I felt a sort of numbness – a blanket sense of shock with the occasional overwhelming spasm of horror as the sheer size of the electoral disaster and its implications were thrown into sharper and sharper focus. Particularly here in the bastion of the establishment that is Washington DC, it was almost physically palpable. Every poll, every complex mathematical model, every expert and panel on the news networks had assured us it would be Clinton. An unpleasant election it had surely been, but a blip – a mere stain on the pages of US history rather than a total rewriting of the next chapter. America, I was quietly certain, would wake to President Clinton on Wednesday, and spend four years being governed by a moderate, competent democrat and her unruly, out of control Republican opposition in Congress.
But not so this time. As the first results came in, it felt like some sort of twisted, absurdist replay of the night I spent watching Brexit unfold across the UK. Yet again, a campaign that stood for openness, internationalism and tolerance faltered early and consistently. Similarly, my sickening sense of dread simmered and then boiled as it became clear that the results coming in were not an accident or a fluke or a misfire. Any hopes I held of a late surge, of some counterbalancing results favouring Clinton were steadily, inexorably, and mercilessly crushed. But this time, there was no Scottish result to be relieved with, and no Nicola Sturgeon to pick up the weary, defeated souls and tell us that our values mattered and that we must continue fighting for the beliefs we had collectively endorsed. No, not only did my chosen cause lose the election - and at every level of government – but the consequences are deeper and broader.
Brexit may have been an important decision – tragic, disastrous decision – but in electing a leader, America puts forward a reflection of themselves and their values. Trump’s victory penetrates politics and everyday issues so much more comprehensively that even now, to step back and think of the sheer vastness of the damage he now has the unmitigated power to do almost makes my head spin. Millions upon millions of hard-up Americans will lose their access to healthcare with a stroke of this President’s pen. The fundamental legality of abortion – a settled issue in the US for many decades now - will be called into question, as President Trump produces the most reactionary Supreme Court Justices he can dream up. The Paris Agreement on climate change will be torn up, and possibly fall apart as a result. All this and more if Trump keeps to his word, though in any case there is a Republican congress that can pressure him.
I had been prepared for the sense of dark bitterness that had already been creeping across the West. That nagging unease at the undercurrent of blind intolerance combined with desperation for something radical was familiar to me, but this was different. The unprecedented intensity of it I was not ready for, nor the deep, existential shame that many of my American friends feel. With his characteristic lack of subtlety, Donald Trump has in a single night grabbed these feelings and rammed them down my throat.
It may be that Donald Trump is not as bad as his rhetoric would suggest, but I fear that the mere fact of his election has broken some intangibly crucial part of America. Whatever America was before, it is something different now, and what that could mean frightens me.
Guest writer Silas McGilvray is a British and American duel-citizen from Ayr. He campaigned for the Democrats and is a supporter of Hillary for America. He currently lives in Washington DC and is a self confessed politics geek.