I delayed writing about the election in the post-November 8 period simply because the barrage of news reports, blog posts and protests became stifling, and my take didn’t seem important. It still doesn’t, but I’ve retold it all in little parts to many people, and it feels easier to write it all down. It felt important to inject some humanity into it all.
November 8 began innocuous enough for me: I woke up late, walked to Dough for an iced coffee and gourmet doughnut, then took an Uber to the Brooklyn Bridge so I could walk across with hundreds of other tourists. I caught my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and felt sentimental for a country I wasn’t even from. This was my first time in New York and the excitement of visiting allowed me to forget about the increasing political tension across America, and truly, across the world.
Exiting the Bridge into Manhattan brought me crashing back into the election frenzy, down from my East River high. In addition to the typical throngs of men hawking Empire State Building magnets, young people selling bus tours and distracted pretzel propetiers chattering on cell phones, a new type of sidewalk salesman had appeared: buttons and posters with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s slogans and faces were $2, and if you wanted, the Chinese man selling the election paraphernalia would take your picture next to a cardboard cut out of either candidate.
After wandering through the City Hall grounds and stealing some wi-fi at Starbucks to message my mom, I stumbled upon Trinity Church. I had never heard of it, but it seemed like a popular spot. I sat down in a pew, finding Trinity calm and quiet after the madness of Election Day New York. Here, like the Brooklyn Bridge, was a strange marriage of tourist buzz and spiritual rest. Most people in either place were like me, travellers and tourists, just passing through, headed towards Times Square or Wall Street. But whether in the chilly open air on the Brooklyn Bridge, or in the quiet, dusty silence of the old Episcopalian sanctuary, there was a moment of stillness.
That night, Times Square was madness like I’ve never experienced. I went to Times Square earlier that day, marvelling at the bright lights, eating street food and enjoying the strange delight of being alone in a city you still don’t know yet. But that night, it was truly something else. People chanted anti-Trump slogans, women raised pink signs proudly declaring themselves Trump supporters, hollering “talk to us tomorrow!” when someone told them they were hypocrites. While I had moved comfortably enough through the streets before 4pm, the Square started to overflow around dark, New Yorkers and tourists alike desperate to see what would happen.
As the night progressed, and a Trump presidency seemed imminent, I stared up at the results pouring in, projected onto the side of a building. A foreign news reporter zoomed in on the Clinton button on my purse, my disappointment sharply contrasting the smug look worn by the woman next to me, in her Make America Great Again hat. The reporter asked me about my political beliefs, and I told her I was a Canadian but I supported Clinton. The Trump supporter next to me smirked.
I left Times Square before 9, back to my AirBnB in Bed-Stuy where things were quieter on the streets, if not on my newsfeed. Friends from Canada and the US alike were transfixed. I posted my pictures and videos from Times Square and my friends begged me to be safe.
“I’m in bed now, I’ll be okay,” I commented and texted friends.
I fell asleep hoping, without truly believing, that an impossible number of swing states would magically turn blue, that a fascist couldn’t truly be president – a fear-mongering, pro-war consumerist? Certainly. They all were. But someone with rhetoric so closely tied to Nazism? With no political experience and a history of sexual assault? It seemed unthinkable. We’d left behind the era of Bush and Cheney, of Stephen Harper here in Canada. That’s the past – the future is female, if still neo-liberal. This is how I sung myself to sleep.
But I woke up to long message threads from distraught friends struggling to comprehend what had transpired while I slept. Friends thrown into panic by what the Trump presidency symbolized to them. As I got ready for the day, messages and status updates poured in as more North Americans woke up to the same news I had: the unimaginable had happened.
November 9 I spent with a friend. As much as the conversation strayed to “Let me come back to Canada with you”, that wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. We ate brunch and shopped and complained about more banal things than fascism and xenophobia – we had to complain about work, and the fact that rare books at the Strand cost so much money. A villainous orange figure loomed in our minds, but he wasn’t completely there.
The aftereffects in Brooklyn felt like ripples from a stone tossed into a still pond: small, noticeable but inconsequential: the man boarding the B46 grumbling about Donald Trump; the man in the bookshop chatting with a customer about the parallels to Brexit; jokes over brunch about the rush to get an IUD before it became impossible; an MTA employee telling us after the train stalled “just remember folks, it’s Trump’s fault!”; an Uber driver asking us what we thought as we drove into Manhattan. But mostly, things were not all that different than they were the day before. Old men smoked cigarettes on stoops and mothers pushed toddlers in strollers and teenagers bought sodas at the deli like it was November 7, or November 6, or any other day of the year.
In Manhattan, things were different. Not so different that I couldn’t enjoy the museums and parks and shops – there were magical moments interspersed in those days – but people were restless. They were angry. The subway station next to Whole Foods contained a constant stream of young, white New Yorkers carrying home-made signs. My friend and I rolled our eyes and caught the 4 train back across the river. Surely the people here in Brooklyn were more affected by what had happened than the 20-somethings in Union Square? We didn’t know how big the protests would get, but I am still waiting to see a material benefit from the protests, waiting to see what they change, waiting for them to become more than a performance of ideology.
My final day in New York, I ate breakfast at Clementine Bakery and read Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, which I picked up at a small shop in Cobble Hill a few days before. His words felt more real to me than the strangely idyllic scene of the Clinton Hill bakery where I sat, eating a vegan muffin and sipping expensive coffee. All over the city, I found pockets where it seemed like nothing had changed. Yet the tip jar at Clementine had a small sign that reminded me just what was going on:
“Help us buy a DeLorean so we can stop Biff from becoming president.” If only.