election 2016

12 Women on the Heartbreak of Watching Trump Win

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A sense of dread was already growing when I put the kids to bed. It was around 8:30 p.m. Central Time. States that were supposed to be red were red; states that were supposed to have turned blue stayed dead gray. The kids were tired but anxious; they made me promise to tell them in the morning who won. I kissed them good night, and could not go back to the television. I got in bed, shaking, nauseous, flushed. I brought a glass of whiskey into my room, then poured it down the sink and took a Klonopin instead. I got under the covers and listened to my own heartbeat for an hour. I focused on my breathing. I touched my own arms, my legs, my knees and feet. This isn’t happening. Is this happening?

Around one in the morning, I heard my husband turn off the television, walk up the stairs, open the door.

“He won?” I asked.

“Not yet.”


“He will.”

I ran to the bathroom and began retching up bile. Then I sat on the bathroom floor and sobbed. Eventually my husband helped me into bed. We lay beside each other the rest of the night, barely sleeping, thinking about what we would tell our kids.

Last night, America did much more than elect a president. It sent a message to its women, its people of color, its immigrants, its Muslims, its people with disabilities, and its survivors of rape, sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination, that our experience, our pain, our marginalization, our hopes for inclusion, our desire to be heard and seen, to have our stories and our experiences incorporated and acknowledged as a part of the country’s evolving narrative, did not matter. We came home from work, came home from picking up our children, came home to our partners and our friends and family, with our hearts full of anticipation and hope, and we went to bed feeling as though we’d lost our country, or that our country had lost us. In the aftermath of the night’s trauma, women began reaching out to each other to share their experience of the eve of the election, and to affirm that despite everything, their experiences, our experiences, matter.

These are some of their stories:

Preeti Chhibber

I’m a first-generation, South-Asian-American woman living in Brooklyn. I knew that America was inherently racist, but I wanted to believe that part of America was dying out, slowly but surely disappearing. So last night, I had a few friends over. We had junk food and wine, and we were joking about the stress. As more and more states were “too close to call,” we blamed it on the media’s need for ratings. Then, when they started calling states for Trump, I shut down. I literally couldn’t think about the big picture, of all we have to lose. I just started crying. I haven’t really stopped crying since about midnight last night, to be honest. And I know I’m in a far better position than my family in more rural areas. I am terrified for them, as I was after 9/11 when anyone who “looked” Muslim was in danger. At the time, my sister and I weren’t allowed to go out by ourselves; my older brother was almost beat up in a bar for being “a fucking Arab.” I feel like we’re at, or approaching, that level of anger against marginalized groups. That’s what the closeness of this election said to me.

Colette Sartor

Trump’s win felt like a personal attack. I honestly thought all his bald-faced lies, all the racist things he’s done over the course of a lifetime, and all the sexual harassment he’s so casually committed, would matter. I thought America would get it right, and that Trump’s downfall would be a kick in the teeth to all the men — strangers — who, over the years, have thought it was their right to touch my breasts and put their hands between my legs and make comments about my body. How can it be possible that anyone is willing to overlook the things this man has done and said?

I spent a great deal of my professional life as a lawyer. I was sent to get coffee while the male associates got to sit in on client meetings. I was labeled emotional when I complained about a partner who refused to train me and expected me to cover for his affair with the office manager. I was told by one interviewer — the head of a powerful indie-film company — that I’d never get anywhere in the company because everyone knew I would eventually leave to have babies, which was what I should be doing. When a different interviewer — a well-known entertainment attorney — discovered I had a twin sister, he asked me whether men ever fantasized about us. By electing Trump, with his history of baldly sexist behavior, the country has validated the men who felt it was okay to treat me and other women with disrespect and disregard, to objectify us and dismiss us.

And my poor son — he’s 11 years old, and I’ve been very careful to raise him to respect others, to stand up to bullies, to embrace differences. Last night, after it was clear Trump was going to win, he climbed in bed and cried. He was terrified of what the world would look like in the morning. He was scared about how the Trump supporters at his school were going to treat him. “They’re going to make fun of me, Mom,” he said. “They’re going to be awful.”

All I could tell him was to treat them with respect and compassion but to disagree with them, to stay strong in his beliefs, to support openness and inclusiveness and reject intolerance in all its ugly forms.

Hannah Wood

I was born in the U.K. and moved to America with my parents in the late 1990s. I finally became a citizen last year, and yesterday was the first time I voted in an American presidential election. I was so excited to vote for Hillary. I stayed up night after night reading the posts in the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, which all made me cry.

I gathered with two close friends at my apartment to watch the results. At a certain point in the evening, I just shut down. My heart and brain could not process what I heard. Going through the citizenship process with others who did not have my advantages — white skin, a U.S. college education, fluency in English, and the resources to pay all fees and hire expert help — had really opened my eyes about how hard it is for immigrants to obtain legal status. I remember the video we watched in the oath ceremony about how great and welcoming America is, how it’s a haven of democracy, a home for everyone regardless of where they come from, who they worship, or how much money they have. I feel like I swore an oath on a lie. As a woman, witnessing the election of a man who talks about women as Donald Trump does is harrowing. I don’t feel safe here anymore. And even more disturbing is that if I — a white, educated woman in a position of relative privilege — don’t feel safe, how do all the people who don’t have those advantages feel? My heart breaks to imagine it.

Leslie Contreras Schwartz

I am Mexican-American, and though my family has lived in Texas for generations, this does not change our fear. When my parents were growing up, there were still parts of Houston where people of color were not welcomed. My great-uncle was a civil-rights activist who worked to force the city of Houston to allow policemen who were of Mexican descent.

I am also a rape survivor. It’s not something many people know. I was raped when I was 15 over the course of many months by a boyfriend. I never told anyone.

I was sure Hillary would win. I told my children yesterday I was sure of it, especially since my oldest daughter has cried and expressed fear over a Trump election. I said, “It’s not going to happen.” I didn’t check the news much during the day yesterday because I’ve been very sick. I have had symptoms where I can’t use my left leg or see well out of my left eye, and the neurologists I have seen seem to imply I’m a liar or hypochondriac. Last night I watched the numbers and thought about how many times — as a woman, as a woman of color, as a rape survivor — I have been told I am wrong or not believed.

I feel rejected by the country I love. A large part of the country does not care about the things that matter to me and my family and community. They do not care. And this hurts.

Madhushree Ghosh

I moved to America, the land of opportunities, as a woman in science, a place where my voice wouldn’t be stifled, where I can have a career in writing and cancer diagnostics. I listened to Khizr Khan. I listened to the Access Hollywood tapes. I watched women wearing shirts with homemade signs saying, Trump — you can grab that, with an arrow pointing to their vaginas.

I told myself, “November 8 will be wonderful. We will elect one of our own. We will tell the world how it’s done.” As a daughter of refugees, where my parents walked as children from East Pakistan to India, I was voting for equality, freedom, and justice. Now, I feel defeated. But I’m a scientist and I look at facts. The fact is that our candidate lost. Now we must rise, stay strong, and regroup.

Laura Kiesl

I am a member of the working poor — white, disabled, luckily living in a blue state, Massachusetts, that offers me some layer of protection. Still, I have honest fears of losing access to the public assistance that keeps me afloat and allows me to survive. I worked in Washington, D.C., as an advocate during the dark days of the Bush administration. I watched an agenda against women, poor people, and minorities rise. Last night, I experienced symptoms of trauma I had as a child dealing with a mentally ill, drug-addicted, and abusive mother all alone: stomach upset, breaking out in hives (for the first time in 30 years), and night terrors. Now I am due to teach my last creative-writing classes of the quarter at two residential schools for teen girls suffering from extreme trauma. Many of them have been sexually assaulted, abused, and exploited. I don’t know how to face them tomorrow, how to deal with the message we sent to them by putting an admitted sexual assaulter in office.

Aimee Phan

We live in somewhat of a Berkeley bubble — no one here was supporting Trump. My daughter Amelie told me about kids talking on the playground about what would happen if Trump won: Same-sex parents would have to divorce, Muslim and Latino students would be deported, etc. We kept telling the kids it wasn’t going to happen, that we were going to have the first woman president, and isn’t it so wonderful that in their lifetimes they had a black and a woman president?

By the time we arrived at the election watch party, the mood was somber, but nothing was definitive. When I tucked Amelie in, she asked me to wake her up with the results. She was smiling. She still believed Hillary was going to win. Matt and I spent the rest of the night watching CNN on mute. This morning, when I broke the news to the kids, Amelie immediately burst into tears: “But he is a mean man! He has horrible ideas!” We agreed, but also assured her that our democracy doesn’t allow one person to control everything. There were many, many smart people in Congress and on the Supreme Court that he’d have to work with. I want to believe this so much. But this is so demoralizing. I feel like I understand the despair my parents experienced as they watched Vietnam crumble. Can that still happen in America?

Natalie Singer-Velush

I have two daughters, 9 and 11. I believe they experienced unprecedented trauma last night. I’m asking myself if I’m in any way at fault for that. Of their own accord they spent two hours baking Hillary cupcakes, which are now sitting in the fridge untouched and crusted over. My daughters are afraid. I’m trying to muster my strength to lead them but I don’t know how.

At first, last night, I ranted and grieved aloud that we would move to Canada (I have Canadian citizenship). The kids heard and this morning one wants to go to Canada, the other is worried that we will uproot our lives. I told them that for now we need to stay here and fight for what we believe is right, and that what feels bad to us feels even worse to our friends who get bullied, our friends of color and our friends with two moms and our friends with disabilities. And that we are here, still strong, to stand up for them. My 9-year-old currently won’t get out of bed to get dressed for school. I told her that we need to go to school because her teachers are waiting there, to teach her and support her, so she can help make change. I told her that we have to reach back and learn from the path of those who fought underdog fights before us: Read more books, watch more films, see more exhibits about the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement.

Olga Kreimer

I spent last night thinking about how my family survived a Soviet state for generations, how we came here for choices, and wondering — because I’ve always thought of myself as an immigrant, not a “real” American — whether it’s time to move away again. Then it occurred to me that I don’t know where “away” is when the U.S. is the beacon that refugees from all over the world stream toward. My people survived pogroms, the Holocaust, Stalin, institutional anti-Semitism — that’s what I’m holding on to as a queer Jewish artist. And the fact that we’re not first on the list of the oppressed anymore means there’s a lot we can do besides running away.

Jeanne Sager

I never told anyone, save for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, when I was assaulted. I kept it locked inside for 18 years. But when the Trump “grab her by the pussy” tape came out, I made a public disclosure on my Facebook page for the very first time. I spoke out because as a mother of a daughter, I felt like it was time to stop blaming myself and start blaming the men who think it’s okay to hurt a woman. But this morning, I didn’t want to let my daughter leave our home. I was, for the first time in 11 years, afraid for her safety in ways I’m struggling to put into words. She is now growing up in a nation where not only is one in six women a sexual-assault victim but where every single day we will have to turn on the television and see that a man who has admitted to sexually assaulting women has been slapped on the back and sent into the most powerful office in the land.

Claire Dederer

I watched the returns with a couple other families here on the island where we live in Puget Sound. All our sons and daughters were with us. When we saw that neither Michigan nor Wisconsin would go for Clinton, the girls began to cry silently, hopelessly. We turned off the TV and walked along the dark wooded road, picking up more teenaged girl neighbors on our way. We all walked down to the beach and squatted quietly on the pebbles at the water’s edge. The girls cried and cried. The boys were respectfully silent.

Elizabeth Rosner

Hitler analogies have always disturbed me. As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I take this subject very personally. Usually the comparison is intentionally hyperbolic and oversimplistic, designed to provoke fearful knee-jerk reactions, to manipulate and demonize. But here we are, Election 2016, and the resonant imagery is all too accurate. The barbarians aren’t at the gates. They are here: attending his rallies, surrounding the polling places, pointing guns at the voting booth. They might as well be wearing brown shirts and black boots.

My father’s extended family left Germany for Palestine in 1933. They were Zionists, but the timing was not coincidental. Hitler’s rise to power was evidence enough that their departure couldn’t be delayed. All of them left except my father’s nuclear family, one small group of five staying behind in Hamburg. There were three young boys, and there was a family business to maintain. A life they believed in. My grandparents must have thought they belonged. They must have believed in the future.

Last night I watched the election returns alongside my dear friend and longtime activist Susan Griffin. We sat together in shock and rage and anguish, fixated on the TV screen as the numbers mounted unmistakably. Today I called my father, reaching out from my Berkeley to his Schenectady. Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. He said, “The worst has happened. It’s unbelievable. But he’s not another Hitler. There are enough people in this country to stand up to him.” Listening, I could barely breathe. “We must have hope,” my father said.

12 Women on the Heartbreak of Watching Trump Win