It’s a week now since I sequestered myself.
By 2.30am on Wednesday 9 November, it was clear from the BBC’s US election coverage what was happening, so I stopped watching and went to bed. I didn’t want to bear witness to what I knew was starting to unfold. An unashamedly intelligent and ambitious woman being put in her place by the worst kind of man. I can see that kind of thing lots of places, I don’t need to stay up late to watch it on national television.
That a woman of Hillary Clinton’s calibre should be beaten by a man like that; a man who makes no bones about being a man like that; a man who won because, not despite, of being a man like that, is unfathomable.
In the seven days since America chose hate not hope, I haven’t turned on a television or radio, nor been on social media. People described Brexit as being like a bereavement. Well, I’ve been bereaved and I know what that feels like. This feels like a blow to the head and the heart.
Despite my media fast, some bits of news have filtered through.
On the afternoon of the result, a colleague tells me it turns out Clinton had won the popular vote. It was the electoral colleges that swung it for Trump. I realise, I know nothing about the American voting system. The next day, I call my politics student son in Barcelona to ask him how it works. He is in Spain for a year, on the Erasmus programme, a likely casualty of Brexit,
It was the second time we had spoken since the result. I called him within hours of Trump’s victory being formally declared. I knew he would be reeling as much as I was. ‘I feel as if I’ve experience a personal trauma,’ I said. He sounds crushed. I tell him how much I love him, and how proud I am of the amazing young people that he and his brother have become. ‘Sorry about the older people,’ I tell him. ‘It’s not your fault,’ he says.
A colleague arrives at work with about 50 almond croissant. I’m not hungry, but had wanted to buy flowers for everyone on the way in, so I understand the gesture.
That same morning, I’d had a meeting with some white men, who probably fancy themselves slightly alpha-male-ish. They had already processed the result enough to start joshing about it. They’d known it was going to be a bad year after David Bowie’s death in early January. They’d been trying to think what would be the next bad thing to happen, and decided it would be Marine Le Pen becoming French president.
Maybe it’s a woman thing, but I wasn’t in the frame of mind to appreciate the humour. Or maybe it’s because I’d come straight to the meeting from spending 15 minutes trying to console a young colleague. She was distraught, not just at the election result and what it means for the young American migrants who have been so inspirational to the Let us Learn campaign, but also because of what she’d learned the previous day.
She had learned that our government is halving the grace period during which long-standing British migrants must renew their ‘leave to remain’ applications – something they have to do every 30 months. They will now have just two weeks. She was upset not just for herself, but at knowing she would have to convey such devastating news to her fellow Let us Learn campaigners.
The only possible result of the change is that increased numbers of young people like her, who have lived in the UK almost all their lives and are as British as my own children apart from the paperwork, will inadvertently miss their renewal deadlines, and end up having to start their 10-year path to citizenship all over again.
Another colleague texts to say he is too disturbed to come in. No one questions this, or seems to think it anything other than an entirely reasonable response.
Later that day, my younger son tells me he’d read that if only millennials had voted, Clinton would have won by a landslide. Snoop Dog apparently tweeted something droll and supportive in response, which cheered him up a bit.
I hear along the way that 52 per cent of white women voted for Trump. I remember that I’d read at some point earlier Giles Fraser supported Trump. Dear god.
A day later, someone tells me his wife heard the head of Women for Trump being interviewed on Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour. Why don’t women like Clinton? she was asked. ‘Well, just look at what her husband did,’ came the reply. By that logic, if one of Trump’s various wives had philandered, that would have made him unelectable. Unelectable, in a way that his denigration of federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel, his inciting of violence at his campaign rallies, his disinclination to pay tax, and his disrespecting of PoWs and the grieving parents of US Army Captain Humayun Khan did not. If only Clinton’s campaign team had known.
Say what you like about Bill, but at least he had enough about him to marry up. Unlike the American electorate, he isn’t intimidated or fazed by a woman who is smarter and tougher and more driven than he is.
The same day, a friend tells me people are saying Michelle Obama should stand. Michelle Obama, who is not a politician and has never run for anything, whose qualification is that she is a more acceptable woman than Clinton. ‘Hey, self-styled “mom in chief“, how’s that “when they go low, we go high” thing working out for ya?’
Apparently, Michelle doesn’t want to do it, though. Why would any woman?
The same friend adds, I think to cheer me up, that it may not be so bad. Anything could happen. Trump could drop dead any minute. He could even be assassinated. A day later, another friend says something similar. Has it come to this? When apparently right-thinking and decent folk comfort themselves with the thought that a democratically elected president might be murdered. Fuck.
Others are saying (I am told), this is why it should have been Bernie. Bernie Sanders who couldn’t manage to win the Democrat nomination, but apparently would have managed to win the presidency – being a bloke, and all.
It seems politics is no longer for the people who understand that complex and difficult problems require complex and difficult solutions. It is now for people who want to take their country back, to build walls, and ‘win everything’. It is for people who don’t care about decency or propriety; who can say anything they like, and then unsay it, just as easily.
Me? I’m thinking of getting a kitten.
It feels like a defining moment, but we don’t have to let it define us.
I am worn out by slogans and hyperbole and braggadocio. My side lost. I get the fact that politics is now not for the likes of me. Instead, I take solace from the small acts of kindness, gentleness and generosity, that I see all around me every day. The centre isn’t holding, but even as things are falling apart, I can hold close to my beloved family, cherished friends, and stalwart colleagues.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming, WB Yeats