Tuesday, November 8th 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected to be the 45th President of the United States of America.
I have never before experienced the combination of disappointment, confusion, loneliness and terror that I did that night. I never thought that I would live to see my country, a country that I love deeply, a country which has given my family so much, commit such a deplorable act onto itself.
I was watching with my friends in South Philadelphia, but I had to leave around 10pm because I was beginning to have an anxiety attack once it became clear that he was actually going to win, and couldn't be around other people. I took a long, slow, lonely walk back to the train station, hoping against hope that Hillary Clinton would miraculously catch up and we would wake up from this nightmare.
(To be clear, Hillary was by no means a perfect candidate, but that's a topic for another time. Suffice it to say, perfect or not, to compare her to Trump as a bad candidate is an immeasurable fallacy in the manner of which that a fender-fender and a head-on collision going 80mph are both "car accidents".)
When I arrived home, I tried to continue watching the coverage, but as that map grew more red, my heart lurched further and further into my chest. I eventually had to turn off the tv, put my phone on do not disturb, and curl up on my bed and...just lay there. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't cry. I couldn't rage. I was numb. The sheer number of emotions that I was feeling was overwhelming in a manner which I had never fathomed was possible. And I've had a gun shoved into my stomach as I was stripped of all my valuables at 2:30am one night in West Philadelphia when I was in college.
The next morning I "awoke" (I really did not sleep at all. I was in too much emotional pain, mental confusion, and physical numbness) to the confirmation of my worst fears. We had elected a bigot to the highest office in the land. A man accused of rape and sexual assault by multiple women was going to be the most powerful leader of the free world. Our next Commander-In-Chief would be a blatant xenophobe and racist.
The reasons why Donald Trump was the worst candidate to ever run for office have been sufficiently laid out by people far smarter and more eloquent than I. That’s not what this post is about. Trump himself is not what scares me. It’s not even Pence, or Bannon, or Carson, or the rest of his staff and cabinet. (Although let’s not kid ourselves, he has surrounded himself with some seriously scary individuals) What scares me the most is the culture that his election has validated. The KKK is having victory parades. Swastikas are appearing throughout the country, one of the first reported in my own city of Philadelphia. Water fountains once more have "Colored" & "Whites" signs placed above them. A large majority of my friends and colleagues have not gone a day without breaking down into sobbing tears. America is now living in a culture where hatred, fear, and bigotry are not only the norm, but actively encouraged and promoted.
Trump’s win has allowed all of the worst of humanity come crawling out of the cracks in the pavement into the daylight, full of pride and gleeful hate. Chauvinists and misogynists now have the approval of the highest office in the Federal Government to sexually assault and demean women. Homophobes now have approval of the highest office in the Federal Government to mercilessly beat members of the LGBT+ community simply for being who they are and loving who they love. Islamophobes and Xenophobes now have the approval of the highest office in the Federal Government to scream threats of arrest and deportation to anyone with a hint of brown skin, an accent, or an item of clothing that they don’t recognize as “normal”. Racists now have the approval of the highest office in the Federal Government to continue to marginalize and institutionally discriminate against anyone that doesn't fit their description of American. The man hasn’t even been elected yet, but we are already living in Trump’s America and it is a terrifying nightmare for anyone that is not a Straight White Male Christian of European Descent and Conservative values.
Is this to say that everyone who voted for Trump is a bigot? No. But they clearly do not find any of these traits to be deplorable enough NOT to vote for him. They themselves may not be racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, but they have enabled those who are. Now I understand why many of the average American voted for Trump. They are scared. Their way of life is dead or dying, their country is being attacked from inside and out, their children have no hope for a future that is worth anything, and they are scared. And angry. And neglected. And here comes with strong man that, on paper, exemplifies the American Dream. He built a business and a brand which, (on the surface) was extremely successful and now he has his name gilded on towers that pierce the sky across the nation. (Oh, and let's not forget about that time Trump bragged about having the tallest tower in Lower Manhattan. You may not have heard it though. We are a bit distracted that day. It was September 11th, 2001.) And he is telling them that he will help them get back on their feet. He will open their factories back up. He will give their children jobs. He will stop “those people” from taking their hope away. And he will upend a system that has completely forgotten about and neglected them. He will stick it to the man in Washington and tell him to go fuck himself. That’s a pretty damn tempting picture to paint, and in the position many of these voters were in, I understand why they made the choice the made.
But at the end of the day, Donald Trump is a snake charmer. He’s a charlatan. He said exactly what he needed to say to get elected. I have to say, his campaign was masterful. It will be studied by political scientists and historians for decades and centuries to come. He went for the largest voter base, the lowest common denominator. And he reeled them in hook line and sinker. Plus, the DNC served him up a damn easy win by putting him up against Hillary Clinton, a candidate that made it difficult for even the staunchest of Democrats to get excited for, someone who is the very face of political corruption, the establishment status quo, and being bought by Wall Street. (I always have and still do Feel The Bern. I have just as much, if not more, anger at the DNC for stealing the Democratic Primary from Bernie Sanders.) If we take anything away from this election, it should be that we desperately need to reform our education system which failed so many voters in leaving them ignorant enough to be charmed by his false words.
Wednesday night I was in a daze. I barely remember anything that happened during the day. I couldn’t process what new world I had entered into. Then around 1pm I get a text message from one of my best friends that read “Rally starts at 7 at city hall.” No context was necessary. After work, I went to my friend’s house to head up to City Hall together. They made signs, I got my camera ready. We reached City Hall and there were maybe one or two hundred people there max. But it grew. Slowly at first, and then all at once the number of people there doubled. Then doubled again. And again. We began to march up Broad Street. We went past my alma mater, Roman Catholic High School for Boys, in the halls of which I learned many of the values and ideals that I espouse now as an artist.
We kept going. I was amazed at the fact that despite the immense anger and fear that we all felt, more than anything, the emotions most palpable in the air were relief and unity. Every single person there I am sure felt a detestable loneliness the night before as we watched our fellow Americans betray us with their votes. Now we were standing together. We were no longer alone. We had each other. Men and women, old and young, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, White, Black, Latino, Asian, Disabled, Cis, Gay, Queer, Bi, Questioning, Trans, and countless other minority groups and marginalized people. We had each other. We were each other. We were Americans fighting for America.
We kept going. We hit Temple University, where our numbers swelled even more as countless students joined in. The entire crowd erupted into applause when two students scrambled over a 12ft fence, running to join in the march. We kept going. Eventually we hit Lehigh Avenue when we took a left turn. We were in North Philadelphia, a neighborhood that is likely to be very affected by the vitriol of a Trump Presidency. Then the most amazing thing happened….as we snaked through the smaller streets of the city, chanting “Fuck Trump”, “Fuck Mike Pence”, “Not My President!”, “Donald Trump is KKK, Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay”, so on so forth, people were coming out of their homes, greeting us with cheers and smiles and dancing. Entire families, from the grandparents to the young children, dancing and snapchatting us, and probably smiling for the first time in 24 hours. People were getting out of their cars and honking in support, high-fiving everyone that went by, and didn’t have a care in the world that they had to sit and wait for the massive crowd (which I believe was reported to be 1,600+ people the first night) to move by before they could continue. We made their night. The children though, they were what meant the most to me. To be able to show these young, poor black children that despite what their new President said, they are respected, they are counted, they are meaningful. The smiles we put on their faces is something that I will never forget as long as I live.
We kept going. We began to make our way back down to City Hall. This is when my favorite chant of the night came about. Throughout the night women had be yelling “My Body, My Choice”, which I wanted to join in on, but felt that it wasn’t my place, being a cis male. Then some genius guy replied “Her Body, Her Choice” and a beautiful call and reply was formed. Looking at my art, specifically the Pretty People/Reclamation galleries, female empowerment is an issue that is very close to my artist’s heart, and this was a beautiful verbal example of everything I am trying to do with my art. But again, this is another topic for another day.
I went to another protest Friday night. All I have to report from there is that I was very disappointed in the behavior of some of the police escorts. I heard them yelling thing such as “Go home to your mother’s basement!”, “Your parents let you out this late?”, “You voted for a criminal!” One girl that I talked to said that she had her skateboard kicked out from under her by a cop. This was extremely disappointing to see. I understand their frustrations, I’m sure they felt that we were wasting their time exercising our Constitutional right to peaceful protest and they wanted to be out on the streets doing their jobs, but, the last time I checked, their job was to Protect and Serve. But, yet again, another topic for another day. (God it says so much about our current culture that we are literally losing track of the number of broken systems in place right now…)
I do not exaggerate when I say this has been one of the most emotionally draining and stressful weeks of my life. I have never been so scared for my country and my friends. And I know it’s going to get much much worse before there’s a hope of it getting better. These protests have been one of the few things keeping me sane, despite the physical exhaustion. I am an artist. I am a photographer. It is my job, my duty, my responsibility to use my talents to not only document history, but to change the world for the better. I have a moral obligation. I would be a disgrace to the craft were I to use it solely for personal gain. I wish I could have made every protest every day since the election. I will not stop fighting for the true American values of acceptance of all people, caring for the lowest of the low, and allowing people to be who they are provided they are doing no harm to others.
EDIT: Some clarification on the phrase "Not My President." I love The Great Experiment. I love our democratic system. I love the convolution and glacial speed at which our policies are initiated because they were purposefully designed that way to prevent truancy and chaos. I respect the office of the Presidency. I respect the fact that, as our system is now, Donald Trump won fair and square. He will be the 45th President of the United States of America. This is a fact and I accept that fact. Although I respect the office, I cannot bring myself to respect the man. He showed me not a single ounce of respect during his candidacy, and he showed outright hatred towards many of my friends, be they women, Muslim, LGBTQ+, Mexican, disabled, so on so forth. I use this phrase because already he is THE President, he is not MY President. He does not represent me. He does not represent my values. He does not value my morals.