Where Do We Go From Here?

     This week Donald Trump will officially become the 45th President of the United States. If that sentence just made you want to throw up and crawl into your bed, never to leave again, trust me, it was even harder to write.

     On election day I was feeling good about the prospects. I knew it would be a close race, but I had tremendous faith in America and felt that most people would make the correct decision. Just four years ago I had the opportunity to be a grassroots intern for President Obama’s re-election campaign and saw firsthand what can happen when you work hard for something you believe in. I saw what America looked like on that night in 2012 and felt extremely proud to be an American. There is no way we are going to take another step back after fighting this hard.

     Just 30 years before this, many young gay men like myself were subjected to suffering and dying of a disease that was deemed by many on the right as “Moral Justice”, “A Rightful Punishment” or the result of “Immoral Acts”. Due to the public sentiment about homosexuals, AIDS wasn’t even mentioned by President Reagan until 1987, three years after it was officially given the title “AIDS”, after it was found that homosexual intercourse was not the only possible way of transmission, replacing the former name “GRID”, which stood for “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency”. We had gone from turning an eye to people suffering from a disease because we believed what they were doing was immoral, to acknowledging and celebrating LGBT rights and bringing awareness to necessary social issues in a very short span of time.

     On election day I was reflecting on the hardships of the past and looking forward to the future.  Before I voted I thought about all the females in my life who did what they could in-order to insure their children and future generations would experience a better life then what they were given. I thought about my great-grandmother who became a widow at a young age with two children and worked dead end jobs doing the best she could to provide for her children. I thought about how her daughter, my grandmother, would go on to be the first college graduate in her family. I thought about my mother who has sacrificed everything in her life to raise my sisters and I and how proud I was to have her as the main female influence in my life. Finally, I thought about the message that electing our first female President would send to my nieces and how this message would empower them to not ever once question their worth and value in society after this historical feat would be reached and we as nation were celebrating as Annie Lennox would, by walking on broken glass from the now broken glass ceiling holding America hostage since its inception. (If you didn’t get that reference you either are not a true gay or didn’t grow up with older sisters)

     I work at a local news station and seeing the news coverage of the campaign day after day had become extremely brutal, especially for someone as opinionated and outspoken as I tend to be. Watching the endless, baseless attacks coming from Trump about Hillary, the Obama Administration and several minority groups was very upsetting and watching him spill lies in front of thousands of cheering supporters was really unsettling, but the pre-election naïve me thought, “He won’t win, he can’t win. Do people truly believe he cares about anyone but himself? Above all, they can’t justify picking Trump over Hillary, it just doesn’t make moral and ethical sense!”

     After I voted, I retreated to my apartment where I relaxed by listening to music, turning off my phone and the TV, and just pretending to be in an alternate universe for a couple of hours. I knew I had a long night ahead of me and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I began to feel more and more optimistic about the outcome as the afternoon turned into evening and the first polls started to close. However, with each result announcement I began to realize that my nightmare was about to become my unescapable reality.

     A lot of battleground states were close to call and that’s when I started to get extremely nervous. As each of these began to illuminate in red on the electoral map, my stomach began to turn and I became increasingly nauseous. Ohio went red, then Iowa went red, then Florida went red and once I saw Pennsylvania go red, I felt the wind get kicked out of me. I just sat at my desk, laptop in front of me and the TV on mute just staring at the wall. I felt like I had just witnessed a horrendous car accident, I didn’t know what to do with myself. To make matters worse, I knew I would have to be at work early the next morning and have the results rubbed in my face like a dog who is being punished after taking a dump on the living room carpet.

     After being able to sleep for just a few hours, my alarm went off at 3:45 am and I awoke slightly believing it was all a dream. I got out of my bed and walked into my living room to look at the TV which was still on mute. I adjusted my eyes and read the words, “Donald J. Trump Elected President”.

     “Fuck this!” I yelled as I threw my remote at the wall, walked to my bathroom and sobbed while brushing my teeth. This was going to be a rough day at work and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to mentally perform throughout the entire day. I tearfully got dressed and walked out the door while mumbling, “I can’t believe this is fucking happening.”

     A part of me wishes I had prepared myself for this outcome better. I just did not want to believe that this could happen. Looking back however, I can’t believe I saw this outcome as a “mere possibility”. I watched Trump triumph through the republican primaries with ease, all while disparaging women, minorities, the disabled and others to the sounds of thunderous applause and cheers. His candidacy made me aware of the level of bigotry, misogyny and racism still prevalent in this country, but I never thought over 62 million people would support his message. Of course Hillary came with her baggage, but it was nothing in comparison to the types of actions taken by the now President-Elect. It wasn’t even just Trump. His running mate believes LGBT people should be subjected to electric shock therapy as a “treatment” to aide their “homosexual behaviors”. Haven’t we moved on as a country? Haven’t we learned that being gay is not simply a “choice”.

     As much as I would like to go on about how discomforting it is that America chose the path of hate and isolation instead of inclusiveness and progression, I must look at the other factors. As with a lot of people who feel the same way I do, we don’t want to dwell on this outcome but a part of us just wonders how the hell this happened. I would love to sit here and point fingers and blame people from my hometown for this outcome but this problem is much bigger than uninformed individuals voting against their own interests.

     Let’s just start with this statistic. According to the United States Election Project, 55.4% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 Presidential Election, meaning 44.6% of eligible voters simply chose not to participate. Our democracy has a major problem if nearly half of our voting population is opting to sit out during an election, especially one as important as this one in regards to not only preserving the progress President Obama was able to achieve, but in ensuring an ill-informed demagogue does not hold the highest office in the land, putting the security of this nation in grave danger.

     Then there were the Bernie or Bust people, who were rightfully unhappy with the DNC and its former chairman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Regardless of the DNC’s preference for Clinton, the democratic primary was close and in the end Clinton came out on top. I am acutely aware that most people who were “Feelin’ the Bern” did the adult thing which was to go to CVS, get a cream for the rash and proudly declare “I’m With Her”, knowing full well this was the best decision for the country, especially considering the alternative. However, we all know of those Bernie or Bust people who either didn’t vote or foolishly voted third party and I have even heard stories from friends and colleagues about people close to them who supported Bernie in the primary and went on to vote for Trump in the election (Yes, people really did this).For the life of me I simply cannot comprehend how you support Bernie Sanders platform and then go on to jump on the Trump train, but I hope those people can sleep at night, especially if they have daughters.

     Last but not least, there were people like myself. People who got too comfortable with the progress we had been able to achieve under President Obama and who decided to be lazy, to not volunteer for the campaign, to not reach out to friends who “didn’t plan on voting” because I figured the right amount of people would make the correct choice in the end. Hillary was able to finish with nearly 3 million more votes than tiny hands, but unfortunately in our government system it wasn’t enough.

     Now two months later I have finally been able to digest it all.  Working in news has been extremely hard, especially considering the toxic climate journalists are now living in thanks to Trump labeling the media as “untrue or fake”, especially those who report unfavorable news about him, you know like Hitler did.  Being subjected to the constant news coverage over this new administration has taken its toll on my mental health and going to work seems to get harder each day. However, when I am at work on Friday watching Trump be sworn in as our next President I hope it gives me motivation. Motivation to lift myself up, hold people accountable for their actions, fight for what I know is right and most importantly volunteer. Volunteer for organizations who will be in desperate need of assistance under this new administration, for organizations who help others just like myself and for democratic politicians who are willing to stand up to republicans and who will put the needs of all Americans before their interests.

     As Carrie Fischer once said, “Take your broken heart and make it into art”. That is the philosophy I plan on following. I’m going to do what so many ancestors before me did during tough times. Lace up, be there to fight the good fight and be as strong as I can be to take on Trump’s America.

Riley Cosgrove