There is no way to avoid returning to this blog.

I worked at the polls on Tuesday, November 8, in Berkeley. Our polling place was in a Methodist church a few blocks away from our house. We met there at 6 am to  set up all the equipment. The instruction booklet was 164 pages long. The touch screen system alone was like setting up a whole home entertainment center and must have cost thousands of dollars but you had to have it in case someone blind, deaf or needing to use touch instead of writing wanted to use it. The polls opened at 7 am. We had a line out the door for a while


By 7:30 pm we had had 191 people coming through. These were people who wanted to vote in person. Some brought young kids. A couple of parents brought older children. One angry mother brought her twenty-something daughter who looked as if she had been rousted out of bed after a night of partying. Probably more than half of the people who vote, vote by mail, so that 191 was less than half the people in our precinct. Only a few people who were not mail voters failed to show up and vote at the poll.

When you come in, you say your street address, we find you on a list organized by address, and we cross you off that list. The next person asks you your name and gets you to put your signature and address on an alphabetical list. Your party is listed on the page where you are listed by address. That’s the paper with the ruler lying on it. I only saw one person listed as Republican. There were maybe 20 people listed as Independent. All the rest, Democrat.

We did not have internet in the polling place so I was not keeping up on the reports coming in, for example, from the East Coast where the polls shut 3 hours before ours do.

At about 7:30 I went outside to see if anyone else was coming. A man was walking his dog. I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “I’m scared. I was so upset I had to go walk the dog.”

This was the first I heard that Trump was winning.

I felt like a knife was in my stomach. I went home, couldn’t stand hearing wise pundits make smart-ass remarks or even sensible left critiques on TV. I watched ABC, corporate news if there ever was any, where at least they just let a photographer pan a camera slowly across the faces of people at Hillary’s headquarters. They were mostly young. Many were crying. Mostly, they just sat staring. The emotions described the day after — “shocked,” “shattered”, “astonishing” – could be seen on their faces. Very little hugging going on. It wasn’t like a murder or a horrible accident, where you can turn to your next door neighbor and hug them and get comforted. This was worse. Blackout.


Next day I made it a point to talk with everyone I met, on the street, at Kaiser hospital where I was going for some tests, at the library downtown. For everyone, it was a bad, bad day. Grand-daughter Isabelle, like many her age (and rightly so) was in tears. These are tears of betrayal and fear. For them, climate change is the big issue — the Arctic has melted this year so much that a cruise ship is going through, and the fisheries offshore are nearly dead. The chance to put the brakes on the end of the world has been pissed away. It’s going to be Mad Max, all the dystopian movies they’ve watched come to life. Students at Berkeley High and Albany High, and others as the idea caught on, walked out.


By Thursday the emails are piling up. Instead of fundraising appeals, my inbox is now full of “What do we do now?” messages. A few people from Viet Nam have communicated: “What happened? How did this happen? Can you explain your electoral system?” And:”What will happen with TPP?”


Many of my friends are compiling reading lists or articles, books, podcasts, things that we will read from and learn from. I am doing this too. In Paris, where daughter Gabi has gone on a quick visit to a friend, they went to a museum exhibit on revolutions and came away feeling better. Joe and I are going to the Oakland Museum tomorrow where they have an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers.

There are a number of theories being floated about where the Trump phenomenon came from.


Silo-ed media

Silo-ed media. People don’t all read one or two newspapers any more. Some people listen to talk radio and watch reality TV; others read the New Yorker, the NYTimes, the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, etc.  People have their individual news feeds and they see and read what they want to see and read. They un-friend people they disagree with and re-post things they agree with. So do I. All the elite media were passionately pro-Hillary, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist (except as a curiosity). See the photos of “voters” (including several Trump supporters) served up as objects d’art in a recent issue of the New Yorker. A weary dirty tatooed coal miner in his pick up truck, suitable for framing.

I read the elite media, so I was shocked when Trump won. I didn’t believe it possible. If all these elite media (the power papers) are pro-Hillary, what could go wrong? Plenty.

Bernie could have won

Bernie could have won. The enthusiasm for Bernie was real. People trusted him. His speeches and messages gave real information about who we are and what the problems are. People loved him. He could have engaged the Trump voters – on the issues, such as inequality, he was hitting the same points only intelligently. The moment he turned it over to Hillary at the convention, the fire went out. The campaign went from fighting for what you want and believe in to second-guessing what you have to fight for in order to win.

The Democratic National Committee definitely undercut Bernie’s candidacy. I would like to know where Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC who was caught doing this and had to resign, is now. I see that Bernie is proposing Congressman Keith Ellison, a black Muslim from Minnesota, as the new DNC chair.

Many supporters of Hillary, while Bernie was still in the race, liked Bernie but thought he wouldn’t win so they played it safe by supporting Hillary. Playing it safe is not a good strategy for winning a fight if the opposition is equipped with enormous power that it is willing to use ruthlessly. There is no safe strategy for winning in a situation like that. The safe strategy is losing. I actually am glad, in a way, that Bernie chose to step out of the fight at a point where he still had his health and his job and could live to fight again.


Hillary’s campaign was too much about fear and fundraising

Once Bernie went back to his job as Senator from Vermont, everything I got from Hillary’s campaign was fear-mongering pleas for money. These were one-way email messages, no reply possible. Sometimes I’d get a message from the DCCC saying that if I gave $5, someone else would give $20. With that kind of backup, they didn’t need my $5. And all the subject lines were panic.

What about support from women for Hillary?

Women my age understood how her experience had marked her — how women who graduated in the 60s and 70s often had to travel with a more powerful male partner in order to survive in the intensely sexist world of business and politics. But to men, and to younger people, this was invisible. That  would have taken a whole feminist critique that never happened. Can you imagine where teaching that curriculum would have had to start, in order to explain that? Young women today have no sense of what it was like to be a smart ambitious girl in the 1960s and 1970s.

The big unions played it safe, too

The big unions — SEIU, AFT, NEA, UAW, AFSCME — endorsed Hillary.  Some did it early without even consulting their members  (although some claimed they had). This turned them into gears in the Democratic machine, which didn’t inspire trust or enthusiasm. Instead, it inspired resentment. So many union voters, feeling betrayed, (this is post-election demographics hindsight) just went for Trump. The AFL CIO hung back and didn’t endorse anyone for a long time,which sent the message that they didn’t want to offend anyone until the convention, where Hillary would take over and it would be safe to endorse. “Playing it safe” is not a good strategy for a union. Unions like to have reputations for being able to mount a good fight. “The Union that Plays it Safe” is not a motto that unions want.

Voter suppression

Many people couldn’t vote.  There were many different kinds of voter suppression going on, from long lines at polling places, threats of intimidation of voters by Trump people, machines that didn’t work, the requirements for voter IDs that make it so if you can’t find your ID, you don’t bother, and all the constraints placed on people who have been through the criminal justice system (unequally black men) like not allowing people charged with a felony to vote. This varied state by state. In California, we don’t require ID at the polling place. But so many people have heard about “Voter ID” that many people came to our table and pulled out their driver’s licenses. “Voter suppression” is a big factor. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was weakened in 2013 ( resulting in 13 states where there were new restrictions on voting.

Suppressed or not, many people didn’t vote, including African Americans

We’ll see, but it looks as if African Americans did not vote proportionally to their numbers. Supposedly, the Clintons had the black community wrapped up. But I have heard that there was a “You take us for granted” pushback going on. Memories of Bill Clinton playing the sax did not override memories of welfare reform and the spike in mass incarceration.

Polls were simply wrong

A woman in my yoga class has a son who works for a major news website and is in charge of designing the model that integrated the reports from all the different polls. She says, “He says that they got the model wrong.” Poof. So the 85% chance of winning that Hillary had last week was….not actually there.

So there’s two different things: what happened and what will happen. I am still thinking about what happened. I’m not yet ready to think about what will happen. To me, Trump is a grotesque toad-like gloating monster who has clearly shown himself to be racist, misogynist, bullying, a sexual predator, a flip-flopper liar, etc etc. He is ridiculous. No one could take him seriously! But then he wins. Once he wins he is just a monster.

Of course I also couldn’t believe people would vote for Schwartznegger, the body-builder actor with the Austrian accent who became Governor of California. He would have been President of the US, or at least run for it, if he had been born in the US. And then there’s Ronald Reagan. And Putin has made himself into a celebrity, apparently — photographed riding a horse bare-chested!

How do I feel about being an American?

One thing that is different for me today: I am beginning to think hard about what it means to me to be an American. I am thinking about what part of my identity “being” an American — meaning a US citizen, not a Mexican or a Brazilian, who are also Americans – actually is. I remember a year ago, sitting up in the bleachers in the soccer stadium at Ton Duc Thang, with Vinh, watching what looked like military exercises performed by students as part of some mass celebration. I remember feeling that the military exercises made me feel sick. It’s one thing if you’re a small country that gets invaded. It’s another thing if you come from a big country that has a history of invading other countries and fighting wars on the territory of other people’s countries and killing lots people that way.


Believe it or not, I may have always taken my identity as an American to be something neutral, kind of like being white. There are Americans, and then there is the rest of the world. There are white people, and then there are all those diversity people. In the last 20 years I have had some experiences, while traveling, of understanding that I could be disliked because I am American, and that this is well-justified. I have also been lucky enough to have had the experience of distrusted and excluded because I am white. Also justly. Really thinking about it is something I am going to be forced to do seriously now that I am a citizen of Trump’s America.

If I was in a small country that was over run by a violent invading country, it would be clearer to know who the enemy was and how to fight back. If this were Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Hungary in 1956 –  or Viet Nam, for that matter – I would know who was the enemy. But how about this – when the enemy is us? It’s kind of like rape: by the time it’s happening, it’s too late.






Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

4 thoughts on “Trump

  1. As usual, Helena, thanks for your newsy, detailed, reflective post. Viewed as an American, i.e US, it is ” us” as you concluded. I find it more useful to look at us as a swirling mass of contradictions, not as some unity, America. (Of course, everyone outside the US knows we’re Americans at a glance, as we found in Italy this Fall, as always.😉)

    Almost everyone here that I know was also shocked and in tears. I was appalled and disappointed, but I’d thought and argued that Hillary was a perfect magnet for much deserved anger as well as the target for vicious sexist, racist and xenophobic poison unleashed.

    Your post adds to the much needed reflection.

    Btw, we’re having a meeting here on December 10 th to discuss the election and where do we go from here.

    Best wishes and a hug,


  2. I was shocked like everyone else. I couldn’t believe that people, even union members, thought that Trump would be a good leader even after the facts of his nonexistent political experience, his 3500+lawsuits against him, serial philandering, pictures of his trophy wife nude and so on were outed and discussed. One guy said that he likes Trump because he speaks his mind. I had an uncle who did that but he was drunk all the time and soiled himself on occasion.

    The only conclusion that I can come to is that racism is so deeply rooted that even after the country has bounced back in spite of the GOP deadlocking that people can’t get over that we had a black man in the highest office of the union. The descriptions that I heard of him were like that of yesteryear when outed racism was the norm in the south.

    I’m a straight, white male so I am dripping with White Privilege but thanks to my parents, I have empathy for those who aren’t like me. Thanks to some wonderful professors (wink wink), I know that socialism is not a bad thing and that I am proud to be a Socialist. How did I use these assets/attributes? Was I blinded by over confidence before the run up to the results? Could be. Did others who differ in gender, race, ethnicity have a feeling that racism would be the rule of the day. Very possibly.

    So instead of continuing on to even greater prosperity and equality, we have the toilet that backed up. Trump will ruin the economy, we will have another horrible and preventable recession, another build up of our military thus making more enemies of the civilian population that we will annihilate and then we’ll elect someone else to correct the problem-and then repeat the cycle. The GOP told us that Bil Clinton made the US of A a laughing stock of the world. Now, the world is terrified because a short tempered, uncouth, ill mannered, racist, misogynist, Zionist has the nuclear codes all thanks to racist practioners

    Racism. Jeez….

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: