For days, there had been a strange, cold, empty feeling in my stomach. Strange, because I never suffer from stomach problems; I am someone who breezes through the dodgiest street food markets of life with nary so much as a cramp. And yet, an unpleasant, awkward sensation in the core of me. Building, ruining my Sunday night dinner with friends. Nagging me through work on Monday, and haunting me on Tuesday, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed to find dozens of photos of my friends wearing pantsuits, flashing peace signs, holding up their daughters, “We voted!” #imwithher.
But Facebook does tend to filter your feeds to include the posts that might interest you. Had you seen my feed, you’d have assumed that on November 8th, 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton was poised to become the 45th President of the United States. You might have gone to bed, exhausted from hours of watching election coverage, still nursing that strange feeling of emptiness in your stomach: Wake me up when the sane people have spoken, please; Sandoval out.
And then you might have bolted upright at 6 in the morning, woken by a text message from the West Coast:
OMG this shit is insane. WTF is wrong with our country?
That raw feeling in my stomach began to get worse. Once a strange queasiness, it morphed into an all-out pain. I writhed in my sheets. At last, I understood the pain’s source: fear. I hadn’t wanted to believe it could happen. But that strange emptiness inside of me, building for days, now culminating in this twisting ache, had known the truth before I did.
I was literally ill on the day the Earth stood still.
Post-election postcards from Italy, posted by Italian friends and acquaintances in my Facebook network:
(“Me, when I’m trying to figure out why the Italians are worried about the elections in America” – charming)
(at least you chose the richest one)
(note the second comment: “I agree. And they deserve it”. Gorgeous!!!!!)
A handful of jeering messages from a WhatsApp group made up of people who are supposed to be my friends:
Hey, Eva! Trump won! (barrage of American flag emoticons)
Haha, so many immigrants have visited the Canadian expatriate site that it shut down; I want a Trump in Italy, too!
Time to celebrate – everyone needs to get a pompadour!
Anyway, it hasn’t escaped me that Eva isn’t a Trump fan …. what is that, feminine solidarity? Haha, seeing that Eva isn’t answering these messages… I shall begin the lesson! First things first; Tromb* will build a great wall and end all this illegal immigration!
*a play on words; trombare means “to fuck” in Italian
They think they’re clever. They’ve been reading the watered-down news and watching Trump’s speeches poorly subtitled; in Italian media, the “grab them by the p*ssy” comment was translated as “when you’re a VIP, you can do what you want.” They don’t know who Trump really is. They think that having watched Hollywood movies and seen badly subtitled newsreels makes them an expert on American politics.
Them, experts. When even after 6 years in Italy, I am still seen as the token foreigner – ignorant of all things Italian, woe to me should I even breathe a word of criticism about the Patria. Consistently introduced as “Eva… from New York.” Cue the question: Why the hell would you choose to live in this toilet of a country instead of in America? I loathe the question on a normal day, and today I simply can’t bear the thought.
So I make a Facebook post-election postcard of my own, written in Italian so that my Italian friends understand every word:
Don’t introduce me as your American friend and above all – ABOVE ALL – don’t ask me, “wouldn’t you be better off in your own country?” I should think the answer was very clear.
48 reactions. They added their thumbs up or sad face and went on with their day. They don’t know that I’m sitting in bed, tears streaming down my neck, feeling for all the world as though my country has abandoned me.
However, that random asshole friend-of-a-friend who wrote “they deserve it” wasn’t entirely wrong. We made this bed. First, by refusing to listen to each other. Then the DNC forced Clinton on us. The GOP decided to make the evangelical mouthbreathers of the nation its base instead of focusing on intellectually-advanced Conservatives, progressive centrists or even disenfranchised Liberals who weren’t too thrilled with the status quo – and after 15 years of war, there were plenty of us. The GOP is Frankenstein, Trump is their monster, and they willfully let him run free. Don’t tell me for a second that they couldn’t have gotten Kasich or Jeb the nomination when they’ve spent 8 years blocking Obama’s every move.
But I digress.
In the days since the election, I’ve done little but go to work and think about what happened on November 9th. Healing, I suppose. One must dust one’s self off and get back to work. Lie back and think of the nation. I’m reading more op-ed pieces than I ever have in my life trying to understand. Reading my Facebook feed has become a lurid exercise, like picking the edges of a scab. And through the heartbroken high-road messages of love, the hypocritical gloating, the consternation, and the devastation, what I’m seeing is a lot of thinly veiled talk of a series of very different wars, fought on our own soil. Republican versus Democrat. Red versus blue. Urban versus elite. Christian versus everyone else; everyone else versus Islam. #allwomen against #allmen. Establishment versus newcomer; liberals versus white bigots; the unprivileged versus the privileged. Corrupt liar versus corrupt liar. Us versus Them.
I think it would be remiss not to suggest that as much as this election has been about Us against Them, this election has also been about Failure. The utter failure, specifically, of Political Correctness, which will, in the wake of this election, meet its death.
Like many ideologies, Political Correctness had great intentions. PC aimed to end discrimination by attacking the discriminatory words and hateful epithets codified into the English language. Suddenly, professions became neutral – we had no more stewards and stewardesses, now only flight attendants. Suddenly, like swearwords, epithets became symbolized only by their first letters: the n-word, the r-word. The idea: teach people that these words are dirty, that they hurt people, cleanse them from the language, and they will learn that it is wrong to discriminate.
This was the first mistake – believing one could cure a disease by attacking a single symptom. Language mirrors culture, and culture, ultimately, mirrors biology. What is racism but the sentient brain’s attempt to express a biological impulse to shun what is perceived as genetically inviable? These are primitive, animal instincts to distrust members from other herds and promote intra-species breeding. What is sexism but societally-codified subjugation evolved from the biologically “practical” act of marginalizing the females because they’re smaller and weaker, bleed too much and can’t be counted on to be steady workers since babies keep putting them out of commission? That’s putting it politely. What is discrimination against those with special needs but nature’s way of avoiding the recombination of deleterious genes? This is biology. This is life in the Great Rift Valley. This is life in the Dark Ages. This is life in Victorian England. This is life in the Confederate South. This is…
This is life in the mind of primates who haven’t progressed.
At first, political correctness sort of worked. Rather; it worked on a particular category of person: mentally-evolved hominids predisposed to empathy. For many people, Political Correctness was a glimpse into the painful experiences of people different than themselves and this made us see them as human. PC then attempted to create new words that befitted the new order – after all, we still needed terms, if only for categorizational purposes. But there had been too much change, too fast. First African Americans; then women; then everyone else, all in less than 100 years. It was too much. Too much to take. Discrimination and hatred still lingered in social memory. PC was only a bandage over a gaping sore.
Changing the words does nothing if the meaning stays the same. A word gains meaning from the inflection the speaker gives it. If you love carrots, you will sound happy when you say the word. If you hate carrots, you will say that word with a shudder and a hiss. The word becomes ugly. The word becomes a symbol for hate. This is why euphemisms for various groups change every few years; the wound just keeps bleeding through the bandage. And the movement just kept slapping more bandages on top, without even thinking about stitching up the darn thing in the first place.
Naturally, this perceived flakiness did nothing to help the legitimacy of Political Correctness. But apart from its inherent inefficacy, there’s another huge reason why Political Correctness has failed. For all its good intentions, Political Correctness has created an environment of repression and fear – ironically, the very environment it sought to erase.
I was born in 1980, making me part of the generation old enough to remember a watered-down version of how things used to be, but young enough to be trained fairly easily. And it was indeed a sort of training – for all my love of filthy swearwords, the n-word is the one word I cannot, will not say; like many people of my generation, I will react to it as though I have been branded with a hot iron.
To use a mythological parallel, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, we were given the Apple and suddenly, we knew we were naked and being naked was wrong. Where in primary school we had said “Red Indian” and “Indian file” we now had to say “Native American” and “single file”. It was now no longer okay to use the r-word, even though to us, it just meant “stupid” (like meat eaters ignoring the bloody reality of our meals, we had ignored the etymology of our slang; besides, everyone knew only a real dickhead would use it to mean someone who was actually mentally disabled). It was no longer okay to tell Polish or Mexican jokes. It was no longer okay because that was discriminatory and discrimination was wrong. If we said the old words, there would be consequences – we would hurt others. We would be bad people. And, above all, we would be punished.
Nobody wanted to be bad. Nobody wanted to be punished. For those of us capable of empathy, it wasn’t a difficult transition – especially as PC evolved to include the rights of women and the disabled. Good work was done, in the sense that people became aware of these issues. That men were now being taught to respect women – and the evolved ones listened. But the fear was always there. What happened if you forgot, or got mad, and a word slipped out? What if you really hurt somebody? What if someone didn’t care and tried to hurt you? In a sense, the old words gained even more power because of how evil they became. If someone used them to describe me, I’d know they really, really hated me.
These were all possibilities, because the disease was still there, bubbling under that blood-stained bandage. We all knew it. Who among us can honestly claim that from 1990 until the present day their lives were completely free of sexual harassment or hateful ignorance? No, it’s not #allmen, but certainly #allwomen. By the time I was in my 20s, sexual harassment seminars were the norm in offices like mine, which meant that if your jerk boss put his hand up your skirt, you could take him to court. But would you? Because for all the threat of anti-discrimination lawsuits, rape culture and bigotry were still very real. I mean, you, sir – are you refraining from making lewd comments to your secretary because you’re afraid she’ll sue you, or because you know it’s wrong? Are you going to call her a liar? Something tells me you are.
Which brings me back to repression. For all the empathetic, evolved hominids who intellectually accepted the new order, there were those who simply couldn’t. And – because we are always the hero in our own story – this translated to them as repression. They were being asked to repress their nature, their true selves. Repressing one’s true nature only leads to resentment and disaster – at some point, that energy has to erupt. With no outlet, it grows stronger and darker. And so in 2016 the racism hasn’t ended. And so there are still rapes. Gay marriage is legal in the United States but we still have hate crimes against the LBGT+ community. Roe v Wade has been law since 1973 and we still have people insisting that women be prohibited from making their own decisions. Church and State have been separate since 1776 and we still have people insisting that Christianity be the order of the land. And so – flailing in a desperate attempt to preserve itself and the values it holds dear – the PC movement becomes the Word Police; anything you say can and most likely will be held against you. The sociopolitical repercussions to discrimination have become harsher, the controls tighter and tighter. What we have is a society where people are needlessly afraid to speak, because for all of its good intentions, for all of the good it has done to raise awareness of social issues, Politically Correctness does not, and cannot work because the evolution of an entire primate species cannot be fabricated or forced.
Enter Donald Trump; a narcissistic primeval orangutan who says whatever he feels like saying! He doesn’t give a damn if people think he’s a bad person, he just says whatever’s on his mind! He has never once been successfully sued. He just calls a spade a spade, doesn’t he? How delightful. How refreshing. How honest!
At the evolved, empathetic end of the Trump supporter spectrum, his comments seemed unsavory but well, at the end of the day, an establishment drone war criminal was worse than a bigot. Besides, Political Correctness was out of control anyway. As for his other supporters…
The 2016 Presidential election revealed our most partisan selves. Here before us were two choices: both had been revealed to be, in their own unique ways, corrupt liars with massive flaws. In the end, for however much agonizing we might have done, we chose the candidates that promised to protect our party’s values. There was a majority, and this is the result. A Donald Trump presidency. Our country’s highest position of governmental authority is now occupied by someone who would fail a middle school Civics test. Our most delicate political issues have been entrusted to someone who has never served a day in public office. You see! Anyone can do this job – absolutely no experience necessary! You can even say whatever horrible things you want, just as long as you’re rich enough!
Perhaps those of you evolved hominids who voted for him really believe that things will get better from now on. What can I say apart from, “For all of our sakes, I hope so”? I invite you – no, beg you – to see your friends suffering and help them see that things will be okay.
But make no mistake. What a Donald Trump presidency means is that the biologically-stunted primates have found their king and with that, the legitimacy they’ve so sorely missed.