I voted for the qualified candidate that lost the Presidency to an extremely unqualified candidate. My support for the person that eventually got the Democratic nomination took time, as I was a fervent supporter of their opponent during the primary. This sounds like your typical 2016-Sanders-turned-Clinton-backer, right? Wrong. I’m talking about the 2000 campaign between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
Let me just say outright, I firmly believe that Donald Trump makes George W. Bush look like a neurosurgeon. At least Bush had prior experience in elective office as Governor of Texas and surrounded himself with people who had vast experience in Washington, whereas Trump’s experience amounts to being unable to settle a dispute between NeNe Leakes and Star Jones.
Like many people, once it became clear that Trump had won, a dark cloud descended over me. For days I felt depressed, somewhat scared, and deeply upset. What had gone wrong? Why did so many people get it so wrong?
Then I received a message from a teenager. She asked if I could remember a time feeling this way about an election. I thought about it and then thought back to 2000.
Al Gore was the first person I voted for. I was 18 years old, a similar age to the young woman who messaged me. It seemed like Gore would win, especially after news broke that Bush had previously pleaded guilty to a DUI ― news that, back then, carried as much weight as Trump’s infamous “grab her by the pussy” video. Then the uncertainty began, the chads hung there, the nation in turmoil. The Supreme Court eventually decided the election, and Bush was declared the winner. The same dark cloud descended over me.
But then I thought about my life after that. I left home, moved to Chicago, went to college. Eventually I ended up in New York City. For the first time in my life, I was able to be openly gay with no shame. I worked in politics. I protested. I got involved. I fiercely supported organizations. I protested the Iraq war. I found my voice.
In a way, the despair of Bush in office ignited a fire in me to act, which I’m not sure would have happened had Gore been elected. Don’t get me wrong, Gore should have been our President, and I strongly believe that much of what happened during the Bush years (the war, persecution of LGBT people, the recession) would have been avoided had Gore been in office. But you can’t change history.
Trump’s victory is now history. It too can’t be changed. I reject the pleas to “accept” him, work with him, give him a chance. Many people saying this have the privilege to say such a thing, for they likely won’t be hurt by the policies Trump endorsed over the course of the election. We will not normalize a person that boasts about sexually assaulting a woman, uses racist fear to stroke anger, and winks and nods at the anti-Semitic fringes that make up much of the alt-right.
To Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women who want control over their bodies, LGBT people who want to continue to be able to marry the person they love, we just can’t “accept” this man. Instead, we choose to fight this man, openly, in the streets, with our voices, through our work, our art, and at the ballot box in 2010 and beyond.
My hope is that young people in similar situations to where I was in 2000, use Trump’s election as a way to find their voices, and use them for change. Clearly their elders, my parents and even my peers in some respects, are missing something considering the high numbers of Americans that voted against their own best interests and supported Trump for a grab bag of reasons that had little to do with policy, and more to do with hate and fear.
I’m an optimist, which really pisses off my friends. However, my optimism post-election day has nothing to do with what President Donald Trump might do. I’m convinced he will surround himself with dangerous people and do everything he can to dismantle many of the things President Obama did for this country to make it better. Rather, I’m optimistic for young people to use their anger, use that cloud of doom that currently hovers over them, and hone it to usher in the next Obama, whomever that person might be. And hopefully in the process find their voices and really define the next generation.
But they can’t do it alone. I’m 34 years old, not so old (thank you very much), but old enough to have lived through the Bush years, survived cancer, gone in debt because of said cancer, have the very adult experience of dealing with the rat’s maze that is our healthcare system, and then finally heard by a President who believed I deserved quality health care, and yeah, I also deserved the right to marry the person I love*.
*Still looking for that person, FYI.
So I hope to take the things I’ve lived through and join these young people in ushering in the next Obama. We all should do this. We need to come together, use our voices, our work, our stories, our art, and present a unified voice to protect the communities that will be at most risk of persecution and alienation under a Trump Presidency. If we take anything from Hillary Clinton’s historic campaign, it should be that we really are stronger together.