By Mindy Cameron
On November 8 Bill and I traveled from Sandpoint to Seattle to be with friends on election night. We brought champagne to celebrate Hillary’s victory and settled in to enjoy the comfortable surroundings of our friend’s home overlooking the ship canal. Two more couples arrived and soon wine made us giddy with anticipation. Eight years earlier we were in the same place to share the joy of Barak Obama’s historic victory.
This night, of course, was different. When it became clear early in the evening that the unexpected was happening I fell into a stunned silence. I paced around the kitchen and dining room watching – and trying not to watch – the small television perched on the corner of the eating bar that separated the kitchen and dining room. We had just finished a supper of tasty stew made by our host. Now I was caught up in a dark stew of emotions – disbelief and dread, fear and anger – unlike anything I had ever experienced in a lifetime of political junkie-hood.
Conversation ebbed into a babble of “how could this have happened?” and “ohmygod!” Guests soon left. Bill and I were staying at our friend’s house. We skipped dessert and stopped drinking wine. In those moments I centered all my anger on that little television. That one TV became all the television sets I had watched – sometimes obsessively – over the past year and a half, watching as That Man degraded and demeaned not only his opponents, but anyone who dared speak a critical word about him. Well, she’s not running a great campaign, I thought to myself in those months, but there’s no way this country will elect a man so clearly unfit for the presidency. A narcissist who prides himself on being so smart he doesn’t have to read or listen to others because he can figure it out all on his own.
Now he was – I couldn’t say it, much less imagine it – president-elect. All the civic impulses I’ve stored up and relied on for decades drained from my brain, from my heart. In just a few hours everything I thought I knew about America’s goodness vacated my body. Nothing was left to fill that space, but anger – anger at the feckless and reckless cable news talking heads and their incessant blather with surrogates for Him and for Her and for the several others.
Television – any television set – became the vessel for all that anger, which by morning had morphed into a dread that felt like a physical weight, like carrying a too-heavy backpack, as my husband I sought refuge in the soft, misty fresh air of a long, long walk along Market Street in Ballard. The usually bustling neighborhood was silent, as lifeless as I felt. Coffee shops were nearly empty. We wandered down to Chittenden Locks. More emptiness.
How, we wondered together, would we manage this going forward? I imagined inauguration day and the inevitable scene of the Obama family moving out, the Trump family moving in. It sickened me.
A few days later I had my antidote. Canada beckoned. On January 20, 2017, why not be with our friends at the Empress Hotel in Victoria? We could have High Tea in the elegant British style, so distant from the boorish ways of our president-elect. We could celebrate friendship and all that remains good about America even as we fret daily about what the next four years hold.
And so we did. Pieces of my heart were with sisters, nieces and friends who marched in Portland and Seattle, and friends who took to the streets of Sandpoint. But my Inauguration Day self-exile in Victoria, Canada, gave me what I needed to move into a troubling new era with a renewed sense of purpose and protest. Driving home last Sunday I renewed my vow to never turn my TV to cable news (I haven’t since November 9), and to never accept as normal – as just a different kind of president – the man who now resides in the White House. People don’t change. We know what kind of person he is.
Mindy Cameron is former opinion editor of the Seattle Times; she retired to Sagle in 2001.