and cronies turns out to be campaign-speak and nothing more, we will have given up all our progress for absolutely nothing. But maybe that’s what it will take – being in the same boat of suffering and misery – to get America to work together again.

3 Responses to “Explaining the Loss”

  • Ruth rogge Says:

    I am still in shock. I fear all the things you said but add Social Security and Medicare. We start Medicare the beginning of next year and want to wait until 70 for SS unless………. I hope this ignites the Dems who didn’t vote to get off their butts to vote in the midterm elections.

  • Katie Schmitz Says:

    It’s a terrible time, and I was as horrified as you and your girls when I realized what was happening. I am still processing all this, especially in light of Trump’s appointments to date, and wondering how the hell we’re going to survive this. I cannot imagine how Marcia would react. My parents are Republicans, and I think my father is starting to realize how bankrupt his party is.

  • Betsy Says:

    Your girls are so wise and insightful. You and Defacto really do an amazing job with the hardest responsibility on the planet. Modeling the open mindedness, tolerance and respect at home–even for those who we cannot fathom an understanding…

    When I walked into my classroom Wednesday morning, my NPR Politics podcast still plugged into one ear, there was no doubt in my mind I would just avoid the conversation. I had plenty of rich and enjoyable content to explore with my students and no time really to be derailed by American election results. However, my denial was quickly unearthed with the first footsteps into the room–“Trump’s going to be the president.” and “Trump won.” replaced the usual “What are we doing today, Ms. R?”–Even as I tried desperately to address their 8-year-old commentary and redirect them to their politics-free journal task on the board, I realized with trepidation that we were going to have to talk about this today.

    Wading through the emotions of 20 8-year-olds from all over Europe, India, Australia, and just 3 from the U.S., it was even harder than I’d expected. I carefully framed our “team meeting” in the context of our current writing unit –Opinion. We determined that most of them had learned about the American presidential candidates by listening to their parents’ talking. And all admitted to having little idea about what the presidential candidates wanted to do once in office or how this could affect them (not unlike most of the adult world, in fact). So their “opinions” were perhaps more a repetition of what their parents had shared with them, or what they’d overheard. But really, does this matter? Their reactions are as much a valid emotional response to the emotion they’ve witnessed at home–concerned, worried, disappointed parents…that has an affect on kids. I couldn’t dismiss this. And more importantly, I was acutely aware that of the American families in my own classroom and in others in the school, there were certainly Trump-supporters. This was the place to ensure we have a respectful, informed conversation about the election that could help them thoughtfully and respectfully navigate further playground commentary to come.

    We learned about the electoral college and how the votes are determined. I We explored the divide in the electoral votes that were cast, realizing that this didn’t mean everyone or even most Americans had voted for Trump. Later, we watched excerpts from the post-election speeches from Hilary, Trump and Obama. We focused on their language of Open-Mindedness, Respect and Acceptance. The changed tone, now that the decision had been made–the repetition of the words “Come Together.” These all aligned with the values of peaceful conflict-resolution that we teach in our school.

    However, regardless of their 8-yr-old political inexperience, there is no way to sugarcoat the hate-filled language that defined this election–this is something our children do fully understand and were exposed to. A few of my more articulate students voiced a deep concern–confusion even–for HOW a man who doesn’t even try to fake the respect and moral code of “presidential speech” when the world is his stage, someone who completely contradicts the values of our international school community, could actually become a world leader? I had nothing to say because in my heart, I feel the same.

    As a teacher, we spend our day on a stage, so to speak. Not to say that I intend to be fake, but I do maintain calm and neutrality in the face of emotional or traumatic or shocking events that occur either in my personal life or in the context of our classroom and beyond. Kids are so sensitive, so this is important in maintaining a stable, safe and predictable environment for them at school. In the days following the election, it was harder than ever. I felt so unexpectedly emotional, and still do. It was so hard to host the conversations that my students wanted to have carefully, respectfully and with as little emotion as possible.

    Now, though I would like to believe that with the ebb and flow of our “political pendulum” it will indeed all be okay. But I can’t help feeling anxiety and dread for what may come. I only hope that some strong people will face each other and engage in the hard conversations with those they do not understand or agree with. It is only through these conversations perhaps that we can prevent the growing divide from getting any deeper.

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