Now What, America? Writers Reflect on the Election
Last week—before anyone went to the polls, any results slowly rolled in, any victory speeches were given or any concession calls made—PEN America asked some of the country and the world’s prominent writers of all backgrounds to share with us their short reflections on lessons learned this election cycle. Their responses, below, poured in this morning, representing a wide swath of reactions, responses, and emotions as America opens a new chapter.
Read PEN America’s response to Tuesday’s election.
Wajahat Ali, playwright/media commentator, The Domestic Crusaders
America awakens to President Trump, yet the country is still not woken. The sun still rises from the East. There are no four horsemen of the apocalypse over the horizon—yet. The Earth continues to revolve around its axis. The savage, vengeful demons of White Supremacy, unleashed since 1492, rub their bellies, content and gluttonous after a large, bloody feast.
And yet The Bad Hombres, The Nasty Women, the Skittles, and, yes, even the Radical Muslims like me and my family are all still here. We’ll be eating a halal burrito at the taco truck during lunch, swallowing the tasty spices with bitter sadness.
Instead of being despondent, I am woken. A slumbering, hibernating sloth has been energized and empowered. For the sake of my children. We’re all still here—minorities and our white allies. And none of us are going anywhere.
This includes the Mexican Immigrant. The Pakistani Muslim father of a fallen soldier. A Michigan factory worker. An evangelical Floridian forced to declare bankruptcy.
For those who feel emboldened by this victory to fan the flames of bigotry, to ban Muslims, to deport Mexicans, to humiliate women, please know this: We’ll survive. People of color and minorities are used to taking a beating and thriving. We can take the beating, but we’ll still be here and we’ll be rising.
I won’t ask for permission to sit at the table anymore. I’ll create my own with the “others” too long handcuffed to America’s mainstream narrative as sidekicks, footnotes, and villains. And we won’t just take the scraps anymore, oh no, we’re coming for everything. We’ll take the main course, the sides, the desserts, and the refreshments. We’re inhaling the American Dream. You can’t stop us. You won’t stop us. If you choose to sit at this majority-minority table, which will become a reality by 2043, know that you have my sincerest of invitations.
And may my children gladly pull up a seat for you at our table.
Alexander Chee, author, The Queen of the Night
A Korean American friend of mine has an elderly mother who was chased down the street by a white woman just a few days ago, telling her to get out of the country.
My question today is, to those who felt it, or said they did, “Does it still feel like Clinton and Trump would be the same?”
The GOP never wanted a broader coalition. Their core leadership has always hoped to create an Apartheid state that protects their conservative white elites above all else, and uses the promise of meritocratic reward as a rope-a-dope scheme to con people out of outright protest into doing their work for them. “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps” has always meant, “You pick me up by my bootstraps and carry me until you notice I’ve conned you out of your life.”
There’s some strange pervasiveness of magical thinking, at every level, on every side, if that is what it is, and how it always broke for Donald Trump. It’s the disease of our age. The belief that “it won’t be that bad”, or that “he won’t do what he says,” and for Hillary Clinton, “She’s worse than you think,” “She’ll start WWIII.” On the radio this morning, a caller to the NPR show here in NH spoke of how charming Trump was here when he met him at a restaurant stop, and how that guy, not the other guy, was the one who would be leading the country.
He was a white man. Of course Trump was charming to him.
Both guys will be leading us, though—the one he met and the other one. Prepare for them. Trump’s First Day plan, drawn up with Paul Ryan, to undo everything from Obamacare to the Syrian refugee program to the Paris Climate Accords to consumer protections to voting rights. Not to mention the Supreme Court. Twenty million people will lose their health insurance in a few months. I hope they all go see their doctors now, one last time. Social Security will be dismantled, another thing Trump has said he will do. Be sure you have a plan for your elderly. Or for yourself, if you are of or nearing that age. Because Trump has a plan, and you need one too. We all do.
Negin Farsad, comedian/filmmaker/author, How to Make White People Laugh
The Bigotry Buildup
What this election has taught us more than anything is that we let bigotry Slip. Through. The. Cracks. We knew there were bigots, of course! But at times we treated them like they were the cost of doing business. In retail, you’re not going to catch all the shoplifters, you’d have to spend too much money on security for that. So there’s a certain amount of shoplifting that you just live with. That’s where we were with the bigots.
It was easy for us to forget about the bigots because we elected a black president and he had this diverse cabinet and they started to make more female governors, and Mindy Kaling got a show, and Kevin Hart was selling out stadiums, and Beyoncé was a feminist and it looked like, hey, we’re doing okay! But it turns out, we were putting lipstick on a pig, only to find out that the pig was racist.
What we’ve encountered with Cesspool 2016 is an unprecedented bigotry buildup. It’s kind of like when you neglect your email and then you go back to it only to find a truly heinous number of emails. If you had only kept up with the emails, there wouldn’t be so many bigots in your inbox! We let it slip because addressing the bigots and changing their minds is a herculean task. It’s as daunting a task as getting your inbox to zero, but with more potential for death threats.
I realize now that we need to have a strict, No Bigot Left Behind policy. We can’t let one slip, he’ll just infect the others. Especially if he has over 13 million Twitter followers and a reality TV show. No, no, no. Leave no bigot behind! I happen to believe that they can be changed, reformed, and renewed. If not, then we’re just living in a country where nearly half the voters hate the other half and at the end of the day, this country will be a lot more fun if we can all just get along.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, author/activist, She’s Not There
For a few brief moments this morning, I was convinced it was all a dream. President Trump? Surely this was just the residue of some strange half-baked nightmare.
But, of course, it was no fever dream. President Trump, and all the people who voted for him, is the new reality.
I admit I spent an hour or two this morning staring out the window at the bleak bare trees here in Maine, feeling more than a little creeping despair. It’s a hard day—for me, for my family, for all of us. But on days like this people turn to each other—and the advocates that stand for us. They turn to us for our leadership, for our wisdom, and for our commitment to equality and love and inclusion—a commitment that cannot and will not be diminished by the events of last night.
More than ever, our community needs us to fight. They need us to continue to find allies even within a hostile Congress and Administration. They need us to stand up for the people that now—more than ever—fear they have no voice. They need for us to be brave, and to redouble our efforts to create a better future.
This is not the end of anything, but a beginning: a time of even greater devotion to our fight, a time to stand up for what we all know to be good and true.
On her way out the door to her social work job this morning, my wife Deedie was saying, “I love you,” when her throat closed up and she sat down, her eyes filling with tears. We held each other for a while. And then she said, “Well. At least we still have each other.”
And what is true for us as a couple is true for all of us in this fight. We still have each other.
In 1980, when he was defeated in his own bid for the Presidency, Senator Kennedy said, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Our dream continues as well. Today, we get back to work, with hope, and humor, and love.
Aleksandar Hemon, author, The Making of Zombie Wars
The cataclysmic immensity of Trump’s victory cannot be overestimated. Nothing like this has happened since the rise of European fascism in the thirties of the last century. Not only is Trump a racist and a psychopath—he ran on the platform of racism and psychopathy. This was not an impediment for him, but an advantage. What carried him to victory is a sense in the white population that this election might be their last chance to retain its historically privileged position of majority. Vacuous in and of himself, Trump is the vessel for his constituency’s anger, which made white nationalism the central political platform for the Republicans. Now aggressive racism has a full mandate, while white nationalist structures will have complete control over all the branches of the American government: the White House, the Congress, and soon the Supreme Court. Trump’s power will be enormous. To maintain control, the Republicans will have to enhance and retain the system of white supremacy, for which manufacturing and exploiting internal and external enemies will be useful—that means violence and war. The election of Trump is the end of America as a liberal democracy, maybe of America itself. This is no longer a viable country.
Pablo Medina, author/translator/poet, Island History: Poems
A Wall Too Far
Donald Trump lost me the moment he promised to force the people of Mexico to build a wall along our southern border. To paraphrase Robert Frost, there are many things in me that do not love a wall, this wall in particular. Putting aside the mendacity of his proposal, I am dumbfounded by the idea of an artificial barrier between two countries that have influenced one another’s history and culture for centuries. Before 1848 there was no such border, and Mexico extended to the north from Texas to California. Many Mexicans settled in those regions and their descendants and compatriots continue to live and thrive there.
What worries me is not the physical wall that Trump has proposed. He has a fantastical builder’s mind after all. When people talk about keeping out immigrants and refugees, documented or not, they talk about me and my family. We are both. When they say they want to control immigration, they really mean that they want to control us. If they cannot keep us out, they want to keep us down. The resentment and hatred of the other now legitimized by Trump and his surrogates will persist beyond Tuesday, November 8, no matter how the election turns out. What truly worries me is what this says about the party that nominated him and the millions of American voters who have supported his candidacy. The wall they have built is mental and will not easily come down.
“Don’t impose your truth on me,” the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá once said. “Let us find the truth together.” The more diverse a society is, the greater its chances of making a common path on which the truth may be found and shared. To label any one group unequal to that task is to undermine that group’s potential contribution to the common good. Those who build physical or mental walls to exclude others diminish only themselves.
Claire Messud, author, The Woman Upstairs
We knew that the United States is a nation bitterly divided: we didn’t fully understand how profoundly. The income gap is disastrous; poverty and despair are rife in the heartland. Angry and fearful, people seek to blame The Other: racism, sexism, and xenophobia are rampant. Americans have chosen to overlook the lies, bullying, and aggression of Donald Trump’s campaign; chosen to disregard his lack of transparency, his lack of experience, his lack of dignity, his lack of gravitas. We have thumbed our nose at the world, and elected a cowboy.
The depth of our society’s misogyny shocks, although perhaps it shouldn’t: Americans have chosen the least qualified candidate—and the most openly sexist—in history over the most qualified one. But educated urban communities have ignored the suffering of millions for whom the recession never ended; have closed our eyes to widespread blight and addiction; have glossed over the cost—financial and emotional—of extended foreign wars. We have looked instead to a bright, imaginary future (promoted by iPhone), ignoring the grinding realities of many around us.
This is not just an American crisis: it’s a global one. From the Brexit vote to the rise of Marine LePen’s Front National and other far-right parties across Europe, dark forces are on the march. This looks more like the 1930s than one would wish. One big difference is the rise of social media. The risk is that our attention spans are so etiolated that shock value becomes the only value, its fleeting nature the only relief. Substance gives way to spectacle, seriousness to celebrity, nuance to propaganda.
As a young friend recently observed, to fight for a right demands sustained attention—a habit which, both as individuals and as a nation, we have too readily sacrificed. The time has come to put down our iPhones, roll up our sleeves, and get to work. There are mighty labors ahead. All that we believe in is at stake.
Walter Mosley, author/artist, Charcoal Joe
5:44 a.m., Wednesday, November 9, 2016. On this sobering morning I am reminded of the phrase, “the older we are, the more we live in the past.” When the Republicans refused to recognize the winds of change in Barrack Obama’s sails after his secondelection, they hobbled themselves and also the potential character of their party. They denied the changing landscape of the makeup (and the break-up) of the U.S. and lost the reins of their own party to the maverick Donald Trump.
When the Democrats put on the blinders of superiority in addressing the constituency of Mr. Trump they lost the chance to find the common ground of all dissatisfied Americans; deciding instead on business as usual in a world that had changed currency.
This election should have been a wake-up call from the beginning but instead the parties, pundits, and aged political leaders thought that things were primarily the same and that they could control the outcomes as they had done in past.
We can’t control what we don’t understand: the poverty-stricken, blue collar perspiring, faithful of Middle America; the nonwhite immigrants and children of immigrants and slaves who experience even worse reversals and are maligned as the cause of the fall of the greatness of this land; the avarice of internationally rooted corporations that have made it impossible, or nearly so, for these perceived nemeses to define a common ground and demand their rightful share of the wealth of our resources (which includes our labor).
This morning, in the blinding light of a harsh reality, we finally have the chance to jettison the past and to make the alliances between the unlikely bedfellows of the Red and the Blue. I doubt if the in-coming administration will make change, but I’m sure that we the people have the mind and the heart and the vote to do so.