One of the things that has defined me for my entire life is an unending, almost foolhardy sense of optimism. It was an optimism instilled in my in no small part by the entertainment I consumed as a kid. Be it the Disney films where good always triumphs over evil, Star Wars where one of the most evil men in the galaxy is able to be redeemed, or stories of heroes like Superman and Spider-Man who set aside their own desires to instead dedicate their lives to helping the less fortunate. It was stories like these and more that taught me to always look for the good in others, to empathize with people who are different, to believe that, no matter how dark things seemed, that good would triumph over evil.
Last night, evil won.
I’ll be honest with you, this has been a crisis of faith for me in a way that nothing else ever has. Like many people, I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve been in some very bad places, I’ve felt like my life was over and that there was no point in carrying on. But even in those dark places I still believed that the world would endure, that good would win out eventually, and that, sone day, a brighter future was possible, even if I wasn’t there to see it. For the first time ever I feel like the world has ended. Not just my life, not just my future, but that the entire foundation of everything I’ve believed to be true has rotted and decayed, consuming everything in its collapse.
Because this isn’t just politics as usual. Instead our entire political system has failed, hijacked by a demagogic interloper who was neither Republican nor Democrat, but instead running on a platform of selfishness and self-interest. A man who wanted nothing more than to elevate his own personal status to the highest level possible, and who got their by trampling the rights of everyone else around him. He’s a man who has used his fame and his wealth to get away with heinous crimes – tax evasion, slander, sexual assault, rape – and who now threatens the core ideals of our country including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the very notion that all individuals are created equal. And that’s even before we mention the terrifying idea that a man who has openly flirted with nuclear war will soon have access to the world’s largest arsenal.
And I didn’t see this coming.
To be sure, I’ve long recognized Trump for the monster that he is, and have spent 18 months eager to cast my ballot to help Hillary Clinton defeat him. I raised my voice online and I donated money and encouraged others to vote, but I in my heart of hearts, I never really believed that Trump could win. I always believed that the strength of the American ideal and the heinousness of Trump’s actions would be his undoing. I believed that good would win, and I was a fool.
I’m straight, white, and male. I’ve got just about the full list when it comes to privileged categories, but even so, achieving equality and opportunity for people who are oppressed and marginalized is important to me. I am proud to call myself an ally of women, of people of color, of LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups, but amid the hangover of this national nightmare, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t as good of an ally as I thought I was. I knew this country had a deep, entrenched bastion of racism, misogyny and hate, but I genuinely believed that we were making progress, that, as a nation, we would reject this malignant remnant of a less civilized time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned today it’s that this is a staggeringly naïve way to view the world, one born out of my own privilege. Women and minorities knew full well that this wasn’t just a fringe group, they experience this hate in every town in every state in every corner of our country every day, meanwhile I could retreat into my largely-white liberal bubble and pretend that we’re somehow better than all this.
I wish I had done more. I wish I had listened better. I wish I had understood how bad this threat really was and fought harder. But you can’t change the past. What’s done is done, and what’s done has led to a narcissistic, abusive, fascist ascending to the highest office in the land.
But I still want to believe in heroes. I need to believe in heroes. I need to find some kind of hope in this terrible situation, so I’m starting with me. I’m vowing to listen better, to do more to get outside of my own privileged perspective. To put my money where my mouth is and really go out and make a difference. I don’t know exactly what form that will take yet, but I’m looking into my options. I’m looking into how I can contribute and volunteer with organizations like the ACLU, the Boys and Girls Clubs, Planned Parenthood and other, local institutions. I’m writing letters to my representatives to encourage them to fight for freedom and equality instead of kowtowing to the whims of a mad man. And I encourage you to do the same. Pick your pop culture reference – be it the rise of the Empire in Star Wars or the infiltration of HYDRA in the Marvel universe – things are bad right now and we need heroes to rise up and fight back the darkness. You can be those heroes. Fight for freedom. Fight for equality. Fight for what is right. And, most importantly, never ever give up.