Nick Pateras | U.S. Election 2016
U.S. Election 2016
A narrative of being in New York firsthand for the momentous occasion, alongside my Trump-supporting friend.
With my interest in politics multiplying manifold over the past half-decade, the U.S. election was a Michelin-star buffet of endless reportage, data analysis and opinion on which to feed. It was the first time I lived the story right from the beginning and in the whole: I watched every primary debate, familiarized myself with the platforms of the third parties, kept a regular pulse on the noise from each camp and even read Trump’s Crippled America to better understand his policies and enigmatic persona.
Resultantly, I felt compelled to be in the U.S. in person for Election Day, especially given the soap opera it had morphed into by its climax. New York City was deemed a fitting choice, the symbol of American success but simultaneously a cauldron of multiculturalism. More importantly, it happened that a close friend of mine, a political aficionado and zealous Trump supporter, had recently moved there to study at NYU. We had engaged in countless political debates since the start of the election cycle and thus thought it appropriate to witness the event together.
Even beyond the hyperbolic rhetoric that “this election is the most important of our time” – a typical accompaniment to any election’s close – I had already sensed a very deep and weighty shift amongst much of the American electorate. Thanks in large part to my friend Seppi, whose dedication to sharing videos and articles from right-leaning outlets was commendable if exhausting, I had learned much about Trump’s galvanizing influence. There was inevitably the common theme of an antipathy for a system his followers felt had left them forgotten as it evolved towards global integration, social liberalism and technological advancement. Beyond that however, his support base was deceptively heterogeneous.
Of course there were the much-stereotyped small-town Americans, those caricatured as racist and homophobic. But there was also a sizeable group of classical libertarians who felt asphyxiated by political correctness, unable to critique the violence of Black Lives Matter or the role of Islam in terrorism without being called a racist or Islamophobe. For many others, the deciding factor was their detestation of Clinton herself. They accused her of being a warmongering criminal, another Machiavellian political operative in collusion with both Wall Street and Saudi Arabia. I noted the charges of her defending a rapist as a young lawyer, of using the Clinton Foundation as a brokerage for political influence, of her incestuous relationship with the DNC. My own research suggested much of this was sensationally over-blown but some did sit uneasily with me. (Though I appreciate the realpolitik necessity of compromise, I found it tough to hear her say in June that “America stands up to countries that treat women like animals”, knowing how she had worked so closely with and even accepted money from Saudi Arabia.)
Still, I never felt she wouldn’t win and by the time I got to New York I was hoping she would, especially as the alternative would signify a nightmarish parallel to Mussolini’s populist movement a century ago. In wandering Manhattan throughout the preceding days, I made a point of asking everyone I met, from bartenders to my banking friends, to share their thoughts. This took cautious probing but after I assured them that I took issue with both candidates, I was stunned when about two-thirds would whisper to me that they were furtively voting Trump. This in central New York City, possibly as blue an area as one can find beyond California. Most people cited Clinton’s lack of trustworthiness. All were confident in their choice, despite their reluctance to proclaim it publicly for fear of being socially ostracized. As these conversations added up, it struck me that a silent mass of like-minded individuals across the nation could signify a propitious opportunity for the Republicans. So it proved to be.
In the early evening of election night, Seppi and I made our way to Times Square where we planned on parking ourselves for several hours to watch the results roll in. It was apparently too early for any of the election broadcasts to replace the regular cycle of commercials, so after a barrage of insults directed towards anti-intellectual consumerism, we went off to find another venue that cared about the world’s future. For the next six hours we bounced around a five block radius, reveling in the collective anticipation at the outdoor NBC-sponsored plaza, outside the Fox News studio, in Times Square itself and also in various bars to glimpse all major networks’ coverage simultaneously.
Seppi’s tone at the night’s beginning was one of worry, and I could tell he didn’t genuinely expect a Brexit-esque upset to transpire. Neither of us were overly perturbed as Trump took an early lead, with most of the early states called known to be Republican strongholds. Very gradually however, we exchanged moods as Trump won Ohio, and then North Carolina. I felt myself recoil into silent paralysis as his numbers grew: the tension led to a momentary eruption of emotions as we descended into a vociferous argument over climate change, a temporary outlet for my mounting ire. As news broke that the Mexican peso had plummeted and futures rates had dropped 3% in after-hours trading, my stomach resembled a Gordian Knot. The New York Times’ online predictor, which at one point had calculated a 52% chance of a Clinton win, suddenly forecasted Trump at a 63% chance, and rising. For the next hour my only words were the occasional outburst for the TV screens to call Florida, which had been stuck for an epoch at 91% of votes counted, with even the bullish Fox News unwilling to commit. But eventually that too was marked red.
By 1 in the morning, with ballot-counting seemingly paused and the pundits offering hopelessly jejune commentary, I was forced to mumble that it was over. Clinton needed to claim the trio of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to have a chance, though Trump held a lead in each. Admitting it aloud seemed to blaspheme any sense of righteousness in the world: “Trump’s going to be the next President of the United States.” I struggled to control my nausea as I sleepwalked behind Seppi’s jig to the Hilton, Trump’s election HQ. Outside we meandered through hundreds of roaring Trump supporters, a sea of unmistakable red baseball caps. A small group of protesters chanted about the unfairness of the Super PAC system, but was cheerfully ignored by everyone around them.
After a short while we ducked into a nearby pub to await the formalities of having the networks call the election and watch Trump’s acceptance speech. I sat sullenly in a dark corner, out of place amidst the jubilant atmosphere. Excluding myself, my area of the pub could easily have mandated red hats and wide smiles as an entry requirement. My mind was a boiling kettle of negativity, looping from bile at those around me to fear for the world’s future and back again. Seppi was in tears as he leapt about hugging strangers and buying drinks, singing that we’d avoided World War III. My beer went untouched.
As the clock struck four, I was overcome with fatigue and deflation. I meekly suggested to Seppi that I’d like an hour’s sleep before my flight home. He graciously agreed and we cabbed back to his place in an overwhelmed daze, he as if heaven had opened its gates and myself the opposite. We both passed out instantly, without an exchange. I suffered a terrible sleep, enduring visions of running from armed guards and a constant sense of danger. When my alarm woke me up after what felt like mere minutes, it was still dark out, and I realized the nightmare could just be beginning.