NBC was the first to call it. Then the Associated Press. And then CNN. There was no denying it now. How could the polls have been so wrong, she thought, joining her friends in a disbelieving gasp? Sure she knew that Trump had a small chance of winning. Nate Silver said as much. Something about a higher percentage of undecided and third-party voters, fat tails, and polling errors being correlated across states. But Hillary had it in the bag! An 85 percent chance of winning sounded so high at the time. That's like 1 to 5 odds, she thought. She'd be overjoyed if the Heat had odds like that. The news says that the polls failed to predict that turnout among whites without a college degree would surge from 55 percent in 2012 to 64 percent in 2016 because of something called the "shy Trump voter" phenomenon. Wait, that's considered a remarkable surge? That's all Trump needed to win?
"I don't understand it," Karim whispered, his eyes still glued to the television and his hands clasped together as though praying for Matt Lauer to report that the results had been called in error. "I only know one Trump supporter! Everyone I know voted for Hillary. Even my folks, who haven't voted once in their lives. We all agreed to vote for her!" Amal nodded, pressing her lips together and shrugging her shoulders softly in reluctant agreement with her bewildered boyfriend. Unbeknownst to Karim and their friends, Amal had cast her vote for Jill Stein. She's better for the environment though! My vote wasn't supposed to make a difference. She hadn't considered how she might feel if Trump actually won. He wasn't supposed to win! Fuck. Her heart started to feel weird, not quite racing and not quite sinking, but a little of both, like that looming terror a little girl might feel while her parents deliberated a punishment for her misbehavior. A grounding was the worst punishment conceivable to her young mind. She's older now, though, and the enormity of the country's impending punishment began to dawn on her. It was always the uncertainty that scared her the most. What happens now, she thought?
She knew that Trump was a dangerous authoritarian lunatic. Hell, her family immigrated to this country to escape someone just like him. But she was annoyed at hearing how dangerous he was from Karim, and from everyone really. That's partly why she decided to vote for Jill Stein in the first place. She would not be fear-mongered into voting for Hillary. It didn't matter that Jill had no chance of winning and it didn't matter that she had some strange views about vaccinations, the Syrian Civil War, and WiFi signals. Amal's civic duty was to vote her conscience regardless of the outcome - and that's what she was doing. Wasn't she? Shit. She started to wonder how she would be feeling right now if Hillary Clinton was announced the victor instead. Her gut churned at the thought. She regretted her vote.
Drowning in unease, Amal turned away from her friends to contemplate the weight of her errant vote in the silent solitude of a remorseful juror. Her mind wandered to eight years earlier. She and Karim met most of their friends around then. They had all moved to Washington, D.C. after college, just in time for the 2008 election. The economy was in the shitter at the time and the only jobs, it seemed, were to be had in D.C. Ouf! That felt like a lifetime ago now. Barack Obama, the young senator from Chicago, was delivering rousing speeches on his unlikely path to the White House. What a different campaign that was. Everyone felt so jubilant and inspired.
"It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can." She recalled standing in front of her bathroom mirror, proudly delivering her own butchered adaptation of Obama's addresses. She was bold in her feeble attempt at a Baptist preacher's intonation. Bolder still in the peculiar gestures she made with her hands, which she waved passionately in the only manner she knew how, like the old Arab shopkeepers from back home. She felt so proud to be an American. We all did. Obama painted a picture of America that included her and her family. They were an integral part of the fabric of America, he would say. It was his improbable journey, which reminded her so much of her own as a daughter of immigrants herself. He put into words the promise of this nation, evoking so much pride and hope in her heart. Could this man with the weird foreign name, like hers, actually become president? She got a weird feeling in her heart back then too, kind of like the one she was feeling right now but without the bone-chilling dread. Not quite racing and not quite sinking, but a little of both, like when she walked up to the podium to accept her U.S. citizenship all those years ago.
"CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president-elect of the United States." And with Wolf Blitzer's words, Amal and her friends erupted into cheers. They hugged, they kissed. Some even cried. They were watching from Karim's apartment that night. He lived just a few blocks away from the White House and they wasted no time in racing down there to celebrate with the jubilant crowds gathering at the gates of the North Lawn. There must have been a few hundred people down there, singing, dancing, and drumming. It was a remarkable sight, she recalled. Was this real? Barack was their candidate. He was one of them. How could they ever doubt their place in this country again?
As it turns out, their doubts merely lay dormant.
Amal was jolted awake from her daydream to the sound of her friends – a colorful assortment of minorities, immigrants, gays, lesbians, and women – defeated looks on their faces all, trickling out of Karim's apartment like a funeral procession. She hadn't entirely understood what a Trump presidency would mean for them when she reached for the ballot box earlier that day. She glanced around the room once more, the looming silence more jarring than the sound of the drums at Lafayette Park eight years before. She wondered whether she had faithfully performed her civic duty that day, and her duty to her friends.