Not Going to Get Over It
by Em Powers Hunter
"You had better get over it."
Those words written to me on Facebook by a "friend" felt menacing after the election of a man who bragged about sexual assault and has threatened and insulted women, Latinos, Muslims, people of color, disabled people, and anyone that has dared to use their voice and disagree with him. A man who stands for nothing but revels in degradation and destruction. A man who is proud he cheated the government on his taxes by abusing a loophole and happily carries a trail of debts, bankruptcies, and thefts from hard-working people. A man whose life is devoid of giving, kindness, tolerance, selflessness, wisdom, and character.
To my Facebook "friend," I want you to know I will never "get over it." I will never support bigotry and ignorance. I will never get over the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans voted for this man who lacks successful leadership experience, is inarticulate, lies constantly, foments violence and bigotry, lacks self-control, and in a word, is unfit, for the highest office in the land.
I can't get over it, can't forget this. If we do, we are destined to repeat it. As Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Chilling echoes of Hitler and infamous dictators have been evident in Trump's actions and words so I will hold on to the lessons of history and use them because my children's future is in the hands of a narcissistic sociopath with a hair-trigger temper.
When I woke up this morning, I remembered. It was that sinking, dark feeling you have when you have lost someone you love or a tragedy has occurred and in those first few moments of wakefulness, you remember the horrible memory. In your sleep, you are sometimes set free from the deep sadness but upon awaking, you remember.
I could barely get out of bed as the hopelessness pushed me down. In addition to the hopelessness, I felt swept back 70 or more years to a time where people of color and women were second-class citizens. But I got up. I got up because I have a family to take care of and I have students to teach.
I wondered how I would face my students, students who had told me of their incredulity that Trump could be running for President, that Americans supported him.
All day long, students in my classroom voiced their fears, saying "I can't live here anymore. Trump is going to get rid of me and my family. Goodbye, Mrs. Hunter." Over and over they expressed their worries and feelings that somehow this was no longer their country. Some of my female students actually shared that they felt unsafe because Trump had said such horrible things about women and what he could do to them.
Others wanted to know how this could happen. They expressed disgust and anger and confusion. They worried about all the people that had voted for a man that seemed to hate Mexicans.
I tried to answer their questions.
I was bolstered by two articles I read this morning. One was entitled "What do we Tell the Children?" by Ali Michael. This was important because for many of us, the idea of a Trump future is a dystopian nightmare. The idea that we will be led and represented by such an ignorant, bigoted, angry person is terrifying. How do we handle it in front of our children? And kids are not stupid. They innately know good and evil. They know bullies. They sensed something was very wrong.
They recognized the incongruity between what they had been taught about anti-bullying, tolerance, and what the President-elect has said and done. As one student told me today, "Mrs. Hunter, everything my parents and teachers taught me means nothing now. Trump bullies people, hurts people, assaults women, wants to deport people, builds walls! That is not what I was taught. Kids are going to think that is the way to treat people."
As I listened to them, I remembered Michael's article and it helped calm my spirit by reminding me of a few key points: 1) our children are afraid and want to be reassured that they will be safe and that their friends will be safe 2) we have a government that has checks and balances so that one despot cannot destroy our country or our people 3) we have to "honor the outcome of the election" but we don't have to support bigotry 4) we can continue to teach our children to stand up for what is right and to speak up and use their voices.
I can teach my students to think critically, question, participate, care, and create a better world. I can share inspiration and truth that will cut through rhetoric and deception. Words have power...in good and bad ways.
In my classroom, it felt like a decade of work was undone in an instant. It felt as if years of creating positive classroom environments and delivering impassioned lessons about tolerance and equality and kindness were being obliterated in one fell swoop. Already, one student taunted another saying "you are going to be deported" and another boldly announced in a classroom with many students with Mexican heritage that all Mexicans had to be rounded up and thrown out. It was mind-boggling. Yes, teaching just got harder.
Still, I persevered this week and when my students left one of my classes, their spirits seemed brighter. They had debated and argued and begged to share. There was so much that they wanted to say and figure out. It is that spirit of speaking up and thinking that can transform us. I had to smile as one student left, saying, "we should do this more often and Mrs. Hunter, you should run for President."
The second article that encouraged me, "Don't Mourn, Fight Like Hell," was written by Clara Jeffery. She reminded me that Americans are resilient and we are fighters. Her cogent summary of what happened in the last year and where we stand today was a much-needed splash of cold water. The biggest jolt was the reminder of how Trump would have access to our nuclear weapons and how he had discussed this monumental power so carelessly. I needed that jarring reminder to wake up from the despair I felt and realize that we have an undeniable battle ahead. A battle yes, but a winnable battle.
In speaking the truth, Jeffery identified the very real demons that have emerged. What happened on election day was "not just a protest vote by rural whites who feel left behind, but the coming out of a burgeoning white nationalist, authoritarian movement." I don't have to accept that America and neither do my children.
Today, I began the fight. I got up from the ground where I felt knocked down and gathered my strength. I reassured my children and students and sought sustenance, truth, and hope from wiser people. Most importantly, I used my voice and Facebook "friend," guess what? I'm not going to "get over it." Ever. And I'm going to "fight like hell."
Em Powers Hunter is a writer and an educator whose writing has appeared in over 50 publications including the Washington Post, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor.