Driven By Fear: An Australian’s View From Inside the US Election

I've been struck by just how worried everybody is here. All the time. About terrorism, the economy, wellness, and particularly about the candidates themselves.

by Maddison Connaughton
09 November 2016, 12:00am

Image by Ashley Goodall

It's been almost 18 months since Donald Trump announced his plans to run for the presidency of the United States. Perhaps no other awkward escalator trip in history has had such a massive effect on the world's media.

Almost every day since then, journalists have obsessively attempted to unpack the Trump phenomenon. What Donald Trump means for America. The sheer volume of think pieces could, quite literally, fill libraries. At this stage, what else is there to say?

But spending the past two weeks in the US, as an Australian, I've been struck by just how worried everybody is here. All the time. There's this anxiety that just sort of hangs over people. About terrorism, the economy, wellness, and particularly the candidates themselves.

On Election Day, everyone in New York was talking about the shooting at a polling place in suburban Los Angeles. One person was killed, and at least a few others shot, by a heavily armed gunman. We were halfway across the country but people still chattered about the incident with this intensity that hinted they'd considered it could've happened when they went to vote.

A few days before, riding the subway, I overheard a guy who'd just finished the New York Marathon. Kicking his shoes off, he was telling a friend about the "Fort Knox" security all the runners had to go through before the starting line. "They had that place locked down," he said, massaging his feet. "But still you could feel it. People were thinking that something could happen like, well, you know..."

America seems to feel like things are always right on the edge. That something terrible could be just a moment away. In many ways, this election became something to direct all that amorphous fear towards. For nearly two years it made sense to feel so shitty.

A lot of people I've met here talk almost constantly about their fear of a Trump presidency. Of how it could shape and contort their lives over the next four, or even eight years. And there's fear on the other side too—although it's pretty well masked with anger and hatred.

But travelling around the US, you meet a lot of people who are genuinely scared about Hillary Clinton becoming president. A lot of it is sexist. The reality that she could win—even if not a single white man without a college degree votes for her—that terrifies a lot of Trump supporters.

Because this is probably the last time anyone running a campaign like Trump's will even have a chance at the White House. America doesn't look like a Trump rally anymore, and it certainly won't in 2020. In the US, white people aren't going to be the majority for much longer. But that shouldn't be a scary prospect.

It feels, being so focused on their fear, America has ignored so much that was exciting about this election. That both sides of politics would come out to condemn sexual assault. That a grassroots organisations like Black Lives Matter could influence national policy. Larry David's impression of Bernie Sanders.

But it's easy to have perspective on another country's politics. Being in the US during this election didn't make me feel any better about what is happening in Australia. A few months ago, we went through our own fairly painless election. Sure there were no threats of uprising or hacked documents released by Wikileaks, but also no one really gave a shit.

But no American I've met feels apathetic about this election. They feel burnt out, and angry, and scared, regardless what side of politics they are on. And they all seem to predict some horror, some shapeless calamity not so far ahead. That's the true sentiment behind this election.

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