It’s a surreal moment when numbers become real life. There’s always a split second between reading a number on a screen and internalizing that number. In that second, a hurricane of expectation, disappointment, confusion and denial stirs. I watched that hurricane in the eyes of the 80 people I sat with in the basement of Calhoun College last night. You could feel the room hold its breath as Ohio, then Florida, then North Carolina flashed on the screen.
I imagined there would be a lead-up — a proverbial drum roll, a firm hand grab, a countdown. But as quickly as they came, they went. We weren’t prepared for the reality of those numbers, and the split-second hurricane didn’t shield the stomach drop that came after we realized what they meant. We never dared to be prepared.
So what now?
The first thing I can think of is to seek protection — for myself, for the ones I love, for my neighbors. I have a nine-year-old sister back home who is the bravest, most resilient kid you will ever know. But tomorrow we’ll need to start building her thick skin into an armor. If the past year and a half has proven anything, it’s that violence can come in dozens of forms. It comes in symbols and in speech just as much as it comes in a fist. And most importantly, it is insidious — violence has invisible origins and infinitely large manifestations. I don’t want my sister to grow up in fear, but I want her to understand the way that violent words and thoughts and resentment can become physical wounds.
I hope she never sees those physical wounds, but I also know that shielding her from the reality of it is even more detrimental. So while we build up her armor, we also need to make sure we’re sharpening her eyes. She needs to learn to identify things that are positive about herself and the world around her; she must never lose that fierce optimism that lights up every room she is in. But she must also develop a sense of her limits, of how much she will tolerate before she starts feeling uncomfortable.
And what she does with that discomfort is the key.
The story of last night goes beyond a failure of journalism. It is the story of cowardice: of intellectual insulation, of a deficit of compassion. Our cushion of information was replaced by the isolation of intellectualism. Comedy went from a vehicle of healing to a torpedo of condescension. We were too afraid to seriously ask the question: what if? So we talked in circles around it and we mass-produced content that took its implausibility for granted. We created a mental boundary between our blissful ignorance and the real world. We blamed the Trump campaign for perpetuating a culture of fear, but we were the first ones to sign up.
My sister will not grow up like that. I will teach her not to run away when she is uncomfortable or scared, but instead to roll her shoulders back until she feels tall enough to face it head-on. And slowly, I hope she will learn to extend her arms as well. Compassion is the secret mover of democracy. We are afraid of that which we do not understand. When Donald Trump calls minority women names, I will tell her: He is afraid because he does not understand you. He is disempowered. When she is afraid, I will tell her: seek to understand. Find the vocabulary that you can share, and build an opinion slowly with that understanding. That hasn’t worked with her opinion on broccoli so far, but hopefully she’ll learn soon.
But most of all, I will tell my sister to look inwards. In that split-second hurricane last night when the tide started turning, I could hear the mental math. Where did we go wrong? How did we get to this point? We were so busy criticizing the other side, we forgot to turn those think pieces and jokes toward ourselves. “America is already great” was not a good enough answer. “They are ignorant” was even worse. We needed to face argument and emotion, head-on. This morning, it is OK to feel afraid, to feel worried, to feel powerless. I was terrified by the fear I heard in my dad’s voice when he called last night. But tomorrow, fear will be insufficient. Tomorrow, we need to roll our shoulders back and face this new world with newfound courage. I’ll be holding my sister’s hand in the front line.
Ana Barros is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .