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The trauma of Trump, one year on

On this day in 2016 we woke to face the unthinkable – Donald Trump, in the White House. But how does it feel one year on? Sian Norris finds out

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By Sian Norris on

When Trump was elected one year ago today, I cried for five days. I started at 5.15am on Wednesday 9 November, having checked Twitter and seen the news. At a definite low point, I cried while watching on repeat Kate Mackinnon sing Hallelujah on Saturday Night Live.

I wasn’t alone. Across the world, women looked at each other with tear-stained eyes, asking what happens next. A friend of mine told me a colleague didn’t turn up to work – she was so distressed that she couldn’t stop throwing up. Trump’s election had made her physically sick.

In her essay on Trump’s election, writer Rebecca Solnit discussed how Trump’s campaign literally traumatised women. She argued that women were triggered by the bullying actions of a man not only accused of sexual assault, but who boasted of it.

In the UK, Trump’s win felt like the aftershock following the surprise Leave result of Brexit. After years of comfortably believing that issues around social justice and equality would just continue to get better, suddenly we had to face a backlash. The Leave campaign had played on anti-immigration, Trump’s campaign had whipped up animosity against women, BAME people and the LGBT community. It felt like the worst had happened, and had happened by playing on humanity’s ugliest prejudices.

So how does it feel one year on? As we approach the first anniversary of Trump’s unlikely win, I spoke to a range of women about how it felt for them on that surreal morning, and how it feels now.  

“I didn’t cry when Trump won the election,” Lauren Elkin, author of Flaneuse, Women Walk the City, told me. “It was more I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe this man was actually elected President. I actively felt that some kind of permission had been given to the worst elements in American society to menace people who were different from them — women, minorities, the disabled, trans people.”

Elkin couldn’t believe Trump’s victory had happened, yet Helen Lewis, the New Statesman’s deputy editor, had already started to expect Clinton’s defeat as the election neared. She told me, “I wasn't surprised on 8 November, when the results began to trickle in and it became clear that Trump had won – it felt like the natural end to a year of unexpected electoral results. But it was still shocking.”

Lewis was shocked not so much by the win itself, but how Trump’s victory broke all the normal rules of politics.

If we are to achieve a better world for women, this cultural shift must happen

“Trump had blown through every supposed taboo,” she told me. “With outright race-baiting, his refusal to release his tax return, his indulgence of campaign surrogates who chanted "lock her up" about his opponent, his encouragement that Russia should hack some more of Clinton's emails… That's what felt most disorienting: the sense that the rules weren't just broken, they were obsolete.”

Lauren*, a London-based curator, experienced a visceral horror that a self-confessed sexual predator had become President that continued beyond the shock that morning. Lauren, who requested that we don’t use her real name, told me how Trump’s election made her reflect on her own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. “On the worst days,” she says, “I feel hated. I feel structurally, physically, institutionally, sexually hated”. Trump’s election forced her to confront society’s sexism — a process she found incredibly painful.

When the Women’s Marches took place across the world in January, many women like Elkin, who attended the Paris march, felt they had a chance to take back some of the power Trump’s election had stolen. "It was incredibly empowering," she said, "And it was heartening, in a very dark time."

More recently, the Weinstein revelations have led some to suggest that we are on the brink of tangible societal change when it comes to our attitudes towards women. However, the reality may be somewhat different, argues Lewis. “We shouldn't kid ourselves that a new era of openness has dawned when more than a dozen women accused the Republican presidential candidate of sexual assault, and his ‘punishment’ was to get to live in the White House,” she told me. In fact, she says, “if anything, I'm more pessimistic about where his presidency ends than I was on 8 November 2016.”

However, Elkin is fervent that there is hope. She suggests that to combat the horror of Trump, “we’re going to need many female candidates for President, so it becomes something we take for granted.” She told me that right now “we do not know how to look at women in power, how to hear powerful women. We only know how to tear them down.” If we are to achieve a better world for women, this cultural shift must happen.

For some it is happening, slowly, already: a year of Trump has been one of personal change for Lauren. Having gone through the shock of feeling viscerally hated by patriarchy, and the pain that this hatred caused her, she’s since used that experience to transform her own life and attitude.

“Trump’s campaign and everything that came after has made me aware of how complicit I have been in sustaining the status quo,” she explained. “I have, without being asked, complied, laughed, permitted, lowered my gaze. I have sat in the back seat, taken the smaller portion, cleared the table, laughed at the joke, not pushed away the hand, all without being asked. I don’t want my daughters to feel that. I don’t think I will ever feel or be the same as before.”

*Lauren asked we do not use her surname. Rachel’s name has been changed on request.


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Donald Trump
US election 2016

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