Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America. These were not words that I ever wanted to hear, much less say to myself. And as I write this, the enormity of this statement has not fully hit me. I ended election night, in a crowded dorm room, surrounded by friends—many of whom have more to lose than even I do, as a woman of color. And the magnitude of this decision, made by the people, for the people of the United States carries with it a shocking finality. Black and brown bodies, female bodies, gay, trans, and lesbian bodies were ultimately just that: Bodies. A living, breathing pile of bodies on top of which Donald Trump built his campaign. And if Donald Trump makes good on his campaign promises, there is every chance that our bodies will not be safe, that our identities will not be accepted, and that our very personhood will be continually oppressed. Yet the terrifying permanence of this conclusion only raises an even graver question.
What has gone so deeply wrong with our great American experiment that nearly half this nation feels so much vitriol, fear, and hatred towards the “other” half of America?
When Donald Trump said Mexicans are "rapists”, this sentiment of racism apparently resonated with Americans. When Donald Trump excused sexual harassment and assault as “locker room talk”, this sentiment of misogyny seemed reasonable to Americans. When Donald Trump promised to ban Muslims from America, this sentiment of xenophobia struck a chord. And this embrace of extremist rhetoric extended beyond the top of the ticket. When Mike Pence was revealed to embrace conversion therapy, a substantial portion of Americans were apparently unconcerned. The list of morally unacceptable views espoused by Donald Trump and Mike Pence goes on, and on, and on—but the disappointing truth is that a large portion of Americans evidently espoused these views too, if only in the privacy of the ballot box. Half of America not only accepted these hateful statements, but also felt invigorated and inspired by this bigotry—enough so at least to believe that a presidential ticket built on these views was well suited to be the next leaders of the free world.
And this revelation—that a good half of all Americans do not stand with me, do not stand with people like me, but instead stand with a man who rose to the power of the presidency on a wave of mistrust and hatred towards the “other” —is sad. It is scary. It is shocking. But most of all, it has to be motivation for those of us who see an alternative future for America.
Today, I am reminded more than ever, of the words of the poet Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night/...Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” In many ways, it seems as if this nation has entered the darkness of the night; but now is the time for us to fight harder, and harder still, for values that we truly want to represent America—tolerance, integrity, and acceptance. There are countless local—and national—elections that will play out in the coming months and years that represent real and tangible opportunities to effect grassroots change. We will win those elections; and we will win the fight. In 2018, we will reclaim the House and the Senate from the ever-extending arms of prejudice that have seized it. In 2020, we will take back the White House from the stranglehold of vitriol currently grasping it. But all this will only happen if we commit now to channeling our oppression into political capital, if we commit to using our collective voices to drown out the power of hatred and bigotry that Donald Trump has brought to the forefront of politics and of the American psyche. As citizens who believe in Hillary Clinton’s vision for America, and feel President Obama’s hope for America—we can never, ever, ever, forget the horror we felt at hearing the words, “Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States of America.”
Akshaya V. Annapragada ’20 lives in Straus Hall.