The period between the moment one casts their ballot and the moment the next President of the United States is announced feels far more heavy than I’d ever imagined. It’s the American population’s collective gasp — like that pause in music when the audience isn’t sure if the song is ending or if they’ve simply reached the silent millisecond before a beat drop. Last week, when I encountered my first introduction to this feeling, I watched a few campaign-recap videos to curb my pre-election jitters.
The videos were reflective, taking an emotional look back at the election cycle and its ups and downs. To me, it all felt so personal: each scene a reminder of its context in my life. I saw clips from the DNC I had streamed on my cell phone in the back of a girl’s car at a drive in movie, candidacy announcements I’d discussed with my parents on our porch before college, articles I read in other cities during other chapters of my life. It wasn’t Hillary’s story or Donald’s story. It was my story. Our story.
For a year and a half, the politically attentive interacted with the saga of a few sets of campaigns, and now, when we look back, we can remind ourselves of the lives we lived between news stories. In effect, this election wasn’t just a set of scattered events; it was a timeline that chronicled many of our experiences — a landscape of various points of reference that can help us remember the people and places and moments that have shaped us since 2015.
Now, in this post-election haze of shock and confusion, my November 8 campaign video binge feels like it was eons ago. Back then, I saw the Clinton videos as a victory lap. I sat there with a bag of chips and a smile as wide as the wage gap she talked about so often, planning out where in the house I’d take my celebratory “we gon’ be alright” picture at the end of the night.
That afternoon, I went to a bible study where the leader spoke about exuding respect even if the election results don’t work in your favor. In the moment, it felt like good advice for another time: this year, my candidate had it in the bag.
And then she didn’t.
It didn’t feel real, like I’d been dreaming the entire time. I looked back for the hints I had disregarded, as if there would be some telling detail like a “Directed by M. Night Shayamalan” tagline on a movie poster that should’ve let me know to expect a cheap twist at the end.
The next morning, I had to come to grips with the proposition that the fact that this political journey is “our story” doesn’t mean it’ll always work in our favor. I thought back to the books I’d read in high school. The classics. The pillars of this concept of “story.” Most of them, I remembered, were tragedies: Gatsby, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Frankenstein and so many more.
In each case, the author imagined a devastating ending to be so meaningful and enlightening that they disregarded readers’ longings for a good, old fashioned denouement. As proven by my failed English papers, it’s often difficult to decode what the meaningful and enlightening lesson was meant to be, but we were forced to search for it nonetheless.
Now, for us, it feels even harder to determine the lesson hidden in the depths of this political story, if there is one at all. Whatever the intellectual takeaway, this election, for those of us who hung our heads on November 9, must be a call to action.
We, the oxymoronic generation, presently spend our college years tweeting about equality yet skipping her rallies, studying labor relations so we can become wealthy businessmen, shying away from hard conversations because social discomfort is more likely to seep through the cracks in our privilege and hurt us than the thought of oppressive ideals perpetuating themselves.
I recognize that our alleged complacency isn’t always a fault: we aren’t all cut out to be activists or government officials and we can’t all make time in our schedules for this action or that organizing effort. But if a Trump presidency has taught me anything, it’s that I have a duty to at least do something to support what I believe in, because I can’t expect the populous to agree with me on its own.
For many of us, 2016 marks our first opportunity to vote for president and our first introduction to the reality that just voting isn’t nearly enough. It’s just a page in the book.
So if this political whirlwind is our story, I’m grabbing a pen and paper. It’s time to write a sequel.
Paul Russell is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russelling Feathers appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.