It's Okay to Feel Terrible Before You Feel Anything Else

Photo via AP
Photo via AP

It took me a minute to remember this morning. I woke up with that heavy sense of wrongness, the one you feel after a death or a wrenching breakup, but it took a moment to locate it, to figure out where exactly it lives in my body. Remembering that we really did this, that we really elected Donald Trump as leader of the free world, was to die a little bit all over again.


We had a long, late night at the office on Tuesday, watching the election returns with the staff of all our sister sites and some of our friends. For a while, the mood was relaxed, cautiously celebratory: we ate pizza and drank wine and did some goofy Facebook Live broadcasts. As everyone started to realize what was happening, the room got quiet and people became stone-faced. We sat close to each other on the couches. Some of us retreated into quiet corners. Other people went home to be with their families. I put off calling my mother, because I knew she was already crying.

That last two hours were a slow torture, watching the math on the electoral college go from narrow to impossible. When the Associated Press and major news networks started to call it for Trump, I was numb, encased in the self-protective layer of ice some of us call on at times like this.

It finally broke this morning, when I saw this tweet and started to sob at my desk.

Millions of people are waking up this morning feeling less free and less safe, uncertain of their futures: whether they can stay in this country, whether they can stand to have children, whether it’s OK to go outside at a time like this wearing a hijab or a turban or any other visible symbol of otherness. And it is all right, before you feel anything else, to feel, simply, awful.

Five days ago, the Washington Post ran an incredibly poorly-conceived op-ed, titled “Calm down. We’ll be fine no matter who wins.” The “we” here, as many people pointed out, is pretty clear: privileged whites, the kind of people who voted Trump into office or cast garbage votes for outrageously unqualified third-party candidates.


For the rest of us, we don’t have to calm down yet. We don’t have to reassure ourselves it’s going to be fine. Nothing is fine. Nothing is the same. I appreciate exhortations from places like Mother Jones to fight like hell, and we will, because we have no other choice.

But today, first, we are allowed time to process this terrible, cataclysmic, seismic loss. We are allowed to grieve for the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, voting rights, reproductive rights, immigration reform. We’re allowed to grieve the loss of our standing in the world.


Things were far from perfect yesterday. The Obama presidency saw a record number of deportations, and the continued construction of a vast and terrifying surveillance apparatus that President Trump will now control. But we’d also settled into a feeling of cautious hope: the markets were recovering from 2008. The Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans and rejected what would have been a devastating blow to abortion rights. Global warming was at least not being ignored entirely.

I sat in our office last night and watched Donald Trump give his acceptance speech. Someone near me smoked a cigarette indoors, ashen-faced. I looked at Trump’s bulbous pumpkin head, blown up to nightmarish size on our biggest TV monitor, and started to feel a sense of resolve, of defiance. I could see, vaguely, through a haze of exhaustion and numb pain, an idea of all the ways journalists and activists and decent citizens will keep him accountable for what he does.


But first, let’s feel what this is. Things seemed like they might be okay, and now they are not. Nothing is ever going to be the same again, and it’s not childish or self-indulgent to take today to recognize that fact. We’re in mourning, and we are in danger, and nothing right now can make that acceptable.

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.


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Get angry. Feel that anger. Keep it. Hold it tight. Never forget how it feels.

And let’s go fucking vote in 2 years.