Today is November 7th. Depending on who you’re inclined to believe, there is a 44% or a 34.2% or a 16% chance that tomorrow, Donald Trump will become president-elect. If you listen to the academic who has correctly predicted election results for 30 years, the chances of it happening are simply very good. Celebrities are claiming they’ll leave the country. Earlier this year a Fusion poll found three out of four black Americans might consider the same, and there’s now a dating app matching Canadians to Americans, for purposes both love- and visa-related. This month websites selling end-of-times gear are reporting record sales.
The last-minute get-out-the-vote hysteria—at the point in the election cycle when favorability ratings are measured by the hour rather than the day—can feel downright apocalyptic. A few days ago a former Marine officer, drawing on his experience in conflict zones, made the case for a Clinton vote by invoking the fragility of our sense of American Democracy: “I’ve seen educated wealthy communities descend overnight into ethnic cleansing,” he wrote. “I’ve seen family men turned into butchers.”
But ask around enough and you’ll find a range of attitudes towards what it might mean to live in the near-future dystopia of Trump’s America, from glib (“I’ll drink”) to rabble-rousing (“I’ll fight”). Where you stand depends a lot on what your options are. All that canned food and all those passports, more useful for the peace of mind they provide than actual protection from Trump’s first 100 days, cost money. There’s privilege in planning for anything, especially something as nebulous as a regime change, and it’s unlikely the people who are packing bug-out bags will be affected the most by, say, the proposed deportation of two million immigrants or the appointing of a Supreme Court justice who will overturn same-sex marriage.
With the election looming, she applied for a passport just the other day.
Still, the question remains: What will you do? Every Canadian seems to believe they’ll return to the motherland—actually, America sucks, they tell me, they would have gone back to Calgary’s open skies in any case. A Dominican buddy is leaving for the winter and trying to secure his dual citizenship, just in case he decides to stay. For Lui Hersei, an activist and Somali-American in Minnesota, where Trump appeared yesterday to call the immigrant population a “disaster,” the reality seems to only now be settling in. With the election looming, she applied for a passport just the other day.
For those who don’t entertain the idea of abandoning ship, the potential of a president endorsed by the KKK is obviously of significant concern. A New Yorker of color, citing the vandalized, burnt-out church in Mississippi and increased border militia activity asks me, not rhetorically, if it would be a good idea to stash something for protection, just in case. Another tells me her father—a good liberal, a Bernie guy, living in a nice ranch house in the Northeast—is afraid enough of what’ll happen in the future that he’s considering getting a gun himself. Neither of them would prefer to go on the record: It isn’t exactly the best time to be speculating about unregistered gun ownership.
“I’m not developing into full-on Doomsday prepper mode, or getting involved with tinfoil hat conspiracy theories,” says Trever Clark, a 30-year-old in Michigan, but he’s still taking steps to make sure he and his family will weather whatever worst-case scenario is on the horizon. He’s always been a handy type, he says, and he’s had a strong conviction that he’s watching the “slow decline of the American Empire.”
Still, this election’s got him pouring a little more of his disposable income—he works in web design and digital marketing—into taking more “concrete steps.” He paid for his daughter’s and his girlfriend’s passports recently. It isn’t exactly that he’s getting ready to jet tomorrow, he says, and he’s been thinking about some of this stuff for a while, ”but my concerns about the election and its aftermath have lit a fire under me to actually take action.”
Mike Kissinger, a 32-year-old living in New York state, “30 minutes by car” from Canada, has an isolationist streak. He says “politics is so much about spectacle these days it’s hard to know what to expect.” He lives in a rural area, next door from an organic farm, in a house heated by wood stove. No one has a convincing plan to stop what seems to him to be a civilization in general decline, or the ubiquitous nature of surveillance and police militarization. But he does think about the fact that “explicit bigotry is back in the public square,” and it concerns him. He’s assuming-slash-hoping the squads of ex-military fascists he fears will “turn on each other” or “dash themselves on the rocks of the state” before they get to him in his relatively remote corner of the world.
“I think my liberal friends are concerned about a Trump victory,” he says, and there’s a lot to worry about, particularly for LGBTQ people and Americans of color targeted by the political climate. Still, he gets the sense that most liberals “see politics as a spectator sport. They joke about moving to Canada.” Just like climate change, “the looming threat is something you post an article about or grumble about among friends. It’s not something you actually prepare for seriously.” As for Kissinger’s preparations: If there’s a serious crisis, he’s ready to advocate for secession in his corner of the country, though you don’t get the sense he really believes it’ll get that far anytime soon. Still, Trump might be “just the thing to fracture” America into “its constituent nations” once and for all.
“What Trump’s candidacy has done, in a weird way, has quickened the awakening of people who sort of realized, ‘Hm, maybe black people weren’t making this stuff up.'”- Lamar Gibson, activist
There are others who look at a Trump presidency as a galvanizing moment. Juan Miranda, a 27-year-old who’s been living in Greensboro, N.C. since 2000 but only locked in his citizenship this year, is more concerned about local coalition-building so we have better candidates four or even eight years from now. He’s a socialist, he’s voting Green in 2016, and if Trump gets elected, he’ll just keep organizing, same as if it were Clinton’s America.
And Lamar Gibson, an activist in the same city, barely hides a droll amusement behind his Southern accent. “I’ve been making the joke that I’ll leave after Election Day,” he says, that he’ll ask for political asylum while he’s on his forthcoming trip to South Africa. “What [Trump’s] candidacy has done, in a weird way, has quickened the awakening of people who sort of realized, ‘Hm, maybe black people weren’t making this stuff up about being gunned down in the streets.’ It’s a fast-tracked learning curve.”
Gibson is something of a career activist; he works with the Church of Brethren, assisting groups like Black Lives Matter. And as he’s quick to mention, activists like him could negotiate with a Clinton administration, though certainly not a Trump one. “What I hope is that if he were to become president, all these newly activated and awakened people would flood the streets, that civil disobedience would become a way of doing things.”
Gibson also doesn’t fear a Trump presidency for its impact on his physical safety, exactly. “Look,” he says. “Every year or so there’s a Klan or Nazi rally in a town 20 minutes north of where I live, and that’s before Trump. Hell, sometimes they come to Greensboro. It’s the same folks who were pissed in 2007 when they thought Obama was going to be the nominee. I’m not worried about that shit. I’m not motivated out of that fear.” And actually, he’s more concerned about the way the election may hit the stock market.
“Sure, I mean, I’m going away for a couple weeks. Maybe I’ll come back to a looted and burnt-out nation,” he says, laughing.