Defeat of Donald Trump, the mad king, brings a new hope to the world – Laura Waddell
An unfamiliar tingling came over me as I watched the results of the US election last week. Could this be hope?
It was always likely the Trump camp would contest the process in the event Biden was winning. There were warnings not to expect a result straight away. The former President’s shambling press conference and subsequent fevered tweeting attempted to draw an arbitrary line between ‘legal’ ballots and ‘illegal’ ones, and he raged about mail-in ballots all along, presumably to energise his angry base. But he was undermined by his own favourite channel, Fox News, as they started calling states for Biden.
Mail-in ballots had surged in number, encouraged by the pandemic, but also partly as a response to disenfranchisement tactics: the closure of polling stations and the fear that violence might break out as news coverage showed armed men dressed in camo and toting automatic weapons making threats of watching vote counts. Between this and litigation attempts to halt counts, it was always going to take some time to unfangle the knotty business of who was winning if it was at all close.
Still, naively I stayed up late on the day the polls closed, expecting to get at least a sense of which way the wind was blowing and who would be the next President of the United States. The world was watching this momentous occasion: the graspable prospect of Trump being sent packing was too tantalising to miss.
But around 3am that first night of counting, as bookies responded to Trump’s lead in several states by projecting better odds for him, my desire to watch the carnage in real time diminished, and I sloped off to bed. I’m not sure disappointment would be the correct word for how I felt in that moment; enough electoral upsets in the past decade have tempered expectations. This year has taught us things can always get worse. Rather, what I felt was a familiar steeling against the worst-case scenario, drawing on muscle memory.
I woke up on the second, then the third and fourth mornings of counting to see that little had changed in the dials, but by now, it looked more reassuring. CNN’s anchors talked at a gallop while the numbers remained static. The results from each new county to declare, however tiny their impact on the state’s overall total, were being announced as breaking news.
It was disorientingly dramatic, compared to more reserved British coverage of elections, but soon I learned to distinguish between breaking news and Breaking News with capital letters. Which bursts of adrenaline, fear, and excitement to pay attention to, and which to quash. But the maths made it increasingly likely that it was going to be the end of the Trump presidency. The hope was still there, and it was asking for patience.
I’d never heard news anchors speak so openly disparagingly about Trump, notably CNN’s Jake Tapper who was repeatedly scathing. The tide was turning. Trump’s team was said to be furious with Fox News, and it was a petty pleasure to imagine Trump himself watching Rupert Murdoch’s channel as they stopped pandering to him.
After years of grotesque and tangible misogyny, racism, anti-science and general cruelty, not to mention a level of gob-smacking narcissism rarely seen so nakedly in top figures in the public eye, this was hope. This feeling creeping up that finally, this grotesque, cruel, spoiled, bad man might be booted out, and the ripple effect over the nation and beyond diminished.
My mind cast back to Brett Kavanaugh, sworn into the Supreme Court after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonial that he sexually assaulted her, his twisted face full of rage while he cried about "liking beer” and, eventually, got his way with a presidential pat on the back.
I remembered Charlottesville where neo-Nazis marched openly, their faces uncovered and carrying torches in the manner of the KKK, while Trump talked about “very fine people", and Black Lives Matter protests in response to ongoing, shocking police brutality in America; the inability to breathe that Trump made every attempt to stoke, to weave into civil organisations as he stripped them of moderates.
Who knows what the kids in cages know of the election. Who knows what their immigrant parents, separated and lost inside the USA, are thinking right now. Perhaps they also feel hope a change of government might undo some of the abject cruelties that were jewels in the crown of mad king Trump, and give them a way back to their children. But they have suffered an unimaginable pain.
‘Hope is a gift’
Watching from abroad, in a country impacted by American foreign policy and trade deals in the wake of Brexit to watch out for, but perhaps even more touched by the cultural reverberations, we have waited a long time for something to change. It has often felt, in a post-truth world where news is mangled by Facebook algorithm, that it might be impossible to undo some of the damage. But now it feels like there is hope.
Activists for left-wing causes, who know Biden and Harris will need to be pushed to act on immigration and worker’s rights and much else beside, feel they now have space to act. Now they can be active and on the attack, rather than reactive and defensive, in pushing for policy change.
I saw a split between those who know this, and felt great levity and joy in Trump’s exit – often women, and particularly black women, who’d heard themselves disparaged under the presidential seal – and those of a bent who can’t admit any difference between neoliberal politics of a Biden administration and outright fascism. The former activists seem most likely to effect change.
As writer Rebecca Solnit said, “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender.” Hope gives us space to grow into. Hope lets us breathe and expand. We’ve been waiting for it.
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