My first experience with Election Night in America was a truly jarring experience.
As a Hillary Clinton supporter, I fully expected that night to be one of celebration, an opportunity to see history in the making when America elected its first female president. My confidence lingered even as news started to pour in of Trump’s victories in key swing states. In my dorm’s common room, we huddled around an electoral map, figuring out possible ways for Hillary to win, as her chances grew slimmer by the minute.
There was no way, we thought, that all the polls and pundits could be wrong, nor did we believe that America would prove foolish enough to elect a bigoted clown. It was not until after midnight, when Trump pulled ahead in Pennsylvania that the unavoidable truth began to sink in. The room quickly became an atmosphere of despair – some kids began praying, others cried, one even knocked over the furniture in anger.
The magnitude of the shock we felt was on full display the next day. Both of my classes were let out early– it was clear nobody was in the mood to learn about kinematic motion, and reading The Handmaid’s Tale seemed too close for comfort on such a day. The entire campus seemed to be in a state of sleepwalking, as if we all were experiencing a bad dream from which we couldn’t wake up.
My personal reaction was profound. While most of my peers wanted Hillary to win simply because she wasn’t Trump, I was genuinely passionate about her. I firmly believed that her experience would make her a qualified and competent president, and I agreed with her platform of diversity and social justice.
I am not exactly a sentimental person, yet watching her concession speech, I had to fight back tears. My heart ached at the injustice that a woman who had worked tirelessly her entire life towards her dream of becoming President would have to suffer the indignity of losing to such an ignorant and racist buffoon.
The results of the election have left me disillusioned. I always admired America for its diversity, its tolerance, its reputation as a place where immigrants could thrive, its status as a nation that combined all the best attributes of different cultures into one large melting pot. Yet in a time where globalism is increasingly important, significant parts of the nation voted for divisive and insular policies.
I was also scared. What frightened me the most was not the thought of any harmful policy Trump could institute – I have faith that the checks and balances of the American government to prevent him from executing any of his crazy campaign promises. Rather, I was fearful of the way that some of his supporters seemed to see his victory as an acceptance of the racism and xenophobia that had been suppressed in American society but was still lingering.
Scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I saw an alarming increase in reports of hate crimes, in places as liberal as New York and Massachusetts, the state where I study, as the election emboldened some Americans to be actively discriminatory.
There are millions of people who no longer feel safe in their own country: devout Muslim-Americans who are now afraid to don the hijab in public, Mexican-Americans whose celebration of their vibrant culture is met with a: “Go back to your own country”, Jewish people who find their cars defaced with swastikas.
Yet here in my boarding school bubble, there has been no been discernible difference in life since Election Night. The sun is still shining, nothing has burnt to the ground. I have not been racially discriminated against, and the academic pressure cooker that is junior year has ensures that I don’t have sufficient time to fully contemplate the dangers of a Trump-led America.
The most prevailing emotion that the election stirred up in me was not despair or fear, but rather a realisation of how privileged I was. No matter how dire the circumstances get in America, I will always have Hong Kong to go back to. But I have also realised that even though I’m lucky to not be directly affected by the Trump effect, it does not mean I should be self-absorbed in my own cocoon, and ignore the debilitating effect a Trump presidency will have on others.
It is tempting to think selfishly, but respecting common differences and being sympathetic to the challenges of others is even more important in a time like this. In the face of such divisiveness, it is unity and empathy that are the most powerful forces of all.