I spent U.S. Presidential Election day 2016 like most of you, frantically pacing and worrying as only a Canadian can as to who would take the oval office for the next four years. The only difference is I work for Canada's largest news organization and the atmosphere by 3:00pm was eclectic and dazed. Everyone was under the impression Hilary Clinton would easily take this.
By the time I left the office at 9:30pm, the scene on the third-floor Editorial newsroom was a nervous frenzy of sheer panic and complete and total disbelief. If Hilary had been predicted to win by our own poll builders and online predictive analysis wizards, then so much for big data. When the American voter goes to the polls, they really are lead by the heart, and probably less by the mind. The gluten-free pizza our Editor-in-Chief and Publisher had ordered for the war-room like set up we had put together for those who had to work late was barely being devoured, the wine glasses hardly touched. Instead, most of us were standing about not quite knowing what to do with ourselves. I told a coworker I was heading out for a cigarette. "I'll join you" he said. We walked out scratching our head wondering when Clinton was going to pick up the pace. All the releases for tomorrow which were embargoed are probably being dusted, re-edited, re-scrutinized and re-written as I write this. I mumbled an apology and departed the office heading toward my father and mother's home in the leafy, upscale Canadian lakeside suburb of Oakville, a mere 25-minutes drive from downtown Toronto. Typically a conservative bastion of uber-wealthy and well-educated suburbanites resembling something of a Tarrytown, NY, I was certain mum and dad would break this down for me over a home cooked meal.
When I arrived, mum was still at work (she is a hospital worker on a long shift) and dad was glued to his iPad and CNN. "What do you think?" I asked. He didn't even look up from the tablet. 'You're the reporter with the insider knowledge. Whatever happens, but especially if he wins, just count your lucky stars you're a white, Christian woman with a German last name' he muttered. My father. A European immigrant from a traditionally conservative Christian country, who although bright, intelligent, decent and honest, is as stoic as Winston Churchill in charge of the light brigade. In times of disbelief he typically utters those hard-to-swallow one-liners which others are afraid to state out loud and which I scoff at and raise my eyebrows at. Except this time he may just be right, no matter how much I hate the sound of it. The last time he responded with the same one-liner to me was the year the Balkans -- the part of Europe we hail from, exploded into war." He was stone faced, extremely upset and emotional. My father has never been emotional. I have rarely seen him smile or laugh. He usually only speaks when he has something commanding to say (a typically German trait). Dad has always been uncharacteristically pragmatic, ahead of the times, and shrewd. 'Nothing will happen to you or to us. This is Croatia, not Bosnia. We are white, Christian-conservatives, multi-lingual, from a well-to-do family, America will protect us. We are allies." In that one-line, he summed up everything that is unbelievable about the Donald Trump possibility for a presidency. To anyone who watched a state fall apart the way I did, this has very EERIE similarities to that time and that era. I wonder how I am to face my ethnic co-workers tomorrow. Many of them have relatives living and working in the US, some of them American citizens, who hail from the very countries and regions - Mexico and the Middle East that have been the targets of Trump's rhetoric. And then there is me. I am worried and I have no reason to be. I am worried for every decent, hard-working human being I know that resides south of the 49th parallel. This is not the America I know or remember, and I should know. I had the privilege of working in Washington, D.C., the cradle of North American democracy in the late 1990s. I spent three years on Embassy Row and had open access to Congress, the Senate, and the Pentagon (the latter of which was my employer). I was chosen to attend Harvard University in the early 2000s on a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship. While biking around Boston, I truly lived and breathed the American dream, and obtained two post-graduate degrees along the way. I took advantage of everything avant-garde North-Eastern American life had to offer. Now all that seems like a distant false reality.
How could this happen? It's now 12:04am and Trump is leading with a delegate count of 232. My parents' American next-door neighbours who hail from Michigan (him) and Georgia (her), are our favorite neighbours on the entire street. We love and admire their generosity, football loyalties and especially her lilting southern accent. They in turn love our European cooking and etiquette, especially my mother's, a trained pastry chef. They are impressed with our multi-lingualism and truly admire our European (and Canadian) laissez-faire attitude toward everything. We truly adore them and as neighbours help each other out at every given opportunity. They are die hard Trump supporters and put a sign on their leafy, and very Canadian front lawn. Of course everyone in the neighbourhood stared. Of course nobody said a word. Canadians are a peaceful, quiet and reflective bunch. When I went to walk my parents' dog about two hours ago, I could hear the cheers coming from inside their home as Trump picked up state after state. I know that the decent thing to do is congratulate them tomorrow morning, after all it's not my election. The problem is it doesn't feel that way. It feels as if this is OUR election too. It feels as if this is a battle between Mordor and Gondor, and Mordor is leading. I realize that's a bad analogy but it's the best one I can think of. I scoop up small bits of dog poop on the warmest November night in living Canadian memory. Fog is in the air and there is a withering look on the trees and the gaslit street. The British would call this a 'pea souper' kind of night. It seemed rather fitting given the occasion. What's the English lit term for this occasion? I think it's called pathetic fallacy, or when the weather mirrors your emotions.
I lit up a cigarette and walk over to my sister's house five doors away. The kids are in their jammies, scrubbed and ready for bed, but instead they are feeding off the tension and euphoria of the grown-ups. My seven-year old nephew is completely confused. Between his iPad and the minecraft app he follows, he bemusingly glances up at the TV monitor flashing Anderson Cooper's face and says, "I can't believe the bad guy is winning." I leave my kale salad aside and quizzingly look at him. "Why would you say he is a bad guy Markus?" I ask. "Auntie, don't you know anything? His color is like red and he said he's gonna build a lego wall against Mexico. He's not chill!" Oh the innocence and insouciance of a second-grader. He continued, "but I mean his wife is really pretty, but like she has to be because he's not good looking. Do you think she makes him palacinke every night?" Palacinke for those who do not know are french crepes prepared a specific way in the countries of Eastern and South Eastern Europe - Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia included. They are Markus' favorite European treat and to a seven-year old brain it is imperative that if Melanija is from Slovenia, surely she must know how to make them. Triple trumped and dummed down Politics 101 as seen through a child's eye. Looking at him innocently pondering the future of America from the auspices of a quaint and quiet Canadian street, I can't help but think of the millions of American children who are going to go to sleep tonight frightened and scared and not at all amused at a Trump win. I can just imagine the heavy hearts of a Mexican immigrant child or the poor boy or girl from Syria and Iraq wondering what is going to happen to them now. My father tells me to count my lucky stars that I am white, Christian and have a German last name. For the first time in my adult life, I shamefully have to agree with him.
Signing off. It's 1:03am and Trump is still ahead. Unless something miraculous happens in the next two hours, he has clinched this with a projectile nobody could have predicted. I have watched every single American election with mum and dad, with significant others, and with expatriate friends while living in Europe. None have evoked the poisonous atmosphere of this one. It was a battle for the winner of the lesser evils and carried out in a manner more like reality tv than a presidential race. My mother who just returned from her shift said Trump was the word whispered on the shocked lips of both patients and doctors alike. Text messages have already begun pouring in from my friends in DC, Brussels, London, Zagreb, Belgrade and Moscow. The Eastern Europeans are excited. Trump is friendly with Putin and the first lady speaks Slavic, surely this is a win-win for the region. The Belgians are horrified and in a mocking mood. My significant other What Apps me from London: "What the fuck is this? Brexit all over again? What the hell is wrong with you people?" I have to constantly remind him I am Canadian. "Pardon, Katarina." I tell him to go to bed, it's going to be a long night for me and an early day tomorrow, likely to be our second busiest news day of the year. "Take care of yourself, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there," he says.....It's just about to get a notch crazier. 1:16am, Trump at 238 and Clinton at 215. Aldous Huxley must be turning in his grave right now. Brave New World? When I drove to Oakville from Toronto I had Simon and Garfunkel playing on the media drive and was humming along to Mrs. Robinson. It's one of my favorite songs and I always turn up the volume on the line that goes: "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio a nation turned it's lonely eyes to you." America defeated and divided. Just who will they turn their eyes to now.
Katarina over and out. Signing off.