On the cold open of Saturday Night Live this week, comedian Kate Mckinnon sat at a piano and sang a rendition of the late Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Though Mckinnon was dressed as Hillary Clinton, complete with white pant suit and coiffed hair, she forewent the winking ticks that usually accompanies her impression of Secretary Clinton. She played the song straight, turning to the camera only at the end to tell the audience one simple message: “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”
It was a graceful yet defiant gesture to end what has been a historically traumatizing week.
I sit writing these words in the reading room on the third floor of Robarts Library in downtown Toronto. I am surrounded by students of all races, ethnicities, and genders pouring over class notes on their Macbooks, multi-tasking between Facebook chat, class portals, and the text messages they keep getting on their phones. They seem to have an inexhaustible ability to consume digital media, even if sometimes they need to put their heads down for short naps.
When I think of all that has occurred this week, it is impossible not to fear for the future of the United States, to whom the fates of all nations are still tied. As battered as America has been since 9/11, it is still the world’s only superpower, and its domestic politics effect all of us. There is no outside to a world-system that was designed, and is still overseen, by the United States.
When feelings of despair over what a Trump presidency will entail has washed over me this week, I have turned to the faces of the students around me. They are of every skin shade imaginable. From their mouths tumble languages from all over the world. They enjoy partying but also like to stay in; they hang out with their friends but also cherish being alone; they want to see new continents but also love their hometowns; they are devoted to their gods, even when they have none; they are a little lazy, a little excitable, a little romantic, a little silly, a little serious; they have strong jaws and graceful smiles and are each in their own ways achingly beautiful.
Most importantly of all, they are empathetic, for at their core they understand how hard life is in a neo-liberal economy that has already demanded so much from them and has provided them so little in return. They have been in the educational rat race since the age of five, one exam after another, one essay after another, onward and onward. They will be in the corporate rat race for many decades to come. The stress and anxiety, the failure and the constant set-backs, have etched in them a humanity that is as intuitive as it is unacknowledged.
I see the possibility of a better future in the faces of these children. One that is proudly trilingual, unapologetically mixed, creolized, always off-center, imperfect. I am not talking about “multiculturalism,” about some government policy imposed from the top down. I am talking about the hopeful despair that comes from everyday life, of laughter and embarrassment and frustration and sex and heartbreak, lived in a world where no one is quite like you and everything spins too fast, where to demand purity is as useful as hoping the oceans’ waves will stop churning over the earth’s tectonic plates.
There will be an extensive post-mortem in the weeks to come about Trump’s victory, which took everyone- including the writers of this website- by surprise. In retrospect, it should not have been shocking. We should have understood the thirst for change being displayed by voters in areas of the United States that have been left behind by globalization. What did you think these people were going to do? You stripped away their jobs, you de-legitimized their skills, and you outlawed the unions that protected their livelihoods. Did you think they were going to go quietly into the night, crawling back into whatever rural township they came from? How much debasement did you think they were going to take before they organized and fought back? Trump always told us: “I’m nothing but a vessel.” Like an idiot-savant, he heard the call coming from the heartland and rode it to electoral victory.
When the DNC undercut Bernie, they didn’t realize they were shutting themselves off from any hope of keeping the white working class voters they needed to win. Instead, such voters turned to a neo-fascist to protect them, for he was the only one who could speak to their concerns.
We will have more than enough time to discuss these mistakes. Progressives will have to atone for such errors over the next four years, as the national fabric is damaged day after day by Republican policies that will only compound, not allay, working-class misery. We have two months to prepare ourselves for a global experiment the likes of which no one has ever seen: a Trump administration backed by a Republican controlled congress. The damage they will be able to do to Obama’s legacy will be breathtaking in its ferocity.
But at the end of this week, it is important for us to remember that a mixed and impure and wild and playful America already exists. This is a culture embodied by the young people who sit around me at this very moment. One that overwhelmingly supports public education, social redistribution, open immigration, responsible climate regulations, and state protections of the rights of all minorities.
These voters are young, but growing, and in fewer years than you think they will replace the baby-boomers as the largest voting block in the country. Soon, it will be these young people that our politicians will have to answer to. I, for one, believe such young people will not make the same mistakes as we have. Already globalized, and already wise to the harsh realities of capitalism, they were not raised in the ideological fogs that we were. They will not be taking in by neo-fascist visions of return to a yesterday that never existed.
For all those looking for hope in these dark days, do not forget that the harbingers of a better world swirl all around us. Sometimes distracted, sometimes silly, but always churning with an energy that we lack, I put my faith in these youthful upstarts.
Their seeming weaknesses are their very strengths, their hybridity reminding us of what now, more than ever, needs to remembered: all is not lost.
Mark McConaghy is a doctoral candidate in the East Asian Studies Department at The University of Toronto. He studies aesthetics, political economy, and the dynamics of historical change in the 20th century.