It was still a bit over 80 degrees under partly cloudy skies on Nov. 8, 2016, when I joined a bunch of my friends at a popular bar to watch election results.
This was a place called Oldskool, and it was literally just that — an old school that had been turned into a popular watering hole for expat Americans. Especially when a football game was on, or HBO was airing a new episode of “Game of Thrones.”
For many of us, it was the epitome of a tropical life on the island of Grenada in the south Caribbean Sea, in a bar that was just a mile from where American troops landed in 1983 as part of Ronald Reagan’s infamous invasion.
Many of my friends were spouses of medical students attending nearby St. George’s University, and they came from all over America — and from all walks of life. Liberals, conservatives, everything beyond and everything in-between. But on this Tuesday evening, we were Americans. And we were about to watch first-hand the foundation of everything we believed: The election of a President of the United States.
Surprisingly, despite our political diversity, many of us were there to celebrate what was expected to be the victory of our country’s first woman president — and long overdue. Hillary Clinton’s campaign wasn’t perfect, but compared to whatever that hot mess Donald Trump had been running for months, victory was all but assured.
The first states called were Kentucky, Indiana and Vermont. That gave Trump an early 19-3 lead, but no one seemed worried. It was a long road to 270 electoral votes, and there were plenty of drinks for everyone.
But our laughter and fun became more muted as the night wore on. As many polls closed in the Northeast, Clinton jumped out to a 68-48 electoral lead. But there were a number of states that were “too early to call” — which, at least for me, was a red flag in a race I expected to be a blowout.
Midway through the night, with some states — including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — too close to call, Texas was declared for Trump, giving him a sizable, yet manageable 128-97 lead over his Democratic opponent. It was then that I got that pit in my stomach, that same uneasy feeling I had in 2000 when the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to the very state I was calling home at the time.
Could Donald Trump win this? No. Everything about his run was a trainwreck, almost as if he was doing everything he could not to get elected. Surely, no one thought these actions were presidential, let alone normal. I believe in America, and I believe in American’s ability to make the right decision.
Whether it was the right decision or the wrong, America did indeed make a decision on that night. And it wasn’t Hillary Clinton. She conceded before CNN called the election in Trump’s favor. But by then, I was home. In shock. Devastated. Like I’m sure so many other Americans were as well.
In the days that followed, my friends were convinced that Clinton would fight the results. She would demand recounts, go to court. But over what? For what? The people had spoken. Yes, our Electoral College system is terribly flawed and must be dismantled. But back then — as it is now — it’s still the law of the land, and we have to abide by it.
Hillary Clinton conceded, not because she had no fight in her, but because unless it’s actually going to change the outcome of the race — and there’s a legitimate reason to do so — the country doesn’t benefit at all from such a protracted fight.
The beauty of our presidency, of our government, is that every four years, we the people get to decide who leads us. It’s majority rules — more or less, at the presidential level — and we might not be part of that majority. But the Oval Office is an office representing all Americans, not just the majority. It’s not about the man — or woman, or any gender — who occupies it, but the responsibility they shoulder for every single person who calls the United States home.
All of our lives, we’ve had some presidents who did great things. We’ve had others that we’d rather forget.
Our president is a reflection of who we are as Americans — and if we don’t like what we see, then we must work to change it.
Election results will never satisfy everyone. And it could even be devastating, as it was for many of us in 2016. But the elections themselves are satisfying, because it represents democracy itself. And with democracy comes the very freedom each of us cherish.
The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.