In the three hours since I’ve arrived home from babbling about the election on a Detroit TV station, I’ve had to roll out of bed four times to pee.
I feel like I’m pregnant — the familiar cinching on my bladder, the uncontrollable creep of morning sickness. It all briefly reminds me that my husband and I had spent months anxiously debating whether to have a late-in-life baby — one that would be ours after bringing one child apiece into our blended family. I was pushing 40; he was already there. In the end, we opted to be practical and put more money in our kids’ college funds. So I know there most certainly is no baby. There is only a dull dread in my belly. And it all feels like a lifetime ago as election results tauntingly flash through my head.
I am a political analyst. I do this for a living. This is my fifth presidential rodeo. I thought Donald Trump could very well end up being the GOP nominee back in September 2015 (and I have the posts to prove it). I also thought the Republican Party would coalesce around him, which it did.
But no, I did not think he would win the presidency. And neither did most of my colleagues (and even a majority of voters, if you look at the polls). As an analyst, you learn to game out electoral possibilities by sliding states around in the 3-D map in your head. I wasn’t alone in thinking Trump’s path was extraordinarily narrow. It was. But I was wrong like so many on Election Day. I didn’t expect Wisconsin to fall or Michigan to be agonizingly close.
There will be many pieces and books written about this election. Thousands of stories are already in the ether. I’ve barely had time to touch any of them. There will be recriminations from Democrats about picking a weak and unpopular candidate whose campaign’s grasp on analytics was vastly overblown. There will be angry columns about those who cast vanity votes for third-party candidates when it was all on the line. There will be political science analyses of negative partisanship, the breakdown of social norms and institutions, and the signaling Republican elites sent to voters by embracing Trump — or staying silent due to fear. There will be rapturous stories about the unsung heroes of the Trump operation who pulled off the biggest upset in modern American political history. There will be (even more) homespun yarns about poor Trump voters long ignored by coastal elites.
I don’t really care at the moment. I suppose I will at some point.
Elections are personal. It was personal to millions when America elected the first African-American president in 2008 after a history marred by slavery. It was nothing short of amazing. We all thought it was the ultimate symbol of progress. But it’s undeniable that racial resentment has been at the core of Trump’s message just eight years later — and it probably put him over the top.
This is personal because I’m a woman. A major party finally tapped a female presidential nominee for the first time in our 240-year history. Women haven’t even had the franchise for a century. I was raised in a traditional household where my Greek father never told me I could be anything (but my homemaker mother did). A female president is something I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I wanted my teenage daughter and especially my teenage son to witness and be part of this history. So when I’ve heard some variation from people of, “Yes, yes, of course, but not this woman,” it has made me want to scream. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most qualified person to run for president in decades. To say that she was more qualified than Donald Trump borders on black comedy. So when is it ever the right person? When is it ever the right time? Clearly, we don’t know.
This is personal because I’m a member of the media. At Trump rallies, journalists have been assaulted by attendees and staffers. Reporters have endured sexist, racist and anti-Semitic slurs, most recently including “Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!” and “Luegenpresse,” which was, of course, what Nazis called lowly reporters. Trump has vowed to gut the First Amendment. Now we’ll see if it he makes good on that promise as the most powerful man in the world. We journalists have much to be ashamed of in this election, especially the circus-like cable news racket. Ratings and clicks superseded journalistic judgment too much of the time. And we careened through the looking glass and found ourselves in a race where truth and facts didn’t matter. Fake news sites, Twitter bots and conspiracy theorists clogged social media with garbage, some of which filtered into the mainstream media. All of it made voters angrier and less-informed.
This is personal because Trump’s bigoted campaign was on display for all to see. He is the alt-right’s darling and has been endorsed by the KKK. He won the GOP primary by promising to build a wall with Mexico, picking fights with Black Lives Matter and proposing to ban Muslims from the country. His closing argument ad was full of anti-Semitic tropes, blaming Jewish powerbrokers like Fed Secretary Janet Yellen for rigging the system against good working-class folks.
This is personal because I have a gay, half-Jewish daughter. She’s 14. She was raised to believe she could do anything. She came of age when marriage equality became legal. Last night when I hugged her before bed, she started sobbing. “Will I still be able to get married?” she asked and I assured her she would. But no, I don’t know for certain. I don’t control elections. I don’t control the Supreme Court. But I will move heaven and earth to make sure that she has the same right to happiness as anyone else in this country.
This is personal because we are not the country I thought we were. Trump, however, is exactly who he said he was. There are all sorts of reasons to have voted for him: tax cuts, Obamacare, terrorism, trade, jobs, etc. But you don’t get a pass on what he is. He is sexist. He is a bigot. He is a bully. He is an authoritarian. Your vote is an endorsement of his character, no matter what you told exit pollsters. Your vote will allow him to have the nuclear codes. Your vote will allow him to seek revenge against his enemies. Your vote will allow him to enrich himself in the Oval Office, as we don’t know his business dealings and he’s refused to commit to setting up a blind trust. Your vote will allow him to discriminate against groups of people. Your vote will allow him to hurt the least among us.
This is a shameful chapter in our history and it’s just beginning. It has made me physically ill, but sadly, not with the hope of bringing new life into the world. I’m not sure when I will sleep through the night again.
But I will never give up. My children — and all children — deserve better. The promise of America is progress. Donald Trump doesn’t share that view. He wants to take us backward. I don’t believe he shares our collective values. But he won the election and will now lead our country. For those of us with a conscience, now is the time to rise up for liberty, equality, kindness and compassion — because they are more fragile than we ever imagined. This is gut-check time. This is when you find out who you are. This is when we fight.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.