You wonder if you’ll remember how quiet it was — the overcast sky, the still puddles left over from the rain. Nobody would have guessed that America was marching towards a cliff.
You’d left home for work at 10 a.m. that Friday, walking your usual route down Malcolm X Boulevard in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Two-hundred and thirty miles to the south and airing live on national TV, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was handing over his job to the 45th, Donald J. Trump.
The people around you seemed to be taking it in stride, or ignoring it altogether. Maybe America hadn’t changed. Maybe it was just you.
But then you swipe your Metro card at the Utica Avenue subway station and remember what came before. This was a man who spent the last 18 months promising to purify America, to “make [it] great again” — a place where prosperity, reverence and the freedom to say and do as you please without consequences were a white man’s birthright, no questions asked.
America, purged, does not include you. Undocumented immigrants, namely Mexicans, learned that quickly. So did Muslims. Black folks weren’t far behind — we never are. When Trump talked about cleaning up the inner cities, you knew he was talking about a caricature of the kind of neighborhood you live in— majority black, poor, high unemployment. When he talked about flooding the streets with police officers to “stop and frisk” the bad guys, you knew he was talking about you.
“This American carnage stops right here,” Trump said in his inaugural address, and his supporters roared, like they always do.
But the carnage was only beginning. The carnage, in fact, was “real” America’s revenge fantasy — against the elites, against freeloading minorities, against uppity women and criminals — coming to fruition. As a friend once told you, they were fine with shooting themselves in the foot as long as they get to shoot the rest of us in the head.
You knew that whatever came next had to be bad. But you weren’t quite sure how bad. Your grasp on what America’s future looks only seemed to get cloudier by the day.
No one else seemed sure, either. The man across the aisle on the A-train worked his scratch-off lottery ticket with a quarter, a bemused look on his face. Two girls listened to music from the same pair of headphones. A dreadlocked 20-something received parenting advice from a gray-haired woman as his child dozed in the stroller in front of him.
There’s also shame in the air. On Friday, the D.C. Metro stations looked like ghost towns on social media. Screenshots from Waze maps showed no traffic on the freeways, like the city couldn’t bear to come out and look at itself in daylight. Even the protests felt desperate, freighted with the knowledge that something vital was slipping away. Even the people in their bright red caps waiting to get seats on the National Mall had cowed looks on their faces, like they knew they’d done something for which the majority of their countrymen despised them.
You’re reminded of Nov. 8, 2016, the day you voted at the middle school up the street from your apartment. You held the door open for two elderly black women as they left, and overheard part of their conversation.
“All we can do is pray now,” said one, shuffling her walker out of the gymnasium where she’d just cast her ballot.
“Nuh uh,” replied the other woman, gravely. “You pray first. Then you vote.”
When voting and prayer don’t work, you can protest. You can flood the streets by the thousands, as many did in cities across the globe Saturday to oppose Trump’s presidency. You were at the demonstration in New York City, taking solace in so many people, led by so many women, flooding the streets. “Not my president” was a common refrain. But you know that’s not true. He’s as much ours as the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American internment.
And even as the avenues of Manhattan filled with defiant chants, the streets of black Brooklyn looked relatively unchanged. Like most places around the country, people still bought groceries. They went to work. Like you, they rode the subway to their jobs in the morning, rode back at the end of the day, and will repeat the cycle for days on end. Life goes on.
There’s no way to be fully prepared for President Donald Trump, or the havoc he’ll wreak on even his most loyal supporters. For the moment, there’s little to do but wait, hope and continue to survive.