First it was denial. Then it was horror. And then it was the silence.
Donald Trump’s victory dawned on New Yorkers in these three steps. Add in anguish and sporadic anxiety somewhere in the order, and it will sum up the last week and, more crucially, Tuesday night, for New York City.
This wasn’t the first time I witnessed an American election. I was lucky to be in college when Barack Obama was elected president for the first time, creating history and starting a journey that even eight years on, many are not ready to let go of yet. I still remember the night he won the 2008 presidential election – my classmates and friends were hysteric. They ran across the football field on campus, celebrating. This was in the middle of a college campus in rural Iowa.
And last night, eight years on, in the heart of New York City, I experienced the exact opposite: silence. Hushed voices and occasional conversations as New Yorkers held their breath, their eyes fixed on the screens, awaiting an answer that by late evening, we knew we were not going to get.
Yet, people stood there, secretly hoping that somehow, Hillary Clinton will pick up the lead, wishing that the nightmare that had begun as a joke and served as a comic relief for the past year, would somehow go back to being just that – a bad dream. One that America could wake up from.
It was anything but. On Wednesday morning, America woke up to, not from, the nightmare of a Trump presidency. Even those who had appeared indifferent earlier about the elections (and believe me, there were quite a few such people) managed to fully absorb the weight of the matter by the end of the night.
It was sometime around 10pm on Tuesday when the first set of panic began to set in. And soon, between train rides and one other story being edited in the newsroom, we began looking up at the screen to realise that the gap between the votes was widening. By the time we ended up at Times Square, an eerie silence had fallen over the New Yorkers. Thousands had gathered there to watch the result of the most controversial presidential election – and they stood in disbelief as the America they knew began slowly collapsing in front of their eyes.
In the build-up to the elections, a lot of the conversations with my colleagues revealed one thing – whether or not Trump won the election, the disturbing phenomenon of Donald Trump as a politician had already been introduced to the American public and it had already brought out many closet xenophobic, racist, sexist bigots. Even if America had elected Hillary last night, America would not have been able to undo the making of Trump and his ideologies – and that was concerning.
On my way back home from Times Square shortly after Trump was declared president, the subway was full of people, and heated conversations. The Brazilian man seated opposite me wailed on about the state of the world, and how democracy had failed America, and the world, in this election. After a brief conversation including him, three of my friends, and three other strangers around us, we realised we were all foreigners – or, in Trump’s vocabulary – “immigrants” – who Trump’s America has no room for.
How foreigners or “immigrants” – or any of the numerous communities Trump has attacked during his campaign – will survive under Trump’s America, I don’t know. And neither does America herself. And maybe that is why, on the night of the elections, Times Square was so eerily silent – because those in New York (at least those who find Trump’s rhetoric problematic) could not fathom what happened, or how it happened, or how they could undo it.
In the years to come, the effects of a Trump presidency will ripple across different countries in the world. And when our future generations ask, how this was allowed to happen, how after the legacy of Obama, the White House landed in the hands of a racist, openly misogynist candidate, we might not have any answers.
I hope we are able to give them more than our silence.
And in the meantime, maybe Times Square will come alive again.
Syeda Samira Sadeque is a writer and journalist who currently lives in New York. You can follow her on Twitter @Samideque