“There is really nothing more to say – except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.” – Toni Morrison
I live in Adelaide, but I was raised among the cornfields of Iowa. As a girl I ran through prairie fields and thick forests of blackberry bushes and as a teenager I skipped rocks on the railroad tracks, listened to country music and ate ice cream sandwiches from Hy-Vee. It was a place where young men inherited southern manners and would take a girl out to dinner, but also a town of freethinkers and loud debaters. This was my America.
Of that home I think of Jack Kerouac and Toni Morrison too, of their America: the backwaters of Louisiana and the dilapidated interiors of Brooklyn. Morrison turned the streets of Queens into Jazz, and Kerouac whispered us his America through a tape cassette and pick-up truck.
When I revisit Iowa I am invigorated and inspired by my peers because with gusto and passion they interrogate our values and the differences among us. Young Americans have long been champions, on a global scale, of social progress. For decades they have challenged bigotry, racism and sexism. They galvanised world movements and asked the west to see the alternative. They challenged neoliberal, trickle-down economics, introduced collectivism and protested wars. Most importantly, young Americans have shown the world the impact of poverty and desperation on the health of a people.
Two days after the election of Donald Trump I am grasping for my America, my nostalgia, friends and books, but it is fading.
I called my sister yesterday. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, a staunchly Democrat county south of Denver. The night before, she went to the polling booths in a pantsuit. With padded shoulders and tapered pants she voted in solidarity with Clinton, her clothing a symbolic gesture to empower all other American women: stand together and we can be strong.
She says to me: “I feel like someone has died”.
I reflect on the certain death of the American dream. They have voted to ensure the prosperity, liberty and justice they have as their heart values will be crushed and I write now foreign, aghast at what is to come.
America has come from chanting “yes we can!” to “pussy grab!”
The world has watched Trump supporters shout with glee as they sanction misogyny, promote racism, islamophobia and slam the reproductive rights of women. We have seen them normalise hate speech and congratulate each other in the persecution of the marginalised and disenfranchised. Night after night we hear them dredge up the atrocities of past policies with renewed vigour.
This rhetoric has infected the mouths of the Australian public and our politicians. We too are hearing racism, bigotry and misogyny catapult back into our parliaments and the mainstream.
Oh America, what will become of you now?
In my desperation I remember those who organised in opposition to Trump are still there, walking the streets of my hometown.
It is unwise then to lament the loss of the America that was, but to instead turn my attention towards what will be: courageous voices fighting even harder. It will be writers, thinkers and artists producing brave works of defiance, mobilisation and inspiration.
The outpouring of rage and fear at Trump’s election is a reminder that my American counterparts still have a hope that will be effective in years to come. This is a hope we can echo from distant shores and even with Trump’s leadership, here in Australia, we can shed any apathy and use our privilege to protect, advocate and protest.