On Tuesday night, I was uncharacteristically optimistic as my wife and I sat up and watched the election results come in. It was the same sort of hopefulness I had when the Brexit vote went down. Usually, I’m inclined to catastrophising. The lens of depression focuses on the negatives in most scenarios, the things that could go wrong and what there is to be afraid of.
Throughout this presidential campaign, fear has been a constant theme. Both candidates wielded it skilfully; whipping up fear of immigration, of certain religions, of Russians, Chinese, Arabs – the list goes on and on. Donald Trump was masterful in his emotive stoking of the fear. In response, Clinton capitalised on Trump’s fear rhetoric; consistently pointing out everything about him that we should be afraid of.
Living in a word that is governed by fear of one thing or another, it is difficult to keep believing that people are good and that the world isn’t a hostile place. It’s particularly hard for people like me; those who have been abused or neglected, because we’ve already got an in-built sense of danger. Being abused at a young age by a family member I loved and trusted left me uncertain of where to turn for security. That makes sense, because if I couldn’t feel safe with the adults I looked up to, then who could I trust?
I have been lucky enough to experience love in relationships that are strong and healthy in my adult life and this has gone some way to rebuilding my faith in people. But I do still carry that wounded child within me. She’s not an integrated part of me, so despite my rational, adult self knowing I am safe, she remains fearful. She continues to be hypervigilant to threats.
It’s not surprising then, that this part of me is activated when current affairs seem to demonstrate that vast quantities of people don’t have good intentions. I didn’t for one minute consider Hillary to be a ‘good’ candidate, but I was desperate for her to win. She’s corrupt and untrustworthy, but not frightening. Trump, however has scared me from the start. He’s emotionally unstable, impulsive, narrow-minded and thin-skinned.
Possibly the key aspect to Trump that triggered my fear and disgust is his opinions of and behaviour around women. It sickens me that a man who evidently has no respect for women and our bodies could be given any power at all. Not only will his perspective influence legislation in a potentially devastating way, the signal his presidency sends is one that permits at best discrimination against, and at worst the abuse of women.
During his campaign it was made clear that he is not merely inappropriate; he has repeatedly sexually assaulted and publicly degraded women. His vile, bullying comments about women’s appearances are bad enough, but his actions and abuse of power are repugnant. Perhaps it is because of my own experience of sexual assault, but I am disgusted that millions upon millions of people seem to think this behaviour is OK.
What kind of message does it send, when knowing he’s committed these offences, people still want him to be the man who represents them; the man who is a role model for their children? That’s what actually hurts me about this. It hurts to know that the consciences of the vast quantities of people who chose him in the ballot boxes this week apparently didn’t intervene in their decisions. Do these people genuinely think that abusing power to assault women is a behaviour they want to see in their leader?
When Brexit happened, I felt saddened that people couldn’t see the benefits of sharing in a wider European community. The leave vote felt like one based on greed to me. But I could understand the rationale. People wanted independence, they wanted sovereignty again. So despite my sadness, I knew that those who voted for Brexit might seem selfish to me, but their vote wasn’t one for suffering. It wasn’t a choice laden with horrendous consequences for vulnerable people. Essentially, I could see the conscience in voting for Brexit.
In the US election result, I can’t see that. I can’t see any positive intention in a vote for Donald Trump. His campaign was built around punishment, anger and hatred. To me, that should be reason enough not to vote for him. But I can’t shake how awful it feels to know that he was chosen by people who know he has a history of deriding and assaulting women. It’s a kick in the teeth for anyone who, like me, has experienced the trauma of sexual assault. It implicitly condones sexual violence and dismisses the horrendous and pervasive consequences for victims.
That is something I will never be able to stomach.
Photo: David Ohmer, Creative Commons.