I didn’t vote in the 2012 Presidential election. I had no good ideological reason for doing so. I was just lazy.
I voted yesterday. I was nervous because I felt out of practice. Once it was over, I felt a pride that I didn’t expect. I was confident. There were too many people like me, too few people like my opponent, for my candidate to lose. I felt like I was a part of history. Turns out I was.
The evidence is now coming in. It will be looked at for the next few dozen years, I’d expect. The early indicators suggest that there were, in fact, too many people like me. The difference is that they didn’t vote. People who needed to turn out in order to elect the first woman president of the United States stayed at home. Just like I had.
One suspects the union will survive a Trump presidency. On a rational level, a high-school education gives the understanding that even the most dangerous leader must run through hoops. The benefit of America is the protection of a nation specifically designed to limit power. Even with the single-party homogeneity across its three major branches, America will not disband.
There is greater risk now that the country will move backwards on social, environmental and economic issues. The future of healthcare is uncertain. The progress of same-sex rights will be slowed. Women’s rights to their own bodies will likely come under heavier fire, under harsher restrictions, than before. If this president is to be taken at his word, we will see more oil, less environmental protection and a tax structure that sacrifices the long term for the short.
The office of President is more than just an executive position, however. “President” is an idea. It is the short hand for the people of the nation – and the people of the world – to represent what America is to stand for, what it believes. I asked a family member about this election before Tuesday night’s results started coming in. That family member told me that this election could be characterized as “my worst two choices ever.” Even worse than George McGovern and Richard Nixon in 1972, which they categorized as “singularly uninspiring.”
Before today, I could understand and tolerate the connotative dissonance that not wanting to align oneself with the symbolic responsibility of a president one does not support. Before today, I could understand staying home. I had stayed home before, albeit based on laziness over ideology.
But now I think about what the office of the President says to the world, to its own citizens now. It says that America is a country that does not care about women, about minorities, about immigrants, about LGBTQ individuals, or about refugees. It says that America is a country that cares only about its comfortable, white citizens. It may have always been this way. It has never in my lifetime felt more explicit than it does right now.
This is what we stand for now, even if it is not what you or I stand for.
Today is the first day. There will be many more after it. Already, people are shaking off their shock and figuring out how to move on with their lives. My heart breaks for the women who thought they were going to see the first female president, who thought that progress was at hand. It breaks for my friends of color, who feel less safe now than they did before. It breaks for the immigrated citizens I have known and will never know, for how they must feel living here now. It breaks for anyone whose existence does not fit into an easy-checked box of preference, who must now worry if what they’ve achieved will be undone.
The numbers suggest that the reason this happened is because people like me stayed home. Trump won the election with roughly 2 million fewer votes than Mitt Romney lost by in 2012. Out there, people like me who did not feel inspired by the candidates, or who thought the worst could never come to pass, or who were just lazy, missed an opportunity.
It is up to each of us to decide what this means after Day One is over. I hope I never forget how sick to my stomach I felt when CNN explained how time was running out in Florida and North Carolina. I hope I never forget how alien and disorienting it felt to see the words “President Trump” on a news paper. I hope I never forget how good it felt to be voter number 6 at my polling place. I hope I never forger this disengaged, distracted feeling I am struggling with. I hope that this really was a change election.
I will never miss another election as long as I live.