On my second daughter’s due date, I woke before dawn on that November Wednesday to check the state of affairs: had my labor begun? Had my water broken? Had Bush been reelected?
Only the third was true, and I waddled out of our mid-level bedroom (close to the bathroom) to trek down to the basement to tell Bruce. As soon as I stepped onto the thick, lush, high-quality carpet we’d spent thousands of dollars on that summer in our basement-finishing saga, I felt a soggy, foot-chilling squish.
And then I heard the water. No, not my water breaking. A pipe breaking. And my candidate losing. And my baby not coming. All on a dreary November morning twelve years back. And I spent the morning after election day carrying books from the basement to the second floor, shifting furniture, wishing for a different president and a drier basement. It was a disappointing day, but not a devastating one. Not a frightful one.
With Bush’s second term, we liberals held our breaths to see what might happen. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full force, and the ensuing investigations as well. We were three years past 9/11 and still reeling in its shadow. The economy was shaky at best, and its effects played out not long after Mythili (eleven days late) entered the world: Bruce was soon told his job as a contractor for AT&T could end at any moment; no other prospects were in sight; and my miniature in-home childcare “business” began to crumble before my eyes.
It was a tough time for us. For many Americans. Not long after, the housing market crashed around us thanks to limited regulations on banks and uneducated masses. Millions of people lost their homes, their jobs, their livelihood.
It was easy to blame Bush, though he couldn’t wholly be at fault.
Just like the other Americans I have lived amongst for my entire life, Bruce and I persevered. Since he couldn’t find work, I returned to teaching, leaving my two-and-a-half-year-old and nine-month-old daughters in his full-time care. I had just finished my master’s degree, and it was my third year of teaching, so we lived on $37,000 that first year. We had dial up internet, no cell phones, zero debt, used cloth diapers, breast-fed the baby, and never went out to eat.
It wasn’t the easiest of times, and Bush certainly wouldn’t go down in history as the worst president, nor the best. But with all the uncertainty that plagued his presidency, from September 11 to mideastern conflicts to crashing housing markets, I never, ever felt that our entire culture was at risk of losing itself. I brought my daughter into the world two weeks after he continued his presidency, and though I was disappointed at his leadership and frustrated with his international war-mongering, I was never truly afraid. I continued with my life, we continued our parenthood journey and brought our third daughter into the world in 2006, all before a candidate I admired had even mentioned his platform.
Now, here we are: 2016. My second child turns twelve next week, and another election cycle has reared its ugly head.
But this is not just another election cycle. It has been filled with conspiracies and vitriol on both sides. The Democratic party has been at near collapse, and the GOP has come up with a string of completely incompetent candidates, finally settling on the most frightening one of all: Donald Trump.
I am thirty-eight years old, and I have been following elections my entire life, thanks to highly informed and politicized parents (being born into a family of journalists led to this). I have seen negative campaign ads since I was young enough to wake on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. I still remember campaign promises like, “Read my lips: I will not raise taxes” and my father’s fierce criticism when Bush Sr. was proven a liar once he became president. I participated in two mock elections in my elementary school in my small town in upstate New York: I was one of the five percent who voted first for Mondale and his female vice-president running mate, and one of the two percent who voted for Dukakis when he was up against Bush Sr.
I realized early on, listening to what my parents taught me, that it didn’t matter if no one around us really believed in the same things we did. What mattered was social justice. Equal rights for all people, LGBTQ, people from varying religions, and people of every race. What mattered was equal rights for women, especially in regards to education and career.
So, while I am not a career politician, I know politics. Liberal politics are in my blood, and as much a part of my core beliefs as anything else.
Yes, I am a bleeding heart liberal. That’s why I cried that day on my brand-new soggy carpet when my baby wouldn’t come and Bush was marking her entrance into the world. That’s why I proudly posted my Dukakis poster on the school bus window for the whole world to see, even when all the other kids laughed at me and told me Dukakis would never win.
I care about my candidates. But more importantly, I care about the issues that they represent.
And now we are in a new age of presidential candidacy. We have social media that blows everything out of proportion and turns father against son, sister against brother. We have minute-by-minute clips of every word every candidate ever spoke.
We hear it all. We hear a candidate suggest Muslims should be listed on a national registry. We watch him mock a disabled man. We hear him brag about assaulting women and grabbing them by the pussy. We hear degrading remarks about the way women look. We hear him ramble on in incomprehensible sentences. We hear him speak of deporting immigrants, of building walls against them, of claiming Mexicans are rapists and thieves. We hear him proclaim that the election system is rigged. That Obama is the worst president ever. That his opposing candidate should be imprisoned. We hear him say that climate change was created by the Chinese and is a scam.
Vitriol is the center of this campaign. It’s all over the media, all over social media, and all over the living, breathing world.
It is what my student hears while waiting at a public bus stop and two white girls first accuse her of being a Mexican who should go back to her country, and then, on further examination of her looks, determine she’s an Arab who is also a terrorist that President Trump will get rid of.
It is marked in neo-Nazi, pro-Trump graffiti within hours of his election.
It follows the next generation like a dark shadow, leaving them in shaking, fearful tears as they discuss the stripping of their LGBTQ rights at GSA club; as they wonder if their family will be one of the two million he plans to deport in the first 100 days of presidency; as they proclaim their gratitude for their parents still taking the risk to bring them to this nation that they thought was free; as they navigate the realization that at least half of the people they know now have a presidential voice to support and back their once-silent bigotry.
It follows the teachers, the public servants: We had a special faculty meeting today to help us help the students cope with their fear, their mourning, their plans for action–immigration lawyers, extra counselors, and mental health specialists are just a phone call away. Yeah, you heard me right–we had to bring in extra mental health specialists to help us cope with a man who was just elected president.
Twelve years into my daughter’s life, I am truly afraid for the first time of my decision to become a parent. I am afraid of what the world has become. I am afraid of what will happen to my students. I am afraid that all the steps we have made toward equal rights and protection of women will be destroyed. I am afraid for my friends of color, my Muslim friends, my LGBTQ friends.
I am afraid. I am not angry. I am not bitter.
I am afraid.
I am a bleeding heart liberal, born and bred. And my heart is beating too wildly this week. This month. These next four years.
There is no soggy carpet chilling my steps. There is no rebirth. I have the faces of three daughters whose lives I fear will be plagued with sexism or ended by policies against renewable energy. I have the faces of thousands of students shuffling through my mind who I fear will not have a future in my country.
I am afraid.
I am afraid.
We have just elected this man to be our president. The water has just broken on a new era in America: the era that openly accepts a bigoted leader. And I am drowning.
Please, someone, teach me how to swim.