Kirsten Hernandez witnessed divisive attitudes up close during her political stint at Washington, D.C., while working for Elizabeth Warren’s Presidential campaign. This her point-of-view as a disabled woman of color who lived through Donald Trump’s America.
Every day for the last five years, I’d wake up, look at my phone, and become exhausted once again. It had become a routine so many of us couldn’t avoid. The push notifications from your news apps blaring about the newest travesty our president had gotten us in. I would make a joke to my east coast friends that those of us who live in California don’t have the luxury of getting a few hours of peace in the morning due to the time difference. We tried to make light of it, laughing about the “covfefe”, the unhinged tweets, and the stupid self-tanner, but the truth of it is that most of what happened during the past administration wasn’t a joke to me.
Over the last week, everyone from politicians to movie stars implored the American left not to gloat. They encouraged those who felt victorious in this presidential election to stay modest and use this as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf with “those from the other side.” They said this was a time to start listening to each other and placed the responsibility of reconciliation on our shoulders. Many echoed these sentiments, claiming that half the country was in a deep sadness that was going to be hard for them to shake.
I’m sorry. I can’t find it in my heart to do that. I just can’t.
The 45th President of the United States was more than the annoyance that comes with an opposition party in power. I lived through W, I’ve lived through conservative congressmen and governors and assembly members. As much as you take issue with their policies, you always knew that you had the opportunity to organize and fight for what you believed was right.
To think this is the same is simply naive. Your leader has never tried to hide the kind of man he is. This is a man who 40 years ago spent his own money taking out full-page ads in the New York Times asking the government to condemn five black men to death for a crime they didn’t commit. A man who, hours after watching the destruction of the World Trade Center and the murder of nearly 3,000 humans, called a television show to brag about now having the tallest building in Lower Manhattan. From the time he rode down his golden escalator to announce his bid for Leader of the Free World, we already knew who he was. The country was appalled when he told the people in the building he named after himself that Mexicans were drug dealers and that we should ban Muslims from our country, but you know what? He was just trying to get the attention of people like you. You gave it to him.
The conman in the gold tower didn’t invent racism, or sexism, or homophobia – not by a long shot. This country’s foundation was built on the bones of natives and the sweat of African slaves. It’s a history we’re so uncomfortable with that we tell lies to our children about it in the schools we fund. People of color have spent the last 250+ years slowly but surely fighting the systems that keep us oppressed and little by little we make more progress. The issue is, people like you took that as a personal slight. Equality was seen as a threat because the oppression embedded in the American bedrock was a benefit. You couldn’t imagine a world that didn’t cater exclusively to you. When someone came along validating this worldview, it made you excited. Finally, you thought, someone was speaking your twisted version of the truth.
It wasn’t just the fact that we were subjected to hear this man struggle through a sentence without braggadocio on the daily or watching as he played with fire around our most dangerous international adversaries. It was the fact that reminders of this administration seeped into every aspect of life. My neighbors proudly displayed a flag touting the words “Black lives don’t matter” next to a sign with the president’s name. You even indoctrinated your children to the point where I stopped a child at the Girl Scout camp I worked at, who was taunting her Mexican cabinmate by repeating “build the wall!” In-line at the Smithsonian to pay my respects to Emmett Till’s casket, two middle schoolers wearing MAGA hats stood behind me. It dawned on me that the people who killed that boy nearly a century ago would have most likely been wearing the same red hats.
As if the rhetoric wasn’t damning enough, the man you voted for made good on many of his depraved covenants. I sat at my intern desk on Capitol Hill in the summer of 2018 and watched staffers and politicians on the Left frantically rally to find a way to put an end to the barbaric policy of family separation at the southern border. I answered hundreds of calls with the constituents of my district begging us to do something, but I was powerless. As I answered my phone and watched CNN play looped footage of people who look like me in cages, it hit home how much the President– “my” president– and the people who adore him, didn’t give a shit about me.
Looking at the nationwide vote count from last week’s election, I can’t help but feel the same sinking feeling I had at my DC desk two years ago. Even though our side won, I stared at the number of votes for your guy for what felt like hours.
That’s how many people saw the tear-gassing of American citizens practicing their First Amendment rights, the praise of the Charlottesville Nazis, the imprisonment of the President’s top aides, and the quarter of a million COVID deaths, and agreed that was a price worth paying. In a democracy, your vote is a show of consent. I was told that I was painting supporters of the president with too broad a brush, that some of his supporters just enjoyed the bump in their stock prices. If you’re willing to throw your fellow countrymen into a pit for a few extra dollars, don’t fool yourself into believing you’re innocent.
71.5 million is a number that will haunt me. When I travel around the country or just throughout my community, I will always wonder who you are. The last four years made me paranoid. Now, when I meet someone new, I can’t help but wonder if they think my grandparents should have been shot when leaving Mexico, or whether they think my trans friends have a right to exist. I’m now suspicious of even the smiling faces, not knowing what acts of bigotry they might be complacent in. The election of 2020 proved our country isn’t embroiled in a Republican vs. Democrat conflict anymore It’s a fight for right over wrong. While Good may have won a substantial victory last week, those of us in marginalized communities have had our ability to trust damaged, maybe beyond repair.
So no, I won’t be doing across the aisle handshaking to the people who used “fuck your feelings” as a campaign slogan any time soon. I will also not be counseling my 45-loving friends in their time of sadness, mostly because those people have been cut out. You might say it’s foolish to remove people from your life because of political disagreements, but what you fail to acknowledge is that seeing politics as something trivial is an astounding sign of ignorance and privilege. Politics isn’t a petty game or a hobby of mine. Politics dictate my life. Politics dictate how and when I can raise a family, who I can marry, and if I can receive healthcare without spending my life savings. Politics determine if my government finds me and other people with disabilities valuable enough to receive accessibility; whether my Black friends can live in neighborhoods where they’re not being bullied by police patrols. You cannot be my friend and also support the white-cloaked White House. Why? Simply put, friends don’t do things that they know will hurt the ones they supposedly care about. Your ballot proved that you don’t care about me, and that’s an abusive relationship I refuse to partake in.
I don’t believe in revenge. It wasn’t the way I was raised. I’m not going to key your car, burn your thin-blue-line flag, or harass you in the street. We can be neighbors, classmates, or coworkers without incident. I believe in taking the high road. Don’t, however, take this as a sign of friendship or acceptance of you and your leader. Ignoring you is how I can move on with my life after the half-decade I spent with a constant pit in my stomach. Ignoring you is how I’m able to preserve the mental energy I need in the continued fight against your dogma. I don’t ignore you because I believe your ideals have validity. I ignore you for me because I refuse to let people like you hurt me more than you already have. You are racists, you are homophobes, you are enablers.
Some, I assume, are good people.