On election night 2016 I sat beside my wife waiting for the results to start coming in, digesting chinese takeout, and hoping my most dire predictions were not about to come true. Over the last two years the rhetoric, name calling, and general unpleasantness had reached a fever pitch. Forget the national news media and the army of pundits from both sides citing skewed facts and barefaced lies, this war of words had become personal. Families worried, and still worry, about what Thanksgiving will be like with Uncle Redhat and Aunt Safetypin having to share a table and some polite conversation. It was the natural outcome of a political party foresaking the normal “gentlemanly discourse” of politics and embracing a strategy of outrage, fear, and disruption. The only result imaginable for an over yearlong campaign that saw an entire party fall in line and lionize a candidate that until his nomination was considered a trumped up internet troll. I lost friends. I lost family members. I lost a good deal of hope. You were there. You saw it too.
Over and over I heard the same thing, “at least this will all be over on Tuesday, one way or the other.” This sentiment always stung me. “You poor fools,” I thought. “Nothing changes on Tuesday. If Hillary wins the Trump campaign continues against her. For impeachment. To stymie her at every turn. To be the ever present, post-truth thorn in the side of progressive politics for years to come. And if he wins, he will continue to tweet, and Conway and Giuliani will continue to convince Trump’s followers that he is fulfilling each and every one of his campaign promisies while he isn’t and blaming every failing on media meddling.”
I had my preditctions. My worst case scenarios also happened to be the ones I though most likely and went something like this:
On election night 2016 nothing would be decided. The Senate and House would stay in the hands of the GOP. The election would be very tight with an initial call by the media for Hillary Clinton. This would be followed by an intense legal fight over recounts in multiple states that would keep the election results unclear for months. Trump fans, enraged by warnings of a rigged election, would stage major protests and riots and occupy buildings in far flung municipalities a la Cliven Bundy. The GOP would refuse to concede and would block all appointments by Clinton’s White House. The final result would be one of three things. (A) Trump would sue his way to the Whitehouse and the Democrats would wither citing the best interests of the country or (B) Trump would start a multimedia conglomerate with his face and Bannon’s brain pushing the country towards fear and hatred from both sides and continuing to divide us for years to come. This would result in a Trump puppet being elected in 2020 after 4 years of a presidency that the GOP would obstruct at every turn as if it was Obama’s third. The least likely scenario, (but one I had unscientifically put at probability of 20%) was much darker. Scenario (C) would see the Democrats win the electoral college and lose the popular vote leading to widespread civil unrest and a divided nation. I was worried enough about the fallout of this outcome to pick up a weeks worth of canned food and bottled water on Tuseday morning just to be safe.
I put on my election night play list. One that now looks rather prophetic. It started with “Back in Time” by Huey Lewis and The News, “Is this the 50’s or 1999? Don’t put your future on the roll of the dice. Take me away, I don’t mind.” Seemed fitting enough. The Cubs just won a World Series after all. But, it quickly devolved into Elbow’s “The Leaders of the Free World,” and “Freedom” by Rage Against the Machine by way of “The Bomb Song” by Darwin Deez. It ended with the epic whimper of “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” by Grandaddy. My music selections were preparing me for an outcome that my brain would not accept.
None of my predictions hit the nail on the head, but there are hints of all three wafting around this post election America. I am fairly sure that the Trump campaign was banking on option A or B and sweating option C. The post election scramble to make an attempt at a transition and Trumps panic stricken face in every photo op this week seem to confirm this. There were rumblings that some sort of “Trump TV” were in the works. It doesn’t appear that Trump’s election was on even their radar, but hell, good problems to have, right? The GOP should be so lucky.
So we watched, and waited, and it looked bad for Clinton, it looked bad for all of us. The writing was on the wall. I went to bed long before the news media called it and Trump gave his speech. We sat in stunned silence. We ranted about what would happen next. We worried for our LGBTQ friends, our black friends, our Latino and Muslim friends.
The final maps were not just blue states and red states. It was blue city-states in seas of red. A country truly divided, but without the convenient borders that set up our Civil War. Neighbors hating neighbors for yard signs. As many hate crimes reported in the week after the election as in the prior 6 months of intense fighting. Families unable to talk civilly about politics. So many people on both sides utterly confident that they are in the right and the other side is either evil or stupid.
As we prepared for bed in silence I looked at my wife and said, “Our nation has seen this before. This hate. This outrage. This division. Brother against brother. This is the election of 1860 all over again. Seven states seceded before the inauguration.” My wife looked at me and with a straight face quoted the last line of the auto-tuned theme song to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “This is going to be a fascinating transition…” We both broke into defeated, manic laughter.