What It Was Like to Be a Clinton Supporter at Trump's Victory Party

The 2008 election of President Barack Obama — a dignified, thoughtful, and articulate politician — was to me, then a first-time voter, one of the country's highest moments.

For the nation's first Black president to be succeeded by Donald Trump — who, by many accounts, is a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, ableist reality TV star — seems like one if its lowest. Or so it did to me, a liberal feminist watching the election unfold on Tuesday from Trump's election night headquarters.

Being among the media in the room at Donald Trump's election night HQ on Tuesday night (and well into Wednesday morning), I truly felt I was bearing witness to an American tragedy — one that was, perversely, being welcomed with rapturous applause. The whole evening was completely surreal. Now, as I consider the magnitude of what happened, I realize that my experience at the Trump "Victory Party" at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan's midtown was not unlike the trajectory of Trump's campaign — it had a slow start before it captured a wildly unexpected victory. I watched as the early part of the evening saw a few vocal supporters filter into the grand ballroom with the only notable Trump ally being former "Apprentice" contestant Omarosa Manigault. As the evening continued, the election forecast models that had all but guaranteed victory for Hillary Clinton suddenly diverted from their expected path and momentum began growing for Trump. Energy rose. Cheers grew louder. The room soon filled with scores of supporters (mostly white men) who repeatedly chanted "lock her up" and "drain the swamp."

I wondered: How could this be happening?

As a previously-improbable Trump victory edged closer, I watched as some of these men took it upon themselves to gloat to the weary reporters stationed behind the media barricade. A middle-aged man began flashing various supporter signs (Women for Trump, Hispanics for Trump), implying that Trump—and, by extension, this supporter himself—could best speak for these varied demographics. Another attendee targeted NBC's Katy Tur — who has been repeatedly attacked by Trump during his campaign—by condescendingly shouting at her, "Who's the clown now?" As expected, Tur kept her cool, simply telling the man that she had never actually used that word to describe Trump.

As numerous races were still too close to call, there was finally a dim beacon of light: Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta announced Hillary would not concede that night. Aside from the relief I felt at the prospect of going to sleep (it was after 2 a.m.) , I felt a small flicker of hope that I could wake up and this whole nightmare would be over.

Instead, within the hour, the race was called for Trump and the president-elect was onstage to give a brief victory address. As I watched Donald Trump enter the ballroom and descend a staircase to the main stage, I cried. Among the uproarious applause for this outsider candidate, I was the lone Clinton supporter sobbing unabashedly — my whole body shaking and tears streaming down my face. I cried because one of the Trump supporters had harassed me as I was standing there trying to do my job. I cried because I watched as Milo Yiannopoulos — the nefarious Twitter troll who launched multiple hateful social media campaigns to shame, humiliate, and intimidate women — made his way through the ballroom, warmly embraced by the crowd. But most of all, I cried because I truly did not think this country would elect a man whose entire message seemed to hinge on hate.

Trump's acceptance speech focused on vague promises to rebuild the country's infrastructure, take care of veterans, and "get along with nations that are willing to get along with us." He then listed all the men, women, and family members who had supported him. To me, this was not the speech of a man who is at all prepared or qualified for the responsibilities of the presidency — they were the words of a man whose wealth, privilege, and arrogance led him to believe that he could easily cajole the American voters into electing him, a man with no political experience nor interest in educating himself on how the government works, to the highest office in the land.

What's worse, he succeeded.

I can understand why Americans are angry. I can understand frustration with the maddening congressional gridlock, and how many lower- and middle-class Americans might not feel adequately represented in government. But what I cannot understand is how Donald Trump could conceivably be the man Americans would choose to give them a voice. Instead, the only takeaway I can discern is that his campaign was not about making America great again, but about making America hate again. Standing in that ballroom, surrounded by shouting, I did not see a populist movement rooted in uplifting disenfranchised Americans. Instead, I saw a candidate who preyed upon fears of the "other" among working-class whites, stoked the fires of nativism and white supremacy, and created a state of anxiety attributing these voters' struggles to every and all non-white Americans.

I watched as Trump's supporters cheered for each race called in his favor, for each swing state tally that leaned toward him, and for each reference to the falling stock market attributed to his unexpected victory (Trump was, after all, Mr. Brexit paving the way for Brexit-plus-plus-plus). The sounds of their jubilation were second only to the boos that followed any reference to Hillary Clinton. I stood there, taking this all in. I conceded that, yes, Hillary Clinton may have been a flawed candidate, but how could her years of dedicated public service even be compared to her opponent? How can parents explain what happened in this election to their daughters — and their sons? Donald Trump is a man who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women. He is a man who vilified Latinos, Muslims, Jews, the handicapped, a gold star family. He is a man who did not pay taxes for over a decade and bragged that he was "smart" for doing so. He is a man who earned and encouraged the support of the Ku Klux Klan, and was not quick to disavow their endorsement of him. He is a man who called for the punishment of women who have abortions and vowed to overturn Roe v. Wade. He is a man who wants to roll back marriage equality and whose running mate believes in conversion therapy. He is a man who loaned his name to a fraudulent university that deliberately "preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money." He is a man who believes climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese. He is a man who wants to restrict the protections of the First Amendment, but make "stop and frisk" the national standard, all while instituting a universal right-to-carry. And now, he will be our next president — and he has secured virtual control of all three branches of government.

Every election is billed as a crucial turning point in the course of America's history, but now, perhaps more so than ever, it's true. Despite the despair so many of us are feeling, there is one bittersweet glimmer of hope to be gleaned: Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, which means that a majority of Americans were, in fact, with her. And among the Democratic down ballot elections, voters elected the most diverse Congress in U.S. history. These are the things that, in leaving the Hilton Hotel last night and trying to process everything this morning, keep some semblance of optimism alive for me and millions of others.

Going forward, America cannot and will not succumb to the brand of fascist ideology that Trump promoted during his campaign. The Suffragettes did not fight in vain to secure the right to vote, Hillary Clinton did not become the first woman to ever become a party's nominee, and Barack Obama did not achieve such a historic victory in 2008 for it to be tainted by this nativist movement. As we look toward tomorrow, we will heal — and then we will take on the uphill battle to make sure our voices are heard. Because no matter what happens, the American people are sustained by these fundamental truths: We are stronger together, and love will always trump hate.

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