Well, the 2016 presidential election is finally over. Who could have predicted a year ago that for weeks the critical issues that face our country would take a back seat to demeaning tweets, “locker room” talk, and sexual assault allegations? A world filled with seemingly never ending accusations, explanations, excuses, and counter-attacks. Internet, TV, newspapers — there was no escape. I think that I can safely say that many average Americans, maybe even most, felt sickened by the endless discussions and pontifications. But what about those of us who were already sick? What happened to us?
In my opinion, a lot — and none of it good. Especially for the mentally ill. I am a Sick Person™. My qualifications — at the ripe old age of 22, I have suffered for years from, major depression with psychotic features, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, chronic migraines, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and have the back issues of a 45 year old. Obviously, I can’t speak for the entire community of sick Americans, but I can speak from personal knowledge. And for me this election was hell. Why? Two words — Donald Trump.
Full disclosure — as well as being a Sick Person™I am also a writer, artist, and comedian (not necessarily in that order). In my world, it would be unlikely for me to be anything but liberal, but having Republican-leaning parents, I consider myself pretty tolerant of people with other opinions. But I will admit that this was different for me. Some people might call me a one issue person. That I need to learn to see past certain traumas in my life, that it keeps me in a bubble. I know this may make me biased, but this is a bubble I cannot break. Please believe that if I could, I would. Someday I hope I can leave it behind. But not yet.
When Trump first emerged on the scene, his stances on immigration and Muslims, his insulting tweets about women’s looks, and his bullying tactics towards anyone who disagreed with him, disgusted me. I was amazed that he got so much media coverage and that his outrageous comments were glossed over. How come his objectification of women didn’t seem as appalling and disturbing to others as it did to me? I guess he was good for ratings. However, I was truly shocked when he actually became the Republican nominee (FYI so were my parents).
Although the media finally seemed to turn against him, the damage was done. As a candidate, Trump’s views, and comments were everywhere. Mocking a disabled reporter, calling an overweight beauty contestant “Miss Piggy.” Days of explanations, excuses, denials — but no apologies. His message seemed to be that people who aren’t physically perfect or conventionally appealing are worth less than others. Not a very healthy message for those who may be unhealthy already. Like me.
And then came the audiotape.
In 2005, Trump was unknowingly, and therefore, candidly, recorded talking about the sexual advantages of being famous — “. . . when you’re a star they [women] let you do it. You can do anything.” This included “. . .”grabbing them by the pussy.” Or, in other words, sexual assault.
I was fourteen years old, a freshman in high school, when an older boy shoved me up against the wall and grabbed me by “the pussy.” He thought he could do it because he was older and popular. He was right . . . and the reason for my PTSD. When I heard Trump’s words, I felt fourteen again, trapped against a wall. For days the “Trump tape” was all anyone talked about, saturating virtually every form of media. And for days I stayed in bed, sick, having flashbacks like never before. I was left gasping for air, forgetting to breathe. Scratch marks appeared on my arms from clawing at things that weren’t really there. It kept happening again and again, and I felt like I was dying. Literally dying. And after the flashbacks came the panic attacks and extreme anxiety. And the Trump campaign’s handling of the revelation only made my illness worse.
Following the tape’s release and verification, Trump seemed to know he had crossed a line and actually issued an apology. But, the apology played down the effect of his words, implying they were less egregious than the actions of Bill Clinton (who I am certainly not defending, but who was also certainly not running for president.) Kind of like the little kid who when caught doing something he shouldn’t, tells his parents that what another kid did was worse. And then, out came the Trump defenders, dismissing the incident as “locker room talk.” That such language might seem shocking, but, in reality, is common, normal, and no big deal. As if, somehow, it is acceptable for men to discuss and joke about sexually assaulting women when not in mixed company. That it is acceptable for a man to talk about degrading women, taking away their humanity, and making them sexual objects as long as he personally doesn’t plan on actually doing it. As if words have no consequences and do not help create an environment that tacitly condones sexual assault. The exact kind of sexual assault that happened to me. But I had one consolation – the assurance that he was going to lose.
Believing the pundits and pollsters, my friends and I happily got together election night to watch Hillary win. As the night wore on, and all of us realized that the unthinkable was actually happening, the mood went from celebratory to shock. A feeling of devastation and fear pervaded, and there was a lot of crying and cursing — for a myriad of reasons. For me, I felt as if I were being personally attacked. How could so many people vote for someone who advocated sexual assault? They obviously didn’t care — people like me weren’t important to them. I felt threatened, helpless, and scared. I still do.
But I am not helpless. The election is over and Trump is president. It’s a fact. Maybe horrifying, but a fact. However, it is not a fact that all those people who voted for him actively do not care about me. Some don’t, but others just have different priorities. I am trying to understand. They don’t understand the dangers of his words and what they represent. When Trump supporters defend the leaked tape as “locker-room talk” they don’t understand the damage of dismissing such “talk” as unimportant or harmless. It will not be an easy fight. There’s been dissension within my own family. Even if Trump didn’t actually act on his words (which, let’s be real, he totally did), he denigrated women and encouraged sexual assault. My job now is to make those people understand. Trump brought a lot of ugliness out into the open for everyone to see — and the only way to start solving problems is to recognize and acknowledge they exist.
Anyone who followed the election is now conversant of what has been, till this point, acceptable locker room talk. It’s now out there, in all its disgusting glory. And, because of that, what is openly considered acceptable, and what is not, may start to change. Not all talk about sex — but the glorification of sexual assault. Besides men being uncomfortable about it because it is very, very, very wrong, who knows who might be recording it? And then posting it? To live on forever? Oh, the power of social media.
Twitter is filled with angry, hateful, disgusting comments. And, for years, Trump has been using twitter to attack women, their intelligence, and their physical appearance. Nobody really cared or paid attention (except his victims) until he ran for president. Once these tweets came to light, they, and he, were held up for ridicule and roundly condemned. Even his spokespeople never defended his actual words, but rather tried to explain them, or get people to look past them. And, although Trump won the electoral college, his tweets probably cost him the popular vote. And the respect of at least half the country. Just maybe Trump has provided a lesson to angry “tweeters” (twitterers?) to use their brain before putting comments out into the universe for the whole world to see.
Trump soon will be President of the United States, which makes me nauseous in ways I cannot describe. But the last thing I want to root for is his complete failure. The failure of some of his policies? Definitely. The failure of his entire presidency? No. Because his failure would be the country’s failure, and that would be bad for everyone. But, the opportunity for change his actions have given us should not to go to waste. What Donald Trump said and did during his campaign cannot and should not be forgotten. The consequences of his words need to be highlighted and understood by everyone, regardless of sex, race, religion, or ideology. They are a shining example of a careless uncaring misogyny that contributes to tragedy. A tragedy that I know all too well.