Like many of my friends and family — ok, many of my male friends and family — I’ve been a psychological basket case for weeks. Obsessively checking fivethirtyeight.com a dozen times a day, Real Clear Politics, Politico, reading every word written by the Nates — Cohn at the New York Times and Silver at 538—and now the 538 daily podcast, I have become convinced that Donald Trump could win the presidency, and I have absolutely no place to put the fear and anxiety called up by that possibility.
I had thought that after 5½ years of war criminal Richard Nixon, two terms of the genial right wing monster Ronald Reagan, and eight years of the trigger happy, economy-destroying embarrassment George W. Bush (installed by a Supreme Court coup, no less), that I might be emotionally prepared for dangerous, racist, murderous, Constitution-dissing, vengeful Republican presidents. Wrong again!
But a funny thing happened on the way to this election. I was confessing to my minister wife, for maybe the 10th time, my distress over the election, and she calmly asked, “Isn’t it always like this?” I started to sputter, slinging all the linguistic arrows that Elizabeth Warren and Charles Blow have shot at Trump, all arguing how much worse he is. And she replied, calmly, “Not for the people I work with, especially the immigrants.”
And I had to shut up. Of course. The immigrants she works with in New York City through the New Sanctuary Coalition live under daily threats of deportation by the most deportation-happy president in U.S. history — Barack Obama.
And as I shut up more, and whined less, I began to look in the moral mirror (never a very happy exercise), I was brought back to conversations with my daughter and daughter-in-law after the infamous Billy Bush tape. “Every woman I know is triggered by Trump’s comments,” my daughter the tenant organizer had said. “Every one of us has these experiences, one way or another, all day long.” And from my daughter-in-law the rabbi, “It’s just awful. Every day when I get dressed, I have to think about what’s going to happen on the subway, how late I’m going to be out, where I’m traveling, how I can just BE. I hate it.”
My African-American political scientist colleague at the University of Hartford, Bilal Sekou, told me about how he drives around the city, constantly observing the speed limit, and when he catches sight of a cop the anxiety starts. “Is there anything he can stop me for? How am I going to respond? Because,” he says, with urgency in his voice, “if I do something he doesn’t like, I could end up dead.”
How does electing Donald Trump — or Hillary Clinton ― change any of these experiences? Instead of spouting anxiety, I starting thinking, for a change.
As a privileged 65-year old straight white guy, I just might be beginning to get the slightest glimmering — and I do mean the slightest — of what it means to be less privileged, less white, less male, less straight, less documented person. After all, when I wake up in the mornings, I never have to wonder whether my spouse or children will be deported, whether I’ll be fired for missing work because my kids were sick, whether I’ll be evicted by his landlord, whether my children will be shot by the police, whether my car will be repossessed, or whether a warrant will be issued for my arrest because I missed a court date. I have never had to worry about getting catcalls or having hundreds of eyes size up my most intimate body parts, or rubbing up against them on a packed subway, or question my right to use a bathroom— or even question my right to express an opinion in a meeting.
I’m not going to claim to know anything about what it’s like to experience any of these things on a daily basis. The truth is that I had, in the last third of my life, begun settling into a certain comfort level with who I am, and how I think about the world.
No more, I fear. The candidacy of Donald Trump, to quote Shakespeare from Macbeth, “does murder sleep, the innocent sleep” and I now need to learn how make sense of a more anxious, less innocent life in the middle of the night. It’s disorienting and unpleasant, but I am hoping that I can learn something from those often undocumented immigrants my wife was talking about. Every night they show up at her church, conduct seminars on immigration law, bring huge amounts of food and energy, and have a party. A party! When many of their number could be deported the next day.
Who do I have to thank for this new way of thinking? None other than the Donald himself. I never thought I’d say this, and I am saying it without a hint of sarcasm: Thank you, Donald Trump.