Although I've been an American citizen since the early 90's, I've never voted, a choice I regret today. During previous elections, I justified my decision because I didn't live in a swing state, knowing each time "the less objectionable" candidate would automatically win in my blue state. But today I wiped away tears knowing I've deprived myself of voting for a remarkably capable and qualified badass like Hillary Clinton, "politician" though she may be in every sense of the word.
In the past, while it was a relief that the majority of voters in states like California shared the same ideologies as me regarding human rights and social compassion, not voting was my passive protest against a system I felt should've been doing a lot better for a lot more people.
On the other hand, I felt heartfelt gratitude toward a government that had taken in my family and me when a religious despot by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini grabbed power in my country of origin, Iran. In the United States, the members of my family weren't simply relieved to be alive but given the opportunity to thrive.
I was growing up in Manhattan when Trump Tower was under construction in the early 80's. Due to accident of circumstance, we lived on the Upper East Side among New York's old money set, and in that circle, horror abounded over the faux-gold eyesore to be, looming over Fifth Avenue's classic architecture. Sure enough when completed, the over-compensating glass phallus sparkled more than a kindergardener's glitter mishap. That's how as a child, I came to know of Donald Trump: ridiculed among New Yorkers.
From his lack of class to the taxidermy-like display on his head, he was the butt of jokes as early as the 80's when even I, just a kid, recognized him as a red-tie and navy-blazer-wearing wannabe. Donald's awe of gaudy gilt betrayed his disbelief of his own riches, which makes sense because he was, and still is, a fraud, the epitome of fake-it-til-you-make-it.
The system I would later critique did exceptionally well by me, no doubt, but it took me, at the mere age of fourteen, just half a semester of eighth grade in Harlem as the solitary white kid in the school to realize that there, students received the education level I'd experienced in the fifth grade of an elementary school farther downtown. My parents quickly signed me up in another school, but what about all those other kids?
My four family members became citizens twelve years after our arrival, waving miniature American flags outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan as our beaming American neighbor snapped a picture. My younger brother became a voter by the very next election cycle, which began at the end of Bill Clinton's first term. As far as I was concerned, politics was a dirty business and politicians had to get their hands dirty by nature of the work they undertook, so I called myself apolitical.
During this election cycle, losing both weight and sleep watching a catastrophic circus unfold in the form of the Republican party's most unfortunate presidential candidate in the entire history of this country, I came around too late to the reasoning that regardless of Hillary Clinton's electoral victory, she would also need to win by a popular-vote landslide in order to abate the "rigged"-crying bunch.
It doesn't take much sifting through reputable news -- available to anyone with an internet connection -- to understand the inner workings of Donald. More complex is the issue of his supporters, but even then, they fall into roughly three categories: an uninformed, aggrieved, predominantly white right wishing for yesteryear and an illusion of dominance; those who want to keep the supreme court in the hands of Republicans at all costs; and finally, those who irrationally hate Hillary Clinton, which cannot be attributed to anything other than long-cultivated misogyny, even among some women.
There is a fourth group: the third-party voters, the aggrieved non-right who want to see "change" even if through chaos. They aren't concerned about taking away votes from the one sane option who happens to be an excellent choice all around: a centrist like Hillary Clinton shouldn't be considered a compromise for Democrats, but a leader who can play ball with everyone as necessary. We are not after all, a country comprised of ultra-liberals only and ought to take into account those on the opposite end who deserve a fair leader as well.
Perhaps well-meaning protest voters watched, as I did, always-on-the-high-road President Obama get blocked and thwarted at every turn, so they believe someone like Donald can't cause too much damage if he makes it to the White House. But I already come from a country where the people found themselves fed up enough with the status quo to allow a psychotic buffoon -- the Ayatollah -- to gain power. It is thirty-six years later, Iran is still under religious law and so many protestors of the Shah who ended up with Khomeini fled the country and haven't returned since.
Let's get back to Donald who got his start through handouts from daddy and built on it by borrowing against credit, working the system via tax loopholes, multiple bankruptcies and according to some, stiffing people who labored on his behalf. Years later, he would refer to himself as a billionaire even though others would estimate his actual worth to be in the millions, speculation which would incite Donald to sue them -- and lose.
Today, with a limited arsenal of adjectives at the tip of his tongue and a permanent pout, his personal make-believe in which all is gold and he is emperor has somehow melded with reality to become our nightmare.
We find ourselves subjected to a spectacle we scarcely believe, one that might make for passing entertainment if the fate of the entire world weren't at stake. Staggering failures like Trump Casino and Trump University speak to Donald's business judgment even as behind-the-times everymen across the middle states won't rub the ninety-nine-cent glitter out of their eyes.
A showman of dubious character can put on shows, even garner an audience. He can be a braggart, a buffoon and win the crowd's favor with ninety-nine-cent glitter. Donald took his years of on-camera practice in showmanship to the Republican debates, huffing and puffing until he blew down the other candidates' house (and frankly, who didn't want some of those people put in their place?). But a poisonous clown does not a president make, and somehow this point became obscured for so many self-professed God-loving people. They want "change" without considering that a petulant, oft-failed businessman, who is less informed about government than a sixth-grader studying American history, might bring on the same change as a headless chicken. "Someone who tells it straight" seems to be euphemism for heretofore-repressed hate-mongering not only manifested, but handed a podium and potential to lead the world.
Even as a self-admitted liar who extolls revenge, Donald didn't start out as dangerous when entering the presidential race. It wasn't as if he had a plan or any idea of how far he might reach -- he didn't take himself seriously any more than we did. It was a buffoon's pathological yearning to be in the spotlight -- as opposed to power -- that brought Donald here.
Every showy act Donald has undertaken, accompanied by his incessant need to boast, from building garish skyscrapers to parading beautiful women, is the mark of a weak, insecure man. Whether the contestants of his reality show or his opponents during the Republican debates, bullying for Donald is the equivalent of pandering because his audience wants it of him. Donald was never the danger. The danger, born of Donald merely hamming it up, is the unleashing of an accidental ideology, latent within those to whom he pandered. He allowed his audience to mold him and in turn, he molded them.
But thanks to Donald, another group of people have banded together, cementing their set of ideals deeper into modern mainstream culture and long into the future. By the time the third presidential debate came around, pouty Donny was crying "rigged" at every turn, we'd been exposed to proof of his reprehensible -- even criminal -- attitude toward women and that collective gender took none too kindly to it. Social media feeds were witness to one anecdote after another of women who were no longer accepting it when sundry men told them they "should smile more," or interrupted them, or caused them to worry they might be "shrill," or kissed them without their permission. None of these notions are new, but a shift has taken place, as if now the notions are a woman's second-nature instead of a goal to reach.
There is a conspiracy against Donald Trump, it's quite true. Except that it's not so much a conspiracy as it is an overt, out-loud uniting of people who value integrity, compassion, basic human decency and a modicum of political knowledge in their presidential candidate. And yes, Donald is correct: the presidential race is rigged against him. It's rigged in the same way a circus clown booby-traps his own clown car with bottle corks and firecrackers to shoot into his face.
The freedom of thought and expression granted by this democracy is precisely why there's room for someone like me to have a complicated relationship with politics in the first place. I'm grateful for every bit of comfort and freedom I enjoy as an American citizen, wishing only that I'd recognized sooner the value of participating in the voting process of an already-great nation.