On Tuesday night, many of us stayed up late to watch the end of an era broadcast on live TV.
Our generation grew up with arguably one of the most charismatic presidents of all time. Barack Obama’s election in 2008 promised that for many of us who were just perhaps coming into our own identities, things would change for the better, and even as we grew older and struggled to maintain that belief, Obama was there. We heard from him words and reassurances that things would be okay, watched him go gray, laughed at his mic drops and dad jokes and settled in. Obama was the one thing in my life that stayed constant from middle school through high school through college.
At Stanford, becoming disillusioned with Obama was just another byproduct of politicization. The death toll from his drone strikes and the millions of families torn apart by deportation under his presidency couldn’t be ignored — and so we gave up on Obama as he meandered towards the end of his second term. We taught ourselves about race in America, how mass incarceration and policing became the new face of racism and how colorblind language replaced explicit prejudice as the new coat of paint on a centuries-old system of disenfranchisement, suppression and oppression. We learned about colonialism, imperialism, Islamophobia, warmongering and the surveillance state, coming to terms with the reality that oppression hid behind smiling faces and well-intentioned policy-making, every level of the state apparatus built by and for the most powerful in America, even as it would maintain appearances of fairness.
And then the election happened.
Right now, I’m scrolling past reblogged suicide hotlines and an endless stream of Facebook posts reacting to the news. I have to remind myself that the stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and the reactions of our generation are mourning perhaps the single biggest death of our lifetimes so far: the death of the status quo on an unimaginable scale. We will probably still be grieving as we talk to our loved ones, find support in our communities and try to think about academics, work, policy change — anything but the choice the country we live in has made. We’re scared, angry, apathetic, numb and falling apart, and yet Stanford is still here, the beer bottles are where we left them, our homework still sits undone. They are the unsettling reminders of a world before Trump, and their presence now is the phantom limb syndrome of our political consciousness.
But the status quo that we lost on Tuesday was not a world where marginalization and violence did not happen — it was a world where we could turn a blind eye to it. If Hillary Clinton had won, I would have implored us to look past her victory towards the oppressive systems she would have assumed leadership over. Trump winning brings to the fore our own fears — not because we believe that Trump has the power to singlehandedly destroy a pristine America, but because we are frightened of the sheer honesty of today’s voting demographic in identifying America’s failures. We are realizing that Trump rose to power on the backs of voters disillusioned with the neoliberal elite and traditional politics whose anger has been channeled into hatred and white supremacy, and this channeling has been happening for a long time. We no longer have an excuse to ignore the influence of the systems and institutions that created this. We no longer have an excuse to look away.
What happens now and in the next four years is the tsunami after the earthquake. What I can’t and won’t predict right now is the kind of policy change that will come from this administration, or the global change that will likely develop in preparation of and in reaction to it. (In an omen of things to come, however, stock prices for America’s largest private prison contractors sharply climbed after Trump’s victory.) After Brexit, when Britain voted to leave the EU after being incited by xenophobia, Islamophobia and hatred, hate crimes rose — and stayed high. In America, communities of color, queer and trans people, undocumented Americans, refugees and Muslim Americans will likely face heightened violence, harassment and discrimination in the coming years from their neighbors, community members, peers and coworkers.
As we move forward from today, we need to love and support each other — to make sure that our uniting against a common enemy does not lower the standards for how our friends should treat us, and that we clearly identify what that enemy is (white supremacy, neoliberal elitism, class inequity and patriarchy, not the Trump supporters who are the accomplices and victims of those systems). We need to be intentional about the work we do, the goals and objectives of our work, the flaws and shortcomings of every movement. We need, more than ever, to use the right tactics in the right ways at the right time, with the right people, to organize and movement-build, to sustain our advocacy and fight across as many different spaces we can. In short, we need a mindful, critical, loving and powerful activism.
I am glad that this, at least, has not changed.
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.