During the course of the election, I invented a game that I’d play inside my head while I was in progressive circles: I would mention Hillary Clinton’s name and watch people’s reactions. Then I’d do the same thing with “Donald Trump” or “Martin O’Malley.” Without a doubt, Hillary drew greater ire. Well-meaning progressives would repeat “Hillary the monster” and “Hillary the criminal,” while Trump was dismissed — treated as either a joke or not a serious threat.
This is misogyny — even when so-called progressives hide that misogyny behind woke language.
If you were to look at news coverage coming out of the United States today, you would think that much of the country is incensed at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency: thousands of people took to the streets in major cities across the U.S., a petition calling on the Electoral College to cast their ballots for Secretary Clinton has over four million signatures, countless angry think pieces have been published, as have many more furious tweets.
As an immigrant woman of colour living in the U.S. and as someone who is actively engaged in several social justice communities, you’d think I would find this energy, anger, and action inspiring. But I saw how this election cycle played out among many progressives and find their current professed outrage to be anything but.
Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, I watched my own progressive community — a large group of activists who advocate for socialism and fight racial discrimination, income inequality, and climate change — channel all their energy and passion into Bernie Sanders. Anything less than laudatory for him was unwelcome. When that cause ceased to be viable, the focus turned to Jill Stein. There was almost no acknowledgement that both of these candidates were also, on their own accord, deeply flawed.
If you voted for Hillary Clinton, maybe in spite of your critiques of her or the fact you disagreed with her approach to multiple issues, then I share your pain. If, however, you decided to sit this one out, despite the fact you were told the results of this election would have unimaginable consequences for people of colour, women, immigrants, and the environment, then I don’t buy this newfound sense of outrage and shock at the prospect of a Trump presidency one bit. It remains unclear how many people didn’t vote because votes are still being counted, but we do know that voter turnout was lower than the past two presidential elections. This election cycle, many people — particularly 18-29 year olds (Bernie Sanders’ core demographic) — who showed up to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 simply stayed home.
Lucia Graves argues in The Guardian that this drop in voter turnout from young progressives indicates that what mattered during this election was not really progressive policy, but having a candidate who had that illusive “likeability” so many claimed Hillary was lacking. Graves writes:
“Whatever your opinions about Clinton, the most progressive Democratic platform in history was on the ballot with her; any Bernie Sanders supporter worth their salt should’ve been able to see that. If they cared about progressive policy they would have bothered to show up.”
But they didn’t show up, meaning that, as Graves exaplains, these progressive voters were more interested in Sanders’ “aura — a star-power defined in terms of a masculinity that’s become synonymous with political charisma” than his positions on various issues. Which is why this switch from passionately supporting a leftist candidate to staying home during the election, then, after the fact, protesting the results of the election, seems inauthentic.
This faux-concern is particularly nauseating coming from those who chose to play purity politics at the expense of the lives and safety of immigrants, women of colour, and victims of sexual assault like myself.
Now, I see denial and dishonesty — denial of the role these people actively played in dissuading others from supporting Clinton, and dishonesty in pretending they ever gave a fuck. By either not voting or by wasting a vote on a non-viable candidate, these people essentially decided that Trump was a better option for women and girls, communities of colour, and the environment than Hillary. I am struggling to see how I can work in solidarity with the same people who refused to do anything to prevent these results.
Since Clinton announced her intention to run for president in April 2015, the mere mention of her name was enough to incite outrage in activist spaces. The actual policies a Clinton administration had to offer and the overlap between some of her ideas and those of progressive groups were rendered irrelevant as Hillary was turned into a figure of hate.
In May 2016, I participated in a protest against Trump in Eugene, Oregon and was struck by the disgust my activist friends expressed towards Hillary — a disgust that was not replicated towards Trump.
The gendered allegations against her were all over the place, ranging from “she’s a monster” to “she changed her last name.” At one point, during a social gathering for my former activist group, I dared to say that she would be better for women’s rights than any other candidate running for president. I didn’t say she was a feminist, that she was ideal, or that she had an impeccable record on women’s rights — just that she was better than the other candidates. Six men, most of them white, took it upon themselves to mansplain my folly to me: they could not fathom how I could speak positively about Clinton, despite the fact she was the only person who could have stopped Donald Trump from becoming president.
Over the course of the election campaign, it became clear to me that, as an immigrant woman of colour, I have no voice in this country and that the leftist spaces that claim solidarity with the feminist movement are just as rife with misogyny as any other space in society.
When I became overwhelmed with anxiety over what a Trump presidency would mean for women’s rights, people of colour, and the environment, pulling away from my activist circles as a result, I was told I shouldn’t isolate myself. That the appropriate response to my stress and worry was to be active and fight. Without missing a beat, the same people who spent over a year demonizing the only person who could have stopped Donald Trump pivoted to playing Ally-In-Chief.
I’ve long urged those around me — from my activist friends to my students — to channel their anger into activism. I still want to do that, but this time, I plan to channel my anger into solidarity with people who truly share my goals and vision and away from those who expressed misogyny towards Clinton while trivializing Trump.
Self-proclaimed progressives who fantasized about a Trump presidency (because “it would bring the revolution faster”) are not really on our side. Their choices have, in part, led to deep, searing pain in so many communities across this country. Super-woke white people who did absolutely nothing to prevent Trump’s victory, who are now pivoting from “anyone but HER” to “we need to make sure we protect vulnerable communities amidst this mayhem,” are hypocrites. This pivot only benefits them, as now they can position themselves as White Savior. They seem unaware that their romanticized vision of “the revolution” often happens at the expense of the most vulnerable and marginalized.
I don’t want to foment divisions in social justice circles during a time when we need every alliance we can muster, in order to challenge Donald Trump’s presidency and the Republican takeover of the Senate and House of Representatives. But I want progressives to take a very hard look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What role did I play in this? What did I do to prevent this from happening?” If they didn’t vote for Trump’s only viable opponent, I want these people to seriously consider who they are in solidarity with and what form of progressivism they support.
Amongst the protests and calls for resistance across the country, I see no acknowledgement or accountability for the big mistake so many progressives made this election season. Until that happens, we won’t be able to move forward in solidarity with each other.
Where was this deep sense of rage when we actually needed it? What if we had channeled the energy wasted on hating Hillary into preventing the situation we’re in now? These questions are worth asking — if these progressives abandoned us once, they may well do it again, only to turn around the next day and ask, “How can I be in solidarity with you?”
Getting back on our feet after this massive setback to women’s rights, communities of colour, immigrants, and the environment won’t be pretty and it won’t be fast. It will be ugly, painful, and slow. Every woman, person of colour, and immigrant that I know has woken up with a heavier heart since November 8th. What I hear from them ranges from, “This is the saddest day of my life” to “I walk down the street knowing that everyone around me is a xenophobe who hates me.” Is this the revolution so many on the left idealized?
On Friday, on a conference call with her campaign staff, Hillary Clinton said, “When you’re ready, I hope you will get up and back in there and keep fighting.” I found this hopeful, but “when you are ready” particularly resonated with me — I am not ready to get back into the fight with these “allies,” because when Trump was elected I was already fighting. Making it through this will take time and will leave a deep scar. Don’t get me wrong — I will get back in the fight, but this time only with those who did everything in their power to make sure the words “President-elect Donald Trump” would not become a reality.