I‘ve tried and I’ve tried again, but even then, words still cannot communicate the sadness, frustration, fury, nor angst I feel when faced with the fact that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.
I’ve thought about this sobering reality many nights, and through many nights of troubled, uneasy, contemplation, I’ve lost countless hours of sleep. The image of an America run by Trump is an image I cannot erase from my mind:
A slimy, opportunistic billionaire, fanning the flames of racism and disillusionment as a means of consolidating his power; a nationalist propagandist and racial ideologue as the Chief Strategist of the Oval Office; a climate change denier placed like a gag at the head of the EPA, deliberately choking the one organization that has the power to curb the impending overheating of the Planet; and an entirely red Congress that will accept many of the policies laid forth by the Oval Office with complacency, maybe even happiness.
In the month since Trump was elected, I’ve thought about what the environment will look like when I finally have kids, ten, twenty years down the road. Will there even be an environment? Will it be one worth living in?
Since long before I was born, in the late ’90s, climate change scientists have been steadily unifying around the alarming fact that Earth has barely a few decades before complete ecological catastrophe ensues, engulfing all living beings on the planet and commencing what will be, as termed by evolutionary biologists, the most recent mass extinction in our history. The last time such an extinction occurred, the dinosaurs were annihilated.
But that’s talking theoretically about the environment. That’s to say nothing of what will happen to the environment on the ground during a Trump Presidency: to the forests, wetlands, and wildlands which I have so cherished through my life.
I’ve grown up exploring the wild lands of Florida. When I was a kid, I liked nothing more than to lay forward on the prow of our bass boat and feel the cold air rush past as we went down the St. Johns River, a watery mirage of herons, gators, and cypresses slowly sliding past.
But in those same years I watched countless strips of beautiful wild lands gutted in the name of seemingly meaningless land developments: flashy Walmarts and shopping centers and vast suburban complexes. When I would ask older people why we had this erroneous need to constantly develop the land, they always responded with the same general answer: “That’s economic development son! It greatly increases the revenue of Florida!” I doubt they ever truly thought about their response; it had been force fed to them by an long-bred American tradition of plundering the land in the name of economic development. They didn’t know any better.
Now the most famous real-estate developer in the world is leading the country. In the eyes of Trump, the wild lands of Florida are nothing more than empty territory that need to be filled with hotels and shopping centers.
But that doesn’t matter! Halting global environmental meltdown and protecting nature is not nearly as important as other pertinent political issues, such as creating new jobs! or stimulating economic growth! Because after all, we know that the quality of the world isn’t determined by the health of the world itself, but by how confident the investors on Wall Street feel about the market, or how the annual report for the National Economic Council looks.
When I think of Trump’s election, I think about what the world would look like were there to be a nuclear exchange. Never before has there been a President nonchalant, as unconcerned, about the usage of nuclear warfare as Donald Trump. He refused to say that he would restrain from using nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe, citing a desire to be “unpredictable.” That’s an interesting way to put it. Unpredictable. But has he heard of Mutually Assured Destruction? He can be unpredictable all he wants, but when he finally decides to push that button, all the people who share this planet will be forever buried into oblivion. All humanity, gone forever.
I remember the first time I learned about nuclear warfare. I was eleven. I had watched the movie On the Beach one night in the living room with my dad and stepmom. In the movie, a nuclear exchange is initiated between the United States and China over a minuscule territorial dispute regarding Taiwan. The explosions from the missiles kill all those in cities, and everyone else on Earth is cleaned out by vast clouds of radiation.
The only remaining survivors are in Australia, which has but a few months left before it too is enveloped by the clouds, dying along with the rest of the Earth. An American submarine crew arrives in Sydney and spends a last few sad months on the continent. Their actions are marked with horrible melancholy, an agonizing loneliness, and a nostalgia for things lost, knowing that any hopes they have for their lives- any loves or dreams or memories- will be ultimately thwarted in a few weeks. In one scene, a woman walks down an old subway and looks at vividly colored informational posters depicting the cultures of the world. They are beautiful, and she is rightfully depressed. Within two weeks, everyone one the Planet would be dead, gone forever. It was as if humanity had never even existed.
I was emotionally drained when the movie finally finished. And in the silence of the living room, they told me, in very serious tones, that this could easily happen tomorrow, this week, next month. There was nothing we could do to stop it.
But Trump doesn’t worry much about Nuclear Weapons, nor any of it’s effects. After all, he wants to be “unpredictable.”
When I see videos of Trump’s speeches, I think about how our perceptions of ethnic and religious minorities will change over the next few years. It broke my heart during Trump’s campaign to see reports that ethnically charged bullying had risen astronomically in public schools. I saw instances of it myself. Mitt Romney spoke of how Trump will infect the country with “trickle-down” racism. The possibility is all too real. What will a parent say to their child about bullying when the most powerful man in the world characterizes entire races as being terrorists or criminals?
Earlier this year, I had researched a journalistic piece on Islamophobia in America. In the process, I interviewed two Muslim girls, students at Flagler College, who related to me their stories of being harassed by strangers. That, and I went to a mosque. The Imam at the mosque told me of how a group of protesters drove all the way from Orlando to stand in front of the building, their demonstration ending only when the authorities intervened.
“Three hours!” the Imam told that night, his voice tinged with melancholy, locking the fence with wrought iron chains so as to prevent vandalism (which was a very real threat for institutions like his). “How can people have so much hate in their hearts that they drive three hours to protest at a small town mosque?”
When I think of Trump, think of the different opinions people expressed over the year-and-a-half of nauseating campaigning that preceded his election win.
I remember watching an HBO documentary last February about James Foley, the globetrotting journalist who was slain by ISIS in Syria. Sitting with me in the living room were my dad and one of our hunting buddies. When footage of armed Jihadis flitted onto the screen, our friend jumped to the occasion to share his opinions about Islam.
“You know, my friend’s been telling me. That (he gestured with his hand towards the militants onscreen) is what all Muslims are like. Chaos and Allah. Nothing more.” He took a long sip of Bud Light. “I don’t agree with Trump on a lot of things. But I agree with Trump on the whole Muslim deal. Enough is enough. Get those pig-fucks out of here.”
I remember coming to the sad realization, my senior year, that there was an extremely large contingent of young people who passionately supported Trump. One would think that the youths of a country would try to be patriotic in an intellectual, nuanced way, finding in their hearts the courage to be compassionate, instead of embracing a gross, racist, self-glorifying brand of nationalism.
These kids, rather, wore their proclamations of Islamophobia and misogyny like badges of honor; they thought being politically arrogant about their support for Trump was funny. In my school, these kids also happened to be immensely popular, rich, and spoiled (and many had an affinity for partying and cocaine).
I read once about how, after the Communist dissolution in Yugoslavia, a generation of restless young Serbs, rather than pushing their country forward through compassionate intellectualism, quickly reverted to embracing the barbaric nationalism of Slobodan Milosevic, the genocidal leader who murdered tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims during the 1990s. They saw the arrogance of their leader as a trait to be embodied, to be proud of.
Milosevic, like Trump, fostered hatred between groups in order to rise to power. And just like the the Serbian youths, many young Americans blindly embraced Trumps proto-fascist message of “Making America Great Again,” unaware of the damage they had wrought upon other people- and themselves- by putting the man in office.
It never ceased to frustrate me to listen to various Leftists who were so blinded by their hatred of Hillary that they refused to even acknowledge the danger posed by Trump.
“Yes,” I would inevitably concede to them. “Hillary is not the best.” But they still found ways to ignore the controversy surrounding Trump- the wall, the Muslim ban, the denial of Global Warming, the habitual lying- to act as if they never even existed– just so they could bitch about Hillary’s emails. Even after the election, when Hillary posed no possible threat to the United States, such people would still take time out of their day to complain about the old lady, while off in New York, Trump was busy putting climate change deniers at the head of agencies meant to address climate change.
I remember driving with my best friend one Saturday morning, after the election, as we went out into the woods to go shooting. He was, and still is, one of the smartest people I know. But I couldn’t help but notice that he was deliberately belittling the (very real) threats posed by Trump, instead talking for most of our conversation in the car about how perversely satisfied he was to have seen Hillary lose.
He was always talking about how we was proud to have voted for Gary Johnson, of the moral imperative to vote for a third-party candidate when all other options were odious. His argument was a very philosophical one, but as a straight white man, it bore little to no ramifications for him; while he talked with moral superiority about his highminded political principles, nonwhite minorities- Latinos, blacks, Muslims- would have to live with the very real consequences of his lofty, abstract ideas.
Several days after the election, I encountered a quote by the Christian moralist Reinhold Niebuhr that went somewhere along the lines of this: “Being ethical means not choosing the moral and immoral, but between the immoral and the less immoral.”
I wish I could’ve relayed this quote to all my third-party friends before the election. It probably wouldn’t have affected their decision; then again, maybe it would have.
But it didn’t matter. There were a lot of things I retrospectively wish I could’ve done before the election, but none of it could change things now. Donald Trump would be President, and there was nothing we could do to stop him from being inaugurated in January.
Perhaps most of all when I see Trump, I think of the long history of arrogance that has poisoned American society since its conception several centuries ago.
I think of how, for a whole century, we waged a murderous campaign of genocide against the Native Americans: deliberately killing off their food supply, giving them blankets infected with smallpox, and, once that was done, herding them into pitifully small , geometric reservations where they slipped into an endless cycle of depression, poverty, and alcoholism. And how we were so blinded by the self-righteous belief in our “Manifest Destiny,”- of our Christian Crusade to the Pacific- that it took us over a century to even consider repenting for the sins we committed against the natives.
I think of how we proudly supported terrorist groups in Central America all through the latter half of the 20th century, to the Contras in Nicaragua and the governments in El Salvador and Guatemala, providing weapons and training to groups that killed civilians, murdering priests and journalists via clandestine death squads. And how, despite clear intelligence regarding such atrocities, men like Ronald Reagan still preached an inspiring message of “promoting democracy” throughout the Third World.
And I think of how we have slowly destroyed the American environment, plundering the beauty of nature for three hundred years in the name of cheap, economic profit. I think of all the wildlands that once existed and that exist no more, of the people and wildlife that once inhabited them, and am subsequently disgusted by the modern, free-market propagandists who boast proudly about how we Americans were lucky enough to have succeeded in “taming the wilderness.”
I see something very different than many people when Donald Trump goes before a crowd to speak. I don’t see freedom, proclamations of democracy, or affirmations of American greatness.
I see arrogance. And, in my heart, I know that one day, if we fail to humble ourselves as a nation, that same nationalistic arrogance will rise up and destroy us.
I cannot help but come to the same tragic conclusion whenever I see Trump give a speech: the way we killed the Indians is what’s killing us now. It was greed then, and it is greed now. You can see it all around us. It’s destroying what is left of our natural beauty, it’s polluting the country, and its making us more Germanic and vainglorious and stupid.
The night of the election was a night we expected to be a celebration. Everyone was prepping for the exciting occasion. The College Democrats had rented a whole ballroom in the Flagler College student center, where we had laid out snacks and tables for as many people to come and watch what, we were certain, would be a changing point in history of the United States: the first election of a Woman President. Unbeknownst to us, history would change that night, but in a way that was both stunningly unimaginable and tragically predictable.
Before the first results from the eastern states came in on CNN, I had the opportunity to give a short speech in front of the crowd. Everyone was riled up, and the crowd was bristling with anxious optimism.
I spoke about our arrogance as a nation. I spoke about how since as early I could remember the arrogance had manifested itself in many places- in our destruction of the environment, in our disregard for the poor, in our mistreatment of minorities- and how it had found its greatest culmination in the campaign of this vulgar, self-centered billionaire. My greatest hope, I told the crowd, was that today we would defeat this sentiment once and for all, and that my kids wouldn’t have to see the same arrogance that I saw in my own life.
That was before the states began turning red. With each hour, we watched in mounting desperation as the news showed the country being voted in as overwhelmingly Republican.
The counting process took so long that we were forced out of the ballroom and into the downstairs lobby, where a massive crowd of students had conglomerated around a flatscreen TV.
The anxiety had risen, but all the traces of our old optimism had died. Those who had voted for Hillary seemed to have stopped talking, having retreated into the darkness of their imaginations to contemplate what the next four years held in store. Meanwhile, the Trump supporters were ecstatic, high-fiving with each other and talking jubilantly about how America would be Made Great Again.
A slow, deep-burning fury was beginning to burn in my heart. I looked around the room and felt hopeless, powerless. I was watching the whole world catch afire, knowing that there was little I could do to douse the flames. Everything in American history that was immoral and wrong was coming to a spectacular culmination that night.
Once, as I was traversing through the crowded room a little before midnight, my eyes met with a certain Trump supporter who was leaning back against the back wall, his tattooed muscled arms crossed easily before him. He wore a T-Shirt that said, in bold letters: “Grab ’em by the pussy.” I couldn’t hold myself back, and promptly approached the guy.
“You see that girl?” I said to him, pointing to one of the two Muslims girls that I had interviewed a few months earlier for my article on Islamophobia. She was now sitting crosslegged on the floor with her friends, her eyes mortified by what was unfolding on the TV before her.
“Yeah?” he said.
“She’s Muslim.” I said. I lingered on the silence to let the weight sink in for a moment. “Could you look her in the eyes, and tell her that she doesn’t deserve to be in this country?”
For a moment he didn’t answer, maintaining instead a light smile with a fake, falsified confidence.
“Could you?”I looked him square in the eyes.
“Well,” he said. “The majority of the Muslims coming from Syria are men, anyways. Most of them have ties to terrorism.”
“And where’d you learn that from?” I said. “Fox News?”
By now, unbeknownst to me, the entire back portion of the room had turned and was watching our dispute in speechless astonishment.
“Because that’s accurate information,” I uttered brusquely. And I walked back to my friends on the other side of the room.
The counting process was taking far longer than previously imagined- an emotional rollercoaster full of agonizing uncertainties and brief, yet vanquished hopes that Trump would still end up losing.
But by midnight the gears for catastrophe were already falling in place. Trump was on the winning slope, with more electoral votes and red states, making a victory for Hillary seem increasingly impossible.
At 1 AM we were again evicted, the Student Center having closed, and as a result hundreds of students left in a chaotic flurry to get to the nearest place with a TV. I was hysterical, and when I found my friend Amanda amongst the crazed rush of students, we decided to go to the lobby of Lewis Hall, where many of our friends were going.
By now I had lost it. As we walked through the school campus at night, I began to scream out with reckless abandon.
“Welcome to America, the new fascist state!”
The students were scrambling, hurrying out in all directions to get to the nearest place with a TV.
“We don’t care about those Muslims! All we care about is our trucks and guns and Jesus!”
We spent the next few hours gathered around the TV in Lewis Hall, watching in a gloomy silence what was now impossible to deny: an authoritarian, racist, xenophobe had been elected to one of the most powerful seats in the entire world. Donald Trump would now be President of the United States.
I didn’t sleep that night. I went back to my dorm with a group of friends and contemplated what to do. I was without words, struggling to express the sadness and fury boiling deep in my soul.
By 3:30 I decided that there was no point in even trying to sleep that night. Naturally, to give myself time make sense of the madness, I decided to go fishing.
My roommate drove me out to the Vilano Causeway on the Intercoastal Waterway at 4 that morning. The road to the ocean was empty, and after he dropped me off, I began my long walk out to the far edge of the channel, with nothing to accompany me but my thoughts, my shadow, and the silence of the night.
It was a peaceful night. A light breeze was drifting out of the north, just strong enough to texture the water with a faint running chop. Putting on my wading boots, I sloshed out to the first sandbar beneath the bridge, where I stopped to rig up with a small diving plug. I was hoping to get a redfish or maybe some trout, but in my gut, I knew I wasn’t here to catch fish.
I sloshed out again into the main channel, walking out to the drop-off to the depths in the open water, stopping when I got to waist deep water.
Nothing stirred in that vast silence of the Intercoastal, save the occasional heron, which would rise screaming out of the bridges’ darkened shadow in a sudden flapping of wings.
The tragic reality of Trump’s election began to sink in. For the first few hours it was too astonishing to actually believe. Now, with the first traces of the tide sucking out towards the ocean, I set to thinking about what calamities the next four years might procure. I tried to put things in perspective, to intuit what Trump’s election meant on a cosmic scale, for the history of the world.
The more I thought about it, the more grim my outlook became.
I stopped fishing a little before 6 AM. Class was to start in an hour. My roommate wasn’t answering his phone, meaning I would have to walk the entire distance back to campus.
But for a moment I just stood there in the water, watching the first faint rays of the sun breaking over the dark immensity of the Atlantic.
Donald Trump, I realized, would be President until I was out of college, at least.
As I walked back on the lonely road through the salt marsh, the ocean to my left, an aging black man came creaking up towards me on an old, salt-rusted bicycle.
“We’re screwed,” I shouted out to the stranger. No words were needed. When he braked to a stop alongside me, I could instantly see in his eyes that he knew exactly what I was talking about. Just by looking at each other, w knew we shared the same apprehension, the same fear for the future.
“At least someone in this country isn’t crazy,” he lamented. “These next four years are gonna be tough, son. I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
In his expression I saw the gaze of a man who had lived for several decades, watching the country improve itself through small, periodic increments of hope, only to watch all the progress that had been made suddenly crumble, and in a flash, see the country start sliding back into the past.
“You better hold on these next few years,” the old man told me solemnly. And he continued down the road.
As I walked inland, I turned back and looked back out towards the ocean. A storm front was sliding in from the north, and beneath the darkened fingers of the encroaching cumulonimbus clouds, a low shear of light spread thinly over the eastern horizon.
I continued walking as I watched the horizon, a sudden gust of wind rippling over the vast salt marsh. The first few cars of morning were rushing past anxiously towards Vilano.
It was a new day, I thought to myself, hoping to calm my nerves. A new world.
A dark and stormy world.