Dear McKinley & Madison,
I know the monthly email that I send for your future selves to read is late. It’s also not going to be filled with fun facts about your milestones, personality quirks, or social happenings. This email is going to be different. I delayed writing to you two on purpose because I wanted to be able to relay historic news. I waited for the 2016 Presidential Election to pass, confident that I would be telling you of this monumental moment wherein Secretary Hillary Rodam Clinton shattered the highest glass ceiling by becoming the first female President of the United States. It was all but guaranteed and so confident was I that I had not entertained the possibly that it wouldn’t happen. Not only was she the most qualified candidate to ever run for office (having served as a First Lady, a Senator, and the Secretary of State) – as the first woman to ever secure the nomination of a major party ticket would have to be – she was running against the least qualified person to ever run for the office. Beyond the inexperience, this man – Donald Trump – was a self-proclaimed bigot – a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic man who had insulted a range of people from war veterans to the disabled. He was a former reality television star and a failed business man who had run corrupt profit-only colleges as shams and bankrupted multiple businesses defaulting on payments to the working class. He was someone who refused to release his tax returns (which had never been done in political history) and it was revealed he hadn’t paid taxes for 19 years. It’s still unclear how many business relations he has with foreign entities that could serve as a national threat. He was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and has multiple related allegations pending (including a child rape trial scheduled for a month from now). He openly body-shamed women (including a former Miss Universe) and gets into Twitter wars with anyone he dislikes. He spent the primary season insulting his fellow Republicans with grade school language and nicknames. He has threatened to jail his opponent and shut down the media. He voices respect for dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There was absolutely no way that this man would become elected President. So sure was I of this fact that I never once entertained the notion.
I spoke to you two in simplistic language not thinking of the consequences of sharing my excitement about the impending election with you. We referred to Clinton as “the girl we want to be president” and to Trump as “the bad man.” I never thought of what might happen if “the bad man” was elected and what fears I was instilling in you. I flippantly remarked that if he was elected we’d have to move out of the country. I never thought that would happen and one of you would ask if there is room for all your stuffed animals in our cars. How could I think that? Despite driving daily through the small country town, where you both spent your early years in daycare, and seeing the Trump signs littered across every lawn, I could not believe that the majority of Americans would support this man. I tried to understand the reasons people would vote Republican based on their religion and upbringing, why economic concerns would motivate them, but surely they couldn’t let this person be the face of our country.
He ran on the promise to build a wall between our country and Mexico (and make Mexico pay for it). To deport all illegal immigrants in our country and to put a ban on all incoming Muslims. He argued that reinstating “stop and frisk” (an unconstitutional practice used for racial profiling) was good for “law and order.” He wanted to overturn “Obama Care,” our newly instated national health care system. He chose a running mate who believes that LGBTQ persons should have no rights. He has vowed to elect Supreme Court Justices that will overturn Roe v. Wade (which ensures a woman’s right to have an abortion). He was against everything I stand for. Everything I embodied.
And meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was a candidate I had wanted to win eight years prior when shattering that glass ceiling was likely the only thing that mattered to me. But this year I was with her on policy, not (just) precedent. She wanted to reform the criminal justice system (if I haven’t talked about the #BlackLivesMatter movement enough in these emails then shame on me), provide free higher education, to ensure equal pay for equal work (gender equality), and so forth. She was professional and ready for the task at hand. But she was a career politician with three decades of experience and the (unproven, media-hyped) scandal that goes with it. And she was a woman – a powerful woman deemed “unlikable” and “untrustworthy” because sexism is alive and well and works in overt and covert ways daily.
You can likely already tell by my phrasing who won. You will likely read about this election in history books as well. But yesterday I had to tell you both. Madison, you needed a hug, you just didn’t understand why we had to have another “boy” president (to which I’ve tried to explain some boy presidents are good – this one just wouldn’t make a “good” boy president. Again, shame on me for not having more conversations with you about what a wonderful “boy” president we had in President Obama). McKinley, you wiped my tears and gave me a Minnie Mouse bracelet to wear for the day. I had to promise you both we weren’t moving and that it would be okay. That he could become a good president because our country was comprised of good people he had to serve. But I lied to you through my fear. I’m not sure he can become a good person or a good president or that the people of this nation are as good as I thought they were. I see a lot of ugly and hate right now and it could get worse.
I’m an eternal optimist – a Pollyanna – so sometimes I’m not prepared to deal with reality. I wasn’t prepared to deal with reality this week. And that trait is hard to overcome. (It’s also a product of my white privilege wherein I’m sheltered from seeing many evils of this world just as you will be.) I want to believe that this will work out in the end. That this will be a historic moment of resetting. That the disenfranchised group that voted for him can be helped (as they do have real concerns). That his presidency doesn’t normalize racism, sexism, etc. That his policies won’t take us backward in time. But within days of his election hate crimes are already starting and I’m scared to raise you in what feels to me like a whole new world.
I want to hope for a world where you feel safe and full of hope. Where all children (and adults for that matter) feel that way. Today I am struggling with that but tomorrow I’ll stop crying and I’ll try to present that strong façade for you. And more so, I have to do more as an activist to make the world into the one I want for you.
Yesterday morning I played the concession speech from the woman who I wish was the first president you would have remembered. You won’t remember this so I’m quoting the part that I want you to hear the most: “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dream.”
I hope you will remember wanting “the girl” president. (That there was, for the first time, a generation of children who could utter that phrase is at least something.) That you will remember that your mom volunteered for her – drove across state lines and worked call centers, wore her shirts proudly, posed you in front of her campaign signs. (McKinley you chose on your own accord to practice your spelling by duplicating her name and tag lines from my election paraphernalia that littered the house.) I hope you see the first female president in your lifetime and are as proud of her as I was of Hillary Clinton.
With Love & Hope,
Melissa Ames is the author of From Toddlers-in-Tiaras toCougars-on-the-Prowl: How Pop CultureShapes the Stages of a Woman’s Life (2016).