As I waited on Tuesday evening, refreshing electoral maps and scanning live election coverage, I watched in disbelief as the New York Times’ prediction for a Hillary Clinton presidency plummeted from 83 percent in the afternoon to less than five percent by dinnertime. I watched Trump rack up an unprecedented base of support and watched animated maps of America turn red as his electoral vote count climbed higher than even the most generous polls had imagined. As I watched, a state of catatonic shock washed over me. I couldn’t move or speak. For 18 months, I had rejected the thought of a Trump presidency as ludicrous, the lowest our country could possibly stoop. I knew that we were better than that — the race might be close, but decency would prevail in the end. Like so many others, I was wrong.
Until yesterday, I have been afforded a privilege that countless Americans throughout history have not: I have never had to fear for my life or livelihood as a citizen of this country. Through the course of my life, decency has always prevailed. But last night, I realized that the dignity and sense of boundless opportunity that I have always taken for granted — as a woman, as a journalist and as an American citizen — is tenuous. Freedom and equality must be won. Last night, when more than 58 million Americans elected Donald Trump to the presidency, freedom and equality lost.
As a woman, I am shocked and disappointed. On Tuesday morning, I was poised to celebrate the first female presidency with my favorite people — my incredible grandmother (a decades-long Clinton supporter who never imagined she would one day vote to put a woman in the White House), my four young cousins (who, even in elementary school, can’t imagine how a man who is “mean to their best friends” who are Hispanic and Muslim can run against a candidate with a resume like Clinton’s) and my own friends (most of whom, despite their distaste for Clinton, thought that an uber-qualified female president was long past due).
Of course, that celebration never happened. Instead, my aunt called me in tears this morning, telling me that she had to wake up my sweet eight-year-old cousin to the news that Trump had won. My cousin, who is currently reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” immediately asked whether her best friend, who is Muslim, could live in their attic when Trump tries to “make her family go to another country.” Her four-year-old brother asked what would happen to his friends with brown skin, since Trump only likes “boys with white skin.” My six-year-old cousin was taunted as her mother dropped her off at school, by little boys teasing that “a girl could never beat a man.”
My aunt asked me how to explain to her children — her sons and her daughters — that one of the most qualified presidential candidates in recent history could lose to a man who believes that women are trophies and airheads, who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women and who values women not by their merits or intelligence but by the size of their butts and breasts. I didn’t have an answer for her. I never thought that we would sooner elect to the presidency a man who hates and diminishes women than we would elect a woman herself.
Even if, by some miracle, Trump doesn’t pass any misogynistic legislation in the next four years, I am still sickened to know that the majority of Americans think so little of women, and so brazenly. I am sickened to know that my country — and by extension, myself — will be led by a man who thinks that I, my grandma, my cousins, my friends and millions of other women are only as valuable as they look in a tight skirt. His message, and that of his supporters, is clear: women are lesser, and deserve to be treated and talked about as such.
As harsh as his words are, actions speak louder. In a matter of years — possibly months — it’s highly likely that president-elect Trump and vice president-elect Pence, aided by a Republican-majority House, Senate and likely Supreme Court, could strip women’s reproductive rights to the bone. Federal funding for Planned Parenthood will likely be the first to go, all but eliminating access to safe abortions, affordable birth control, reproductive testing and counseling and a plethora of other resources. All of the progress this country has fought for towards equal pay, anti-discrimination laws such as Title IX, protection from sexual harassment in the workplace and on campus, may well disappear. If Trump’s “locker room talk” doesn’t scare you, this should.
As a journalist, too, I am shocked and disappointed — and horrified. The cult of anti-intellectualism and distrust of “mainstream media” which Trump has instilled in his followers is a serious threat to free press in this country. Trump’s lawyers have sent letters to the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers threatening to sue them for stories he has perceived as unflattering to him, including printing the stories of women who have accused him of sexual assault. Throughout most of 2016, Trump’s campaign cultivated a “blacklist” of media organizations including The Washington Post, Politico and Univision, which were denied press credentials to cover any campaign-related events. Just one month ago, the prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued an unprecedented statement claiming that Trump has “betrayed First Amendment values” and recognizing “that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history.” Freedom of press — our greatest tool for uncovering corruption, informing the public and keeping politicians accountable — has been attacked by Trump through the duration of his campaign. I shudder to think of what he will do to our nation’s already-struggling news outlets after he assumes the presidency.
As an American citizen, I am shocked, disappointed, hurt and terrified for my friends and neighbors. An unimaginable swath of liberties will be compromised and challenged over the coming years. I cannot speak on behalf of my friends in the LGBT community, the Muslim community, those who are people of color, or undocumented, or members of any other marginalized community which Trump’s presidency threatens directly. But I stand with them unequivocally, and always will.
Today, I am ashamed to be an American — but in the one silver lining of last night’s election, I am prouder than ever to be a Californian. We proved last night, as if anyone had any doubt, that we as a state are firmly positioned on the right side of history. Two-thirds of us voted against Donald Trump. We elected Senator Kamala Harris, who made history as the first Indian-American U.S. Senator and California’s first African American Senator. On nearly every state ballot measure, we voted for progress — extending taxes on the wealthy to fund education and healthcare, legalizing marijuana, increasing taxes on tobacco products, ensuring stricter gun control measures, banning single-use plastic bags and encouraging bilingual education, among other measures. Students on nearly every UC campus, including UCI, protested through the night in an unequivocal rejection of the hate Trump stands for. I am proud to live in a state which rejects bigotry and fear, and promotes understanding and equality. I fear deeply for my fellow Americans living in less accepting parts of the country, but I hope that California can be the paragon of hope and progressivism that the rest of this nation so desperately needs.
Last night, I was paralyzed with fear and utter disappointment. This morning, I am still aching and sad for the state of our country, which I sincerely thought was better. However, I have to remain hopeful. Last night, decency did not prevail. But the solidarity I have seen take root amongst my friends and community in the hours since the election has inspired me to believe that there’s still a chance. Progress is a slow march. Last night, we stumbled as a nation, but I choose to believe that we will not fall. At this point, I have no choice but to believe.
Megan Cole is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.