Every morning I wake up and realize that we’re one day closer to the general election on Nov. 3. Whether it be from a New York Times notification or a new mark on my calendar, the start to each morning feels like a ticking time bomb. With each conscious realization of Election Day’s proximity comes an unavoidable pit of anxiety. This uneasiness is not foreign to me; in fact, it’s a feeling that I’ve felt before — four years ago, to be exact.
It’s what my therapist likes to call political anxiety. To me, it feels more like political deja vu.
On the surface, it makes sense that emotions similar to those I was experiencing in the fall of 2016 are reemerging now. After all, both 2016 and 2020 are election years, and they both involve the ruthless presidential campaign — filled with misogyny, xenophobia and racism — of Donald Trump. But the most unsettling similarity between the 2016 and 2020 elections is internal; my thoughts, feelings and anxieties suddenly feel eerily familiar to those I had four years ago.
Let me explain.
In the fall of 2016, I was an overly-ambitious, tired-eyed 16-year-old with a growing interest in politics. My parents have always been vocal political junkies, conditioning my brother and me to adopt the same interest in the topic. I followed this passion throughout my high school career: I was the president of our Model Congress club, vice president of the Political Debate Forum and editor of the Millburn Observer — the high school’s political newspaper. That fall, I was enrolled in what would become the best class I have ever taken, college included: AP Government and Politics (GoPo, for short), taught by Mr. Raymond.
Mr. Raymond would regularly devote parts of class to analysis of the year’s election. He never disclosed his party affiliation or personal beliefs, and instead offered us objective and detailed examinations of debates, historical trends and news coverage. He taught us how to both properly listen to and process information from media outlets. This meant identifying bias and drawing conclusions based on evidence, whether the source be Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.
I had never been both so knowledgeable about and immersed in American politics. I valued Mr. Raymond’s lessons more than any course before: I would spend hours after school every weekday rereading my class notes, jotting down individual analysis and later referencing them when engaging in out-of-classroom debates. I began reading RealClearPolitics and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight every day. I watched the news from stations that leaned politically in both directions, whether it be delivered by Rachel Maddow or Chris Wallace. I researched ways I could get involved in my own community, which led me to canvas and phone bank for the Clinton campaign.
I was always a Hillary Clinton supporter, but I was also extremely disgusted by Trump’s behavior. This disgust morphed into a grenade of anger following the 2016 October Surprise, when an Access Hollywood video was released of Trump telling then-reporter Billy Bush to “grab ‘em (women) by the pussy.” I cried to my dad as I watched the video, hearing a presidential candidate glorify, explicitly participate in and perpetuate rape culture. I couldn’t remain silent anymore. I quickly grabbed my computer, locked myself in my room and wrote a piece titled “An Open Letter to Donald Trump,” pleading for people not to vote for him.
I couldn’t imagine a world in which Trump was president.
But four years later, here we are. The similarities from then to now are almost uncanny. I am a junior in college now, continuing studying my civic interests through a major in political science. I channel my anxiety into Get Out the Vote efforts, studying and planning how to increase voter turnout in a course called “POLSCI 389: Detroit Votes” or through phone-banking independently. While I am no longer Mr. Raymond’s student, I still keep in touch with him via email. I still learn from his analysis when I feel too overwhelmed to adequately sort out my thoughts. I have been tracking the progress of the 2020 general election since the summer of 2019, still relying on RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight for political news. I still write about politics as a form of catharsis.
I am just as, if not even more, scared for another Trump term as I was before. The political instability in the United States combined with little effort to control the pandemic right now is dangerous. Our country is in an extremely volatile state, and I am at a loss for ideas when I try to think about what else I can do about it besides traditional GOTV efforts. I’ve been racking my brain about this for a while, as the situation gets more pressing with each news bite. And while canvassing can be effective, I can’t help but feel an undeniable sense of dread when envisioning Election Day because I cannot guarantee my desired outcome.
My anxiety paints Election Day up as a sort of political Armageddon. How could it not when the president has actively tried to suppress voter turnout, all while claiming he won’t concede if he loses. And if it’s anything like 2016, I cannot get my hopes up only to be let down.
Though I try to forget, I remember that day like it was yesterday.
Nov. 8, 2016 was a day the country long anticipated. I had been following the polls, and while they were swaying in favor of Clinton, they were creeping dangerously close to the margin of error. Still, I tried my best to maintain a cautiously optimistic perspective. That afternoon, I drove an hour and a half away from my hometown with my mom and a friend of mine to go door-to-door canvassing in Bethlehem, PA — a swing city in a notorious swing state. We knew we had to get out the vote on the day that mattered most.
We drove back home around 5 p.m., making it back in time for my political debate club’s election party. A mix of 20 juniors and seniors met at a club member’s house to eat good food, make predictions and hopefully celebrate our country’s first female president. Mostly everyone there was a Hillary supporter, with the exception of one or two Trump supporters.
We ate goldfish and crackers while drinking sparkling apple cider, packed together on the couch and floor. We switched between news outlets in an attempt to get bipartisan coverage. Adrenaline filled the air as the results flooded back in, at first reporting positive signs. We were laughing and gossiping, unaware of what was to come.
Suddenly, the returns from Florida started to tip in Trump’s favor. Dangerous. The room started to get a bit quieter, besides the overwhelming joy coming from the Trump supporters. Most of us were very tense, sitting with our fists clenched as fear crept into our minds.
He could win this thing.
The betting odds on FiveThirtyEight refreshed to hit a new high — 80% in favor of Trump. I emailed my teacher on behalf of the 18 of us, nervously typing:
“When should we start crying? We are praying for a miracle. Eighteen of your students are already in shambles, including me. We saw the latest 538 poll, and we are unstable.”
And as soon as it started to look like he was going to win Wisconsin, my friend Arik started his application into McGill, a university in Canada — an action symbolizing his newfound desire to leave the country.
The fear grew stronger with each return update. It was getting late, and the situation was only getting worse by the second. Around 11:15 p.m., I had my best friend Kyle drive me home — I didn’t want to cry in front of my peers.
In the car, I got a CNN update that Trump had won Wisconsin. That put him over the edge of winning the Electoral College, and I knew it. I told Kyle to pull over as we approached a spot in our town that overlooks New York City. It’s usually a place of comfort for him and I, showing us how small we are on the grand scale of things. Tonight was different, though. Everything felt huge and scary.
Once he put his car in park, he took a deep breath and looked at me. I began to weep. Everything we had fought for, everything we had hoped for was at risk. People’s rights were at risk. People’s lives were at risk. And instead of bigotry receiving its deserved ending — defeat — Trump was being rewarded for his dehumanizing, vulgar, oppressive behavior. I looked at the city in front of me but could barely see out of my teary eyes. Even as Kyle held my hand and told me it would be OK, I didn’t know how it could be.
After 10 minutes, Kyle dropped me off at home. The only possibility of Hillary coming back was with a deadlock. I once again emailed Mr. Raymond, holding onto any small shred of hope I had left.
“There’s no chance even with Michigan?”
His reply said it all:
“Go to bed.”
I don’t talk about that day often. It hurts too much to relive it. I tried to piece the details back together as well as I could remember it, reaching out to Kyle to fill the gaps I missed. When texting him for answers, he responded with a succinct but all-telling “i’m sorry hahaha i blocked too much of that out.” It seems a lot of us did.
As much as I’d like to forget the darkness of that night, its effects linger every day with the aftermath of living under a Trump presidency.
Multiple sexual assault allegations. An impeachment. Continuous support of hate groups. Xenophobic legislation. The furthering of a white nationalist agenda. Dehumanizing, disgraceful rhetoric. Perpetual lies. Science denial. Criminalizing dissent. A failure to acknowledge or handle a global pandemic. A catalyst of hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.
This is just the beginning — I can’t even try to create an all-encompassing list of the unacceptable things Trump has done in the last four years. The rage and distress I feel are indescribable. And the anxiety surrounding the upcoming election is unavoidable. A weight of helplessness lies on my shoulders as I wait for Nov. 3, praying to anyone and anything that we vote him out.
It would be easy to give into those feelings, especially when it felt like all of my efforts to elect Hillary in 2016 were done for nothing. But I know that’s the attitude that results in complacency. We must keep pushing, even when at our most cynical. I may not be optimistic, but I believe in actionable change. I will do everything in my power to help shape a better future.
Election Day 2020 needs to end differently than it did in 2016.
Statement Deputy Editor Andie Horowitz can be reached at email@example.com
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