Rethinking Audacious Hope

Carla Wells reflects on the impending Trump presidency.

On the night of 8 November, 2016, in the Bay Area of San Francisco, there was an eerie silence in the air. Left-leaning election hopefuls – the strong majority of the local population – stared in shock at TV screens as the results trickled through.

The bottles of champagne intended for celebration soon became a source of comfort. What had just happened?

I went to bed that night in disbelief, hoping that by the time morning came they would announce there had been a mistake: that the counts were wrong, that what they were televising was just a joke.

At around midnight, my husband and I heard what could either have been a gunshot or a firework. Was someone in our neighbourhood actually lauding the results?

Either with their right to bear arms, as Donald Trump so smugly celebrates, or with a firework that represents the President-elect himself: abrupt, flashy and potentially dangerous. Either scenario was equally frightening.

I checked on my one-year-old who was fast asleep and prayed that things would be different by the time she is old enough to understand.

As the daughter of an Australian mother and American father, she’s fortunate to have options. If needed, I can take my family back to Australia where we can enjoy universal public health care and education, find work in one of the few economies that didn’t crash during the GFC, earn a minimum of $17.70 an hour (compared to $7.25 in the US), or fall back on a relatively steady welfare system during times of financial hardship.

But if my daughter was old enough to understand, what would running away to my country of origin communicate to her?

And if she had friends that weren’t able to do the same, what would that communicate to them? Isn’t that what we blame the 1 per cent of doing? Finding refuge in their wealth and blinding themselves to the struggles of the people that surround them.

In Northern California we are fortunate to live amongst like-minded people that, in my experience, are mostly kind-hearted, progressive thinkers.

When I wore my pro-Hillary ‘Nasty Woman’ t-shirt on election day, I received nothing but praise from passers-by. When I wore my safety pin after the election to show solidarity with the targets of bigotry, no-one batted an eyelid because it was understood that they all felt the same. I wasn’t being ‘revolutionary, I was practising common decency.

So in several ways our family is protected from the potential impacts of Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States of America.

I’m still not sure how the world will change after his inauguration. In some ways it feels like a funeral for the Western freedoms and values we have fought for and come to know as mainstream. Maybe Trump’s policies won’t be as destructive as his campaigning rhetoric suggested.

What we do know is that his Machiavellian tactics have already had their societal impact. Or, as Meryl Streep so eloquently put it during her Golden Globes speech (after recounting Trump’s ‘performance’ of imitating a disabled journalist): “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”

And we’ve already seen the public imitate his behaviour or act on perceived understandings of his attitudes. According to USA Today, the Southern Poverty Law Centre logged 200 complaints of hate crimes within four days after the election, a number that is much larger than ‘typical’. Even if Trump condemns these acts now, he should take responsibility for inspiring them in the first place.

Maybe he won’t deport immigrants and build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Maybe he won’t make Muslims have to register. Maybe he won’t abolish all aspects of the Affordable Care Act and maybe he will actually do some good for the economy.

And though it takes pushing down all my pride to say this this: I hope that I’m wrong about Trump and that he turns out to be an effective President who helps the economy and brings about change for the desperate people who voted for him.

But for the many that still live fear of his presidency and are hurting from the discriminatory words spoken against them, my family and I will be available and waiting.

We’ll be available to offer support, comfort and a listening ear and waiting to share whatever resources we can with those who’ve had their stability ripped from under them.

We’ll also be educating ourselves and opening our eyes to the plight of the many Americans living in rural and depressed parts of the US, whose situations are not as readily highlighted by the mainstream media.

We hope to be part of the counter-cultural revolution that starts with our ideological cohort and trickles through all parts of the country, to build a solidarity that is stronger than the government.

It might sound audacious, but as the autobiography of the amazing President over the past eight years taught me, sometimes hope has to be.

 Carla Wells is a former Crosslight journalist who lives in the USA with her husband Chris and young daughter Portia.

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