I keep hearing people say, "I can't wait for this election to be over."
I understand where they're coming from, because this has been brutal. But I'm also thinking: Over? How can it be over? What we're seeing here is just getting started - and that might be the only good thing about it.
As a kid, I read "The Princess and Curdie," a fantasy novel by Scottish author George MacDonald. It features a powerful princess who owns a fire of roses; if you burn your hands in the fire, it's terribly painful, of course, but you acquire the power to touch any person's hand and feel who, or what, he really is inside. If the person you're meeting is a good person, you'll feel only a hand. But if the person is corrupt, you'll feel a claw or a tentacle, the beast hidden beneath.
This is not a comfortable superpower to have. It's stomach-turning and terrifying, finding out what is really going on in people's minds and hearts. But it's a superpower nonetheless, and, if wielded correctly, can lead you out of trouble.
That's what this election has done for me, and I suspect for many other people as well. It's been excruciating, without a doubt. Stomach-turning and terrifying, too. But this experience has afforded us a dizzying glimpse of what lies beneath the façade of our nation and many of its leaders.
Take the Donald Trump sexual assault tape. His comments about women did not surprise anyone too much. The reaction to the tape was the real bombshell, the real fire - just as Trump's previous comments about Muslims, immigrants, you name it, have never been half as disgusting as the stunning lack of reaction from other leaders.
It never stops being surprising, and it shouldn't. So yes, I was shocked to see leaders with whom I disagree on everything, but who I did consider to be public servants, brush aside sexual assault as if it were a typical campaign misstep.
It was like reaching out for a human hand, and feeling a reptile's scales instead.
I'm not saying those leaders are not human. But they certainly don't deserve to call themselves public servants anymore. Not when they only serve one of the two genders they are meant to represent. Not when they are willing to stand by, now and throughout the campaign, while someone denigrates others in their name.
Others might be amused or even annoyed at the privilege inherent in my words. Women who have personally experienced this level of loathing and disdain, or much worse, long before October 2016. Those who have been on the front lines to witness some of these same leaders' dismissal of women's rights for years. People of color who have realized, over and over again, that a person in power does not care about them and is working to uphold a double standard instead (something the Trump tape throws into sharp relief yet again, as Van Jones and others have pointed out). The list goes on.
But as the saying goes, the first step is to realize how much you don't know. At least now I have some inkling. I have started to grasp truths that, while I have always been a feminist, I had never before felt on a visceral level. I have started to understand a side of my country that my 2008 self, shedding tears of joy as Barack Obama took the stage on Election Night, did not yet fathom. That joy and that moment were real. It was my interpretation of the victory that was at fault, my highly superficial understanding of it.
We can't yet see where to go from here. We must first vote, and get out the vote, and wait for our breath to return. We must watch as this terrible storm over our nation continues to evolve, and hope that we can eventually weather it.
But I believe that this debacle has also given power to those whom Trump has attacked, with the Trump tape being just one example.
When some Republicans pushed back at Trump for his comments, he said it was a relief to have "the shackles taken off." Well, Mr. Trump, you're not the only one.
He and the party leaders who stand by him have shaken me, yes, but they have also angered me in a way that betters prepares me for whatever is coming. It has angered me in a way that is starting to change how I walk into a room, how I speak, how I think. How I shake a politician's hand.
It has angered me in a way that my daughter needs. For if this is the world I've brought her into, she will need parents who are sharp-tongued and ready to rise.
This isn't even close to over. It's just beginning. But at least we are wiser, after the fire.