October 15th, 2016
The election is an inescapable background rumble, but life goes on around it. Law school will be ending shortly, and I’m so busy that I feel somewhat removed from it. I’ve mostly felt its impact in my dealings with the internet. It may be part of the law’s appeal for me that I’m a systems person. I’m good at seeing patterns and figuring out how pieces fit together. In an oil-stained t-shirt or a suit, writing code, reading cases, or dropping a transmission pan, I’m a mechanic from a long line of problem-solvers which has produced plenty of lawyers and plenty of people who work on engines.
I like to find people whose needs align with my values, figure out whether and how I can make complicated systems work for them, and craft a solution in a way that is ethical, meticulous, and loyal. Doing this fulfills something bedrock-deep in the substance of who I am. Situated in 21st century Autistic culture, it isn’t surprising that one of my systems of choice is the internet.
These websites and profiles lack the looming presence of a 20-ton crane, but I live at close quarters with them. Running around the clock, they’re never far from my thoughts, and I’ve been concerned about them lately. The internet has been hotter, meaner. Its regular patterns of behavior have been out of whack. I hope they return to normal when the election passes, but they’ve been off for so long that I’m not sure that things will return to the pre-Trump status quo. A new normal may emerge, and it may not be an improvement on the old one. The more immediate problem is the sheer number of angry people looking for trouble. There has been shadowy weirdness and security issues around the edges of a gentle little internet presence which has never had any trouble before. It’s nothing I can pin on the alt-right, or even on the generalized chaos, but it’s unprecedented. I don’t like this.
Other than that, my only worries about this election were initially for women, the poor, and minority groups, immigrants, LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, and the disability community. Even though Trump’s rhetoric toward us hasn’t been as bad as what he has said about some people, there is, in my experience, a strong correlation between leadership that is rigid and never stops shouting and disabled people not doing well. I gave Clinton the money a student can spare, and I plan to vote for her. Beyond the immediate impact of a bad presidency on vulnerable, marginalized people, however, I wasn’t worried. The American system is pretty durable. Many of the Framers were deeply flawed as people, but I respect them as craftsmen. Reassured by a wonderful seminar on the Federalist Papers I’m taking this semester, I trusted the machine to be durable enough to weather a few years of rough handling. That all changed on Sunday when Mr. Trump discussed imprisoning his defeated opponent.
That, in and of itself, may have been the last shocking remark in his arsenal. The real punch to the gut was what happened next: people, presumably American voters, cheered. I was nauseous. I felt like I’d been winded and knocked down. Like the time I shredded my hands changing some evaporative emissions parts in the rusty, old engine of a car I don’t own anymore, the hurt was bad enough that I didn’t fully fell it until the next day. A candidate for the highest office in the land was gleefully threatening to start cutting into the roots of our system of constitutional rights, rule of law, and our most fundamental values as Americans. Fascism and a would-be dictator stood, self-exposed, before us, and Americans howled with delight. If the years of advocacy experience I’ve already accumulated have taught me anything, it’s humility. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just a mechanic, one who grew up playing in my grandfather’s kingdom of gentle, ferrous giants and looking up to a mechanic who, very reluctantly, fought in a war against this sort of thing not so long ago. I know systems. I know what it looks like when they’re being undermined or attacked or corroded. I know that I grew up disabled in America and love my autonomy and civil liberties as one who doesn’t take them for granted. I know I don’t have any use for fascists. I don’t like this.
This isn’t about vulnerable people and groups on the margins of society anymore. This isn’t about women anymore. This isn’t about the alt-right marauding on the internet, and, increasingly, in the real world. This is about us all. It looks like the one qualified candidate in the race is winning the election. I encourage everyone to help her as they can, but that is only the beginning. Once we’re out of immediate danger, we have to troubleshoot the real problem. We have to understand how, within living memory of WWII, some of our fellow Americans came to be cheering at the prospect of the winner of a presidential election imprisoning his defeated opponent. We have to do it quickly and take prompt, resolute action to encourage the people who have lost faith in our system to buy in again. We have to take steps to preserve our system if we want to ensure its survival.