When I was 20 and a sophomore in college, a war criminal was reelected as president. This was after 9/11 which happened when I was a high school senior and I watched the world I thought I knew fall apart.
Maybe you’re not old enough to know about the fear that held us hostage after 9/11 or how willingly people gave up our rights. Maybe you don’t remember how the 2000 election was stolen from the popular vote, and that it had all came down to Florida.
In 2004, we had another chance. This was after we knew that the wars were built on lies and ego, but we were too stuck to escape. This was after we knew he was an idiot who built a base on dynastic and rich white male conservationism. This was after thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Middle East died.
We arrested Americans without trials, we tapped lines without warrants, we disappeared innocent people and we tortured them. We signed away our freedoms in the Patriot Act. Our lives were governed by what color threat the day would be.
I was so certain that in 2004 with everything we knew, it was finally going to change. It was my very first election and I was so proud to be a part of it. We were going to make a real difference! Bush ran on a platform of fear and anti-LGBTQ rights, but we were going to win.
And I remember staying up all night watching the states tick red one by one.
I’m betting that most of you don’t remember what it was like to live through those days and the crushing failure afterwards. The next four years were a hard, terrible slog that left us exhausted, bitter, and begging for something more. There were huge protests all over the country for years, people struggling to hold on to their rights. A republican president with a republican congress, able to do anything he wanted to do with no one to stop him.
Our people were dying overseas, our people were being threatened and held hostage by surveillance at home, and everyone in the world hated us. In 2004, the United States’ torture prisons were exposed in Abu Ghraib where we treated prisoners like animals, humiliated, and killed them.
Less than one year after George W Bush’s reelection in 2005, he bungled the Hurricane Katrina response. Maybe you’re too young to remember the pictures of bodies left rotting in the streets or the poor rounded up like cattle, trying to survive in the Superdome.
High powered political positions went to unqualified cronies as gifts. The head of FEMA, Mike Brown, had never worked in a Federal government position in his life. That decision led to delayed assistance after Katrina, and people dying.
In 2006, the Republicans fired 11 US federal attorneys. Some were fired because they were involved in corruption cases that investigated Republicans, others refused to bow to political pressure when they were ordered by Republicans to target Democrats.
In 2007, the federal trial of Valarie Plame vs the US began. Valarie Plame was a US spy who had questioned the lies used to draw us into war. In retaliation, the President’s men exposed her identity to the world, publically outing a US covert agent in political revenge, ending her career and putting her life in danger.
In 2008, George W Bush’s reckless, idiotic dictatorship and collusion with Wall Street led to the worst economic collapse in our country since the Great Depression. We lost 8.7 million jobs, unemployment rose from 4.1% to 10% of the population. It was only 8 years ago, but maybe you’re too young to remember entire neighborhoods and entire towns wiped out by foreclosures. Banks would kick families out of their homes, sometimes not even the right home, and homelessness spiked. To this day, our economy is still trying to recover.
So what does this tell us now? Things are going to get bad. They are, that’s just the reality. We are going to have to fight for the rights that many of you grew up and took for granted. We can expect to see women’s reproductive rights under attack on every front. We can expect to see LGBTQ people targeted, the decisions passed down to the states where they’re free to enact laws that discriminate against us. We can expect a spike in hate crimes and civil unrest as violence against African Americans, Latinxs, and other groups soar. We have to brace for our economy to start crumbling again, for our relations with other countries to come apart, and for the damage of Trump’s picks on the Supreme Court to set us back decades.
What it means from someone who has lived through this before is that the next four years are going to be a fight. We are going to struggle and we are going to hurt. It’s not going to be right, but we’ve survived it once and we can do it again. I am not going to sugar coat this for anyone because we are not going to be okay, but we are going to make it through. This is not the end.
I guess, at the end of the day, I just want to say we can make it through. I know we can, I’ve seen it happen before. There are millions of Americans who don’t recognize this version of America and it will get bad, but we fought this once and we can do it again. Brace yourselves, take care of each other, and stay angry. We can do this. There’s hope at the end of it, we just have to get there.
And we sure as hell aren’t going to let him get eight years.
Maybe sometimes we just have to break down. To fall apart. To watch our worlds crumble into dust and for our walls to tumble down before our eyes. Sometimes we have to shatter.
Maybe that’s Life’s way of telling us to start over. To try once more. You’ve fallen apart so you can build yourself again, so you can collect the pieces and find out what went wrong. To find out which piece didn’t quite feel right. Arrange the puzzle pieces and this time, make sure all the parts fit into the right place. When you’re done fixing yourself and patching your life back together, you’ll discover that you can breathe easier now. You smile a little more. You live a little lighter.