Wednesday was a lot better for me than it was for many people in this country. Still, for me, it was awful. Worse still, there may be more awful days ahead. And they may be more awful because of who this president-elect is and what he does to people over whom he has power. But even if President Trump is just a Republican like a big chunk of the 89% of self-described Republicans who voted for him, if he softens his evil to merely the Islamophobia of Scott Walker, the sexism of Rick Perry, and the contempt for the poor of Paul Ryan, then it’s important that we remember what he was before that. He’s the fucker who made me and many people I care about feel what we felt Wednesday November 9th, 2016.
Back in April, Jamelle Bouie of Slate wrote a piece titled “Donald Trump Will Be the Republican Nominee for President. Don’t Ever Get Used to It.” He was right. In Bouie’s words, “Say it again”: Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Two years ago, I wrote something on this site, the conceit of which was, “Who are these people who have no problem with Michael Brown’s killing?” Turns out it’s half the fucking country. In the aftermath of them and us electing who we did, I’ve been thinking about how it never did get normal for me that Trump was the nominee and how his presidency needs to never be normal—something Bouie and others have stressed, repeatedly.
Somehow though, the abnormal won. So Wednesday was hard. There’s a loneliness to losing, but Wednesday felt especially lonely in a naked way. The loneliness stems from the losing coupled with the stark division in the country. There was no strength in numbers. There was no solace in solidarity. Just sadness and shock and anger and all the shit that—let’s face it—you likely also felt if you’re reading some dumb musing on a blog that used to be called White Collar Hipster.
That pain should not feel normal; Trump should never feel normal. He shouldn’t be the comfortable foil in my world view. He’s not the one the other side picked. He’s the one that made me feel what I felt in the wee hours of Election Night and the entire day that followed it.
He is the reason I felt compelled to write about Wednesday. To remember it. To keep it around for when I get used to seeing him say something stupid behind the presidential lectern or be an asshole on the White House lawn or make a national moment about himself and the bottomless hole in his heart. What follows was my Wednesday, the Wednesday of a male who is white, straight, middle-class, and gentile and is thus unable to feel the real fear and pain of Trumpism. Still, what I felt was like nothing I personally had ever felt. It felt extraordinary, an aberrant discomfort. And I’d really like to keep it that way.
I woke up with the anguish of the truth I went to bed with. It hadn’t been called by any outlet, but it was clear that the white Midwest had broken for the locker room talker, and that he would take his pussygrabbing talents to the Oval Office. The anguish was made worse by the fact that I started pouring Tito’s when Florida looked bad, and so I felt extra shitty when I first touched my phone the next morning and saw that the president-elect called for unity in his speech a couple of hours before. It made me sad to see the actual notifications of his win and mad that this motherfucker was calling for unity, and I took this despair and anger to the shower. Before I left, I hugged my girlfriend and we both cried. It was a scene out of a Breitbart reader’s wet dream: a biracial, liberal couple weeping in an East Coast city’s loft apartment over the loss of the woman who ran for president to the strongman.
The banality of the commute pissed me off as I listened to the radio. I thought about a Trump voter I work with and got angry. At her, at her candidate, and at how quaint my inner monologue at her nonsense the last sixteen months now seemed. When I got to work, I could sense the scowl on my face and knew I had about forty-five minutes to try and get rid of it. I work as a public high school teacher and make efforts each day to be positive in the face of negativity from teenagers and middle-aged educators.
I share a classroom with an affable septuagenarian named Don. We didn’t initially say anything about the election. I don’t remember what he said, but I know it made me angry. Everything that Wednesday made me some shade of angry or sad.
When I returned to my classroom from a department meeting, two coworkers had joined Don. One informed us that a new student would be starting Monday. That Monday seemed like years away and the space between now and January 2021 seemed like an eternity. One coworker left and the other two talked about something that wasn’t the asteroid heading towards earth. I broke and told them I was not going to be all there that day. I told them how despondent and agitated I was. My voice quivered. They agreed that the outcome was bad, but I raged inside at their lack of true indignation. Don told me this happens every twenty years. I pushed back, resolute that Trump is a monster not a marker of a cycle. He conceded as much to get me to shut up. I don’t blame him. I was a wreck.
I don’t want to forget that insufferable, bleary-eyed wreck.
The day had barely begun. I walked to my first class on the other side of the school. The halls were crowded with the faces of a student body whose diversity cheers me up every time I get pissed off that we’re having a fire drill. But today, walking through the halls, I heard a student say “deported.” I didn’t catch the speaker, context, or audience, but it was the first of four times I overheard that word Wednesday. The deportation joke I’d been hearing the last year now had staying power.
My first class Wednesday was tenth graders. Immediately, a female student asked the other teacher in the room if she voted for Trump. She wouldn’t say but reported she was not happy with the result. Another student then looked at me. Before the question, I told him that I was upset today but happy to see all of them. He said he had to tell his Clinton-supporting mom that Trump had won. Another girl said she loved Trump, telling us she had traveled to a nearby city to hold up Trump signs. “People threw rocks at us. It was hilarious,” she said. I didn’t know what to think—a young, black female gleefully announcing her support of Donald Trump and telling a story of violence. Where was I?
The next period Wednesday was a homeroom where I share a classroom with yet another teacher. Some students walked into the classroom, one of whom said to the other teacher, “Miss, I know you voted for Trump, right?” He seemed to be confirming his suspicion of what she really thought of people who look like him. She didn’t answer and instead told him to get to his homeroom. I would have done the same thing; he needed to get to class. She probably did vote for him.
Most kids get most of it.
For the rest of Wednesday morning, my assigned duty was to walk the halls to make sure kids are in class. I’m about the worst person for this. Students don’t really see a no-nonsense, “get to class” tough guy when they’re spotted by the English teacher who cries over elections.
Most kids get most of it.
I typically have a route I use during period four. But on Wednesday, I just wandered. Another English teacher spotted me and said, “Mr. Rhoades, how are you?” “I’m not that well, frankly.” He didn’t know why and put his arm around me kindly saying that I could tell Uncle Len what was wrong. Then it hit him. “Oh, you’re not a Hillary guy, are you?” “Yes, that’s why I’m upset.” He felt pity, it was clear, not because my candidate lost but because I was fooled by the crooked liar.
Two years ago, I had cafeteria duty with Len and a Spanish teacher. I came to respect both, each a white man in his fifties. The Spanish teacher, Mike, and I would talk politics as the four lunch periods came through. I hated the duty, but it was fun to shit on Trey Gowdy and talk about how wrong and cynical the GOP was in the Obama years. Len tended not to chime in. He preferred to talk about sports and complain about new school policies. When I first started here, I thought Len was everything wrong with the teaching profession. I still think he kind of is, but I also came to find out that he’s an okay guy. Len grew up without a father in a housing project in the city where I teach. His mom kicked him out when he turned eighteen, and he lived in a car for a time. He paid his way through a public college working at a grocery store and became a special educator and English teacher at his alma mater.
Two weeks ago, Mike stopped me in the halls and told me that he had recently been in an argument with Len about politics. I was surprised because I found Len to be generally apolitical, and then I was disgusted to hear that he was ranting about emails and telling Mike he was an idiot for not supporting Trump.
Wednesday, when I walked away from Len, the Trump win made more sense than it had all morning. Part of me wanted to kidnap Len and send him to DNC headquarters and tell them to figure out every last thing about him. The candidate with all the xenophobia and lies and crassness had won over Len, a guy who I am confident could be won over by the angels of a better platform.
I began moving strategically about the halls. I avoided places I knew other teachers would be. There is a stairwell I use on my route to get from the basement to the ground floor. Another teacher has desk duty at the landing of the this stairwell. He’s usually listening to his headphones and grading papers, so I thought the stairwell was safe. It wasn’t. He sat there speaking with one of the deans. The teacher asked me how my day off the previous day was. (School was closed for the election.) “It was terrible,” I said. “Because of Trump?” “Yes, because of Trump.”
The teacher started to say to me, “I have a story to tell you.” But he was interrupted by the dean who said to me, “This guy has a business plan. He’s going to make money by sending workers to build the wall…”
“I have to go,” I told them, uncertain what awful joke or story they were trying to bring me in on. I was certain, though, that the optics were completely lost on them: two white men yucking it up about an impractical construction project that is really just a metaphor for racism and ignorance of facts in a school that is one third Hispanic.
There were more laughs from white men.
On my final lap back to my classroom, the school resource officer—a friendly man who is taking classes on mental health and who has taken a real interest in one of my students—asked a substitute teacher and former police officer if he “was making this city great again.” Hearing the Trump Brand parroted by a seemingly decent person made me want to vomit. But the men all laughed. I kept my head down.
There was luckily no Trump talk from adults for two classes. In between them, during my lunch break, I watched President Obama speak on my phone. I didn’t know how the hell he was able to do that, say that, be that. A student came in to finish an essay, and I wanted to tell him how amazing and important Barack Obama is to our world, what a big person, what a role model. It wasn’t hyperbole, but it also wasn’t the time or place. Instead, we worked through an essay on Flight, a novel about an angry Native American boy who grapples with racism and neglect. About how easy but wrong is the path of fear, anger, and violence.
I posed a question to the next class about the Othello preview we were reading and a tough girl I’ve taught for three years said, “Because Donald Trump is president.” If you don’t quite remember, there’s no Donald Trump in Othello. There is a horrible, racist, vengeful character, but he is actually smart and articulate. This student does this from time to time—call out an answer that throws the class off topic. It is usually pretty easy to move on and speak with her later, but this one stuck with me. I despaired that Trump will be on my students’ minds into their twenties.
The school day ended and I refreshed my podcasts feed, the portal to audible sanity I used to feel better about the rise but inevitable loss of Trump. There were a bunch of reaction episodes from the nasty, failing liberal media podcasts I subscribe to. I chose the NYT’s The Run-Up episode titled, “How Did That Happen?” It was a question that was on my mind all day and one I knew couldn’t be answered in a satisfactory way. They went over numbers and states and counties and I came to understand that the real answer to all the questions I had was that this country was not what I thought it was. I was never naive to the real and broad existence of bigotry, misogyny, incuriosity, and anger; I was naive to their ability to triumph or simply not matter.
School was done. I drove to my gym. The clientele at my gym is not like my school’s overwhelmingly white staff, so it was comforting. I called my girlfriend—also a high school teacher—and we talked about our days and our students and how our president-elect had affected each. It felt good to hear her voice and I thought about our hug that morning.
It stung to think of Trump in our life. Hillary Clinton was never a huge figure in our relationship, but she represented a few facets of would-be relief. One, she was the head of the team playing against the team appealing to the worst instincts in the culture. Two, she was a sign that we lived in a place that would join most of the developed world and elect a female head of state. And three, she was the prominent figure we could talk about or not, but whatever we did, she would be the reason Donald Fucking Trump wouldn’t infiltrate our lives. But he was there when we spoke on Wednesday. I left a message with my mother later. Trump was there, too. He was with me at the gym—looming above my exercise bike.
In my car after the gym, I cried again when a podcast host said something about kids asking their parents if Trump meant the things he said. Before heading home, I picked up beer and texted my friend, a high school teacher at an urban school in the Midwest, about my school day. I told him how sad I had felt seeing the faces I saw in the halls that day given the night before. He agreed, telling me how shocked he felt and how distressed his Hispanic students were.
I come from the rural Midwest, and all I could associate with that place then was how all the white people there sold out the kids in these hallways.
The word I fell on then was immature. I was not ready for a kumbaya moment, but I thought my “dumb, racist people” refrain wasn’t really productive. No one could convince me that “dumb” and “racist” were not words that accurately described the Trump movement, but “immature” fit better. I thought about the girl in my class that morning and her Trump sign. I suspected that she doesn’t actually care about NAFTA or Chinese currency manipulation and is instead drawn in by the immature celebrity. Which is fine. She should be immature. She’s in the tenth grade. Millions of voters who also don’t really give a fuck about trade deals or the Renminbi should not have been taken in by the guy who talked about his dick at a debate.
When I was making dinner, a friend called. A white guy from the South, he told me how fucked up and intolerant our country is. “Immaturity” wasn’t enough anymore, not even close. We tried to talk about the Cubs and the Cowboys but had little success.
My girlfriend got home and we ate fried rice with Spam and kimchi. We talked about our days more and our plans near and far. Trump was all over the apartment, and we cried and comforted one another throughout the night. I don’t know what time I went to bed, but I was pissed off whatever the time was.
That was Wednesday. Two days ago. I feel different already, not really that much better but different. The last forty-eight hours, I’ve thought about how it’s maybe good that he’s such a charlatan, how if they really are the assholes they play on TV and take health insurance from 22 million people they’ll pay a price from the electorate, how I’m pretty sure he’ll in the end disappoint David Duke and other white supremacists who celebrated his victory.
But Wednesday happened. And the last year and a half happened. He doesn’t get to act like his campaign never happened the way it really did like he did with his Iraq War stance or his abortion stance or his IRS audit bullshit or all his other bullshit before he was president. I unfortunately don’t know how he doesn’t get to do that now because he did all those things before and got elected anyway. But remembering and acting on the pain and awfulness of Wednesday has to help somehow towards that end, right?
So he gets the plane that the presidents fly in. He gets to pardon the turkeys. He gets to meet professional sports champions if they decide they want to meet him. He gets to be called “Mr. President” by people who address him and “President Trump” by me when I talk about him. He even gets to lead domestic and foreign policy—if he decides he actually wants to.
But he doesn’t get to rewrite history.
His election was a sign of a real desire in this country to repeat history in all its ugliness and injustice. One of the times I cried Wednesday was when I read another Jamelle Bouie piece at Slate, his first after Trump claimed victory: “Fifty years after the black freedom movement forced the United States to honor its ideals, at least on paper, it’s clear this was premature. Like clockwork, white Americans embraced a man who promised a kind of supremacy. We haven’t left our long cycle of progress and backlash. We are still the country that produced George Wallace. We are still the country that killed Emmett Till.”
Image courtesy of Joe Wolf. Some rights reserved.