I felt palpable sadness as I boarded the MBTA Blue Line train toward Wonderland on the Friday morning after Trump was voted president-elect. I was making my way to the immigration firm in East Boston, where I have an internship. The work we do there had come to feel increasingly important and relevant while we scrambled to make sense of what a Trump presidency really could mean for the lives of the clients we work so intimately with.
These thoughts ran through my mind as I found a seat. When I first looked up, I noticed the gaze of the man sitting across from me. Uncomfortable, I looked away and shifted in my seat, craning my neck to check how many stops I had remaining until I could get off. He caught my eye, nodded at the phone in my hand and proceeded to ask me if I had a Snapchat and, if so, if I would add him. When I politely responded, “no, thanks,” and stood to leave in anticipation of my stop, he raised his voice at me. “Don’t you know who’s president now, bitch?” His harsh words pierced my ear drums, and I whirled around.“Trump’s president now, and that means I can rape you now.” I couldn’t believe my ears as the doors to the T flew open and I forced myself out of them, choking back tears as I glanced back at the astonished faces of my fellow passengers before they disappeared in the whir of the T’s departure. The words stayed with me as I played them over and over again in my mind.
I erupted into tears as soon as I left the station, calling my best friend to relay what had just happened. I felt unbelievably angry at Trump. I remember thinking, “Look, this is what he’s done. Look at what he’s already done after only a morning of being elected.” What I realized next was almost more upsetting. That man’s actions were not the fault of Trump. Instead, the prospect of someone like Trump being president enabled this man to express his explicit thoughts. He felt protected and supported in doing so, and what’s worse, by someone in a position of power. Trump isn’t necessarily breeding racists, or sexists, or homophobic people, but he is fostering a warm and welcoming space for them right here in our own country. The problem with President-elect Trump is that he was elected in the first place—maybe not by the popular vote but by enough people to indicate that there are deeply rooted, systemic and institutionalized prejudices coursing through this country. I have been aware of this for a long time but have been forced to confront it in a different way following the election results.
I realized that maybe I should be thanking Donald Trump after all, because even if that man on the T had not said anything to me, he is evidently not the kind of guy I would’ve wanted to interact with. Donald Trump has allowed all the covert and implicit racism, sexism, classism, and many other forms of discrimination to, once again, become overt and explicit. Anyone who supports Trump’s ideals is not someone I want in my life, and Trump has done me a favor in making these people known to me so that I can aim to educate them rather than befriend them. Progress can only be made when there is opportunity for reconciliation in the wake of disagreement. For this reason, it is not productive to entirely dismiss Trump supporters, but rather worthwhile to engage with them in an attempt to dismantle their misconceptions.
While Donald Trump is undeniably, immeasurably, and evidently flawed, his election highlights the ways in which our nation as a whole is more flawed than many of us are willing to admit. It highlights the shortcomings in our dated democratic system. It is a huge wake-up call to our nation that we are not as progressive, liberal, or aware as we think we are. His election is a call to action, and it is our responsibility to respond to it.
I remember my walk to work that morning feeling harder than ever before. It felt like everyone’s eyes were on me, and every person I saw was a potential threat—how could I ever know who did or did not vote for Trump? However, I realized that Trump supporters would soon go on to make themselves, unfortunately, overtly and assertively known, and it is up to us to respond to them accordingly.