Election night 2016 will be one of those canonical nights. In 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, we’ll turn to each other and ask: “Where were you when it happened?”
For me, the evening felt like being onboard the Titanic. Over the course of just three hours, the raucous celebration and hopefulness that filled Sen. Tim Kaine’s, (D-VA), victory party in Times Square — just a stone’s throw away from Donald Trump’s party at the Midtown Hilton — slowly drained as the jumbotrons displayed early results whose outcome we now know all too well. And while sheer panic slowly grew on the faces of the guests who attentively watched every flashing news update on CNN, the band kept playing songs to an empty dance floor and bartenders kept pouring flutes of champagne for a toast that would not occur. The ship was sinking, but a part of me just couldn’t believe we would be going down with it.
It’s been just more than 24 hours since I waited two hours in line and missed class to cast my first-ever vote for president. Twenty-four hours since I shook Kaine’s hand, convinced he would be our next vice president. And 24 hours since I received nervous texts from friends asking, “What is it like in there?” — as if my proximity to the election party somehow afforded me information that could put our growing fears to rest.
In that moment, I certainly didn’t have an explanation to offer my friends — and I won’t claim to have one now. There is a part of me that is particularly sickened knowing the very same experts who assured us that such an outcome was impossible will now scramble to normalize the result. Growing up in New York, it was “normal” for me to drive down the West Side Highway and see the Trump name plastered on dozens of consecutive buildings I passed. But no, it will never be “normal” to know that very same name will now occupy the one building that should represent all Americans.
Across the country, in living rooms, college dorms or other viewing-party venues, millions of Americans felt a similar sense of helplessness as more of the votes were reported. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, I kept thinking to myself. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Tuesday night, looking up at the glass ceiling above and realizing the sick irony of its intact panes.
As I returned home from the election party, with my star-spangled lanyard and chocolate goody bag seeming like cheap souvenirs from a wedding that was called off, I received an email from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71, whose seminar I am taking this semester. If there’s one person who can speak to the power of resiliency, it’s him. With his permission, I am sharing some of his words.
“My generation changed the world in very good ways for the most part, as did my father’s generation before me. And your generation will change the world even more so and in better ways,” he wrote. “But nothing comes easily or without hard work. And we need some luck too. If the world can recover and learn from the Holocaust or the Khmer Rouge, we can surely recover from Donald Trump.”
As I think back to election night 2016, one conversation in particular will continue to stick in my mind. At the party, I spoke with one of the singers from the band, a woman of color. She had just finished performing ringers like “I’m a Believer” and “Footloose,” and I complimented her ability to sing even as the unthinkable appeared to be happening around us.
She nodded, and said: “We’re just as scared as you are up there, but we’re trying to perform the best we possibly can.”
I plan to take her advice as a broader message for how we can approach the next four years. Despite forces outside our control, the thing we must do is to keep living our best possible selves, belting out the songs of the causes we will continue to champion. Even as the pressure to be silent grows, it is in this moment that we must be our loudest.
And while we may have hit an iceberg last night, one thing is for sure: The America I know is unsinkable.
Larry Milstein is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a former Opinion Editor at the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .