Election 2004  
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The Unbearable Darkness of Being

The day after the election the talk is about everything except the obvious: It hurts!
 
 
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It’s Wednesday morning, the day after a long night spent watching the election returns. I fight to stay asleep, to postpone the inevitable moment when I'll get up – and know. As I lay in bed, I remember something a friend said last night: “It’s not our country anymore."

As I struggle to get through the day, dragging around the weight beginning to settle on my heart, her words stay with me. They echo in the back of my head when I hear Kerry's concession speech; watch the CNN blowhards natter on about "unity"; read the inevitable lefty post-mortems that crowd my e-mail inbox.

They talk about everything except the obvious: It hurts! All this ink spilt on the sell-out Democratic Party, the incompetent media, and the future of a divided nation and not a word about the emotional reality of loss. Do you think it's because they're mostly men? Natch.

All the blame-mongering in the world can't erase the pain or, more importantly, the fear. My mind can handle the body blow of defeat, but it's the slow, seeping chill of dread that is harder to fend off.

This wasn't just another conservative victory. Lord knows, progressives have had plenty of practice losing elections in recent decades. And it isn't about partisanship. I'm not shedding any tears over Tom Daschle.

No, it's not about losing an election, but the fear of losing faith. Liberals have always believed that if we did everything right – got the truth out; got the people out – we would prevail. In the past, I could tell myself it was the wrong candidate, wrong strategy, wrong party – some reason why people didn't show up at the polls or vote for the "right" guy. Not any more.

On Tuesday, the largest turnout in recent history couldn't save us from defeat. Democracy won and so did George Bush. And all the Monday morning quarterbacking doesn't change the sad fact that the truth did not set us free. Nearly 52 percent of all Americans preferred to simply ignore reality to keep their faith in God and the man who is only too happy to play messiah.

This is now their White House, their Senate, their House of Representatives, and very likely their Supreme Court. It's their country.

Or at least that's the message I get from all the talk of "unity" and "healing" in the media. Now that the Democrats lost the political equivalent of the Super Bowl, I just need to shut up and put up. Anything less would just be typical liberal whining and bitterness. That I am afraid of what will happen to my country in the next four years is dismissed as just sore loser behavior. That I care about what will happen to my right to choose as a woman; the healthcare I can afford; the air I breathe; the soldiers I've spoken to – all this is just partisan obstinacy?

James Carville says that if liberals like me want to win, we need to learn how to talk to white guys in pickup trucks who think my gay friends are a sin against nature. But what could I possibly say to someone for whom a ban on abortion is the single most important issue in their life? There's no point in trying to "speak my values," if the folks I'm talking to think those values are simply wrong.

John Edwards was right in a way. There are two Americas: one that values tolerance, justice, and equality; the other that believes in Divine Will. But now that the Democrats lost the election – and control over every branch of government – I get to live in their America. And Carville wants me to talk to these guys? Or is he really saying that I need to be more like them? After all, it's not like I have any values that might be worth holding on to. Why not just put my silly liberal preoccupations with choice or sexual freedom aside so we can all come together as one nation – one nation under God, Guns, and (hating) Gays.

In the aftermath of the election, it feels like I've not just ceded my country, but also my self. I've become just one among the sea of anonymous losers whose concerns and issues are simply not relevant any more. In the space of a single night, I've become invisible.

It's hard – right now, at least – to fight that sense of irrelevance, the loss of purpose. I was exhausted and in tears the night we dropped the first bombs over Iraq. But I was back at work the next morning, determined to do my best. The fight was still ahead of me.

What stories should I assign for tomorrow, I ask myself now, trying to prod my slow-moving brain. Does it matter? Did any of my work over the past three years – through 9/11, the war, the election – matter? I'd planned to get pregnant next year. Maybe I'll just stay home with the baby – lose myself in motherhood as some women do when defeated in other parts of their lives.

The weariness will pass. It must. And the faith will return. I hope. But for now, I mourn.

Earlier on Tuesday night, I ran out to buy a pack of cigarettes from the local grocery store. "Who's winning?" asked the young African American woman at the checkout counter. When I told her it was Bush, she said, "I can't cry on the job. Guess I'll have to wait till later." It's later, now.

Lakshmi Chaudhry is senior editor of AlterNet.