Reporter's Notebook

Processing the Pain of the Election
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Readers who voted for Hillary Clinton and readers who voted against Donald Trump articulate their shock, disappointment, and fear in the wake of the presidential election.

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Poems for Coping With Change on Inauguration Day

A crowd watches Donald Trump's inaugural address in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2017, Ricky Carioti / Reuters

In the aftermath of November’s election, many readers who had been shocked by Donald Trump’s victory shared poems that helped them cope with loss and change. Jared turned to “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot:

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

Full poem here.


Trump’s presidency is actual now, and will be for another four years. For many, after the bitterly fought campaign and the upset victory, his Inauguration Day feels like the turning point between a past marked by loss and a future marked by uncertainty. Maybe that was why, this morning, I found myself looking back at another poem—W.H. Auden’s “Homage to Clio,” the muse of history:

It is you, who have never spoken up,
Madonna of silences, to whom we turn

When we have lost control, your eyes, Clio, into which
We look for recognition after
We have been found out.

It’s a poem in praise of memory and choice, those uniquely human capacities—and in praise of the regret that comes inevitably with them. So far as Clio stands for time and history, her “silences” apply to both the past and the future: She won’t tell you what to do next, and if you look back and beg her to change something, she’s extremely unsympathetic.

What Clio can do, Auden writes, is to remind you of your own power: your ability to act with purpose, not only in the sense of political action or artistic expression but also in the simple sense of recognizing your own regrets and fears and place in history. That power is a privilege and a burden, which may be why Auden closes with a prayer:


Muse of Time, but for whose merciful silence
Only the first step would count and that
Would always be murder, whose kindness never
Is taken in, forgive our noises

And teach us our recollections.

Listen to Auden reading the poem here.


If you have a poem that brings you hope and comfort, please send it—with a link if you can—to, and I’ll add it here. Update: Katie recommends “Revenge” by Eliza Chavez:

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.

Becky, a reader who recommended a Yeats poem for our roundup of consoling poetry, sends a follow-up note:

Thank you. The article and poems really are helpful in figuring out how to think about it all. I am sure others find that not only poetry, but literature and music, help us with the sudden shock of the Nov. 8 election results.

For instance, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, the character Eben Ramsey explains how the beauty of Shakespeare’s words in Antony and Cleopatra helped him think about the German occupation of Guernsey:

Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is “The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.”

I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them—and come off ships down the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words, “the bright day is done and we are for the dark,” I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance—instead of my heart sinking to my shoes.

For music, I find hope in the Anthem of Europe, which is based on the “Ode to Joy,” from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Sympathy.

The European Union has posted the lyrics to that anthem along with its official video here. But Becky recommends the rendition embedded below, and I can see why—the growing crowd of people singing along to the refrain “All men become brothers” has me tearing up a little:

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Supporters of Hillary Clinton at her election-night rally react to the voting results. Drew Angerer / Getty

We’ve heard from scores of readers who can relate to Megan’s letter about feeling responsible for Hillary Clinton’s loss—many of whom offered sympathy and assurances that it’s not her fault, and many of whom (like me) share in Megan’s sense of guilt. One reader, Laura, says she understands where Clinton voters like Megan are coming from—up to a point:

Well, actually I don’t understand, but rather I recognize the behavior. And it angers me, because I thought after all these years of struggles to raise the status of women, all the sacrifice, that women would openly embrace and cheer on Clinton. But indeed, among younger women there was this familiar reticence to openly support Her.

I am 63. As a young woman, I worked with Planned Parenthood to ensure abortion rights, and then for the Equal Rights Amendment, and then organized secretaries’ unions to improve wages and working conditions. Throughout my working life, the right of women to live as equals with men has been a driving force—an inheritance from my immigrant Spanish grandmother, who knew she was equal to men and made sure her daughters knew it as well, even if it only meant she ruled her kitchen.

So when my even slightly younger friends—who are the beneficiaries of all those decades of work—reluctantly, sheepishly, apologetically, expressed their support (or worse, their hatred) for Hillary Clinton, it was all I could do not to slap them with my grandmother’s bony hand—her hard-working hand—and say, “You fool, we’ve worked too hard for this. Be proud, have some pride.”

It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance that I doubt I’ll see again and I am heartbroken—not only to have missed the chance to see a woman president of the U.S., but also to know that younger women have not overcome the shame of sex discrimination.

We fight on.

Ann Laughlin, a reader who marched for the women’s movement in the 1960s and ’70s, would agree with Laura: “So many paid so dearly to get women the privileges we take for granted. We took the benefits and lost the focus. We did not finish the job we started.” This next reader, Meghan Edwards, can speak to that sense of complacency:

I did not campaign for Hillary. Before last Tuesday, I didn’t feel connected to her at all. But I did vote in this election, and I voted for Hillary, because to me, there was no other option. The other option wasn’t real. It wasn’t something that I took seriously, nor was it something that the mainstream media—which I consume every day—treated seriously. Memes. Hair jokes. Mouths as eyeballs. It was always, always a joke.

And because of this, I thought this election would be a breeze. I thought we would be sitting back at 9 p.m., celebrating an already called election for Hillary. I thought we would feel the same way we felt in 2008 after President Obama won—elated, as we made history.

One of the Atlantic readers in the TAD community started a thread on singer/songwriters:

Those folks who wrote and performed intimate music that touched your soul. The Beatles, Dylan, Carole King, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, etc. Folk, Rock, Country, Whatever. Folks that had an instrument and something to say that touched you.

One reader recommends Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now”:

I think looping is an interesting niche for solo singer-songwriters. Something about layered melody and beats is kind of kewl, and solo-ness of it all is very personal look into the artist’s creativity and talent.

Lyrics here. The opening verse applies to many Americans right now:

It’s that time of year
Leave all our hopelessnesses aside
(If just for a little while)
Tears stop right here
I know we’ve all had a bumpy ride
(I’m secretly on your side)

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

After my colleague Julie shared the poems that have helped her and some of our readers cope with loss and process change, many more of you sent in your suggestions. Ramya writes that after last week’s election, she immediately turned to “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou (embedded above):

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Full poem here.


Becky suggests W.B. Yeats’s “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?”

Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.

Full poem here.


When I’m frustrated and exhausted, “The Lotos-Eaters” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson comes to mind:

Our reader note from Megan was a moving mea culpa over her feelings of responsibility over Hillary Clinton’s loss and the guilt that supporters like her could have done more—more outspoken, at the very least. This next reader, Josh, has similar feelings as Megan’s but from the perspective of someone who wanted Bernie Sanders to clinch the nomination against Trump:

I do relate to Megan, and I am afraid I am worse. I’m a Bernie supporter, and I believe he would have beaten Trump in the general election, and I hope he runs again in 2020.

That is not to say I was ever against Hillary. In fact, I believe she has gotten a really raw deal, and I often wonder if the list of “scandals” the right point to would matter if she were male. It feels unfair, and the microscope has always been on her. I really couldn’t care less about the e-mails, and given all she has been through she has certainly proven her strength and earned her experience.

Regardless, I do think Sanders aligns more closely with my millennial ideals, and given the movement that has been started (and the voting pattern of 18-25 year olds), I am hopeful that my generation will succeed in accomplishing policies that work for all Americans and all people.

That being said, I feel Megan’s guilt. When Bernie lost the primary, I did fall in line with Hillary, and I was encouraged by her adoption of some of his policy ideas. But I did not donate as I did for Sanders. I did not get a yard sign, bumper sticker, or button. I did not attend a rally; I did not retweet her posts; I did not volunteer or get vocal; but I did all those things for Sanders.

Megan, a reader who voted for Hillary Clinton, shares a powerful confession:

I’ve been thinking about the election a lot for the past two days, and the idea that I keep coming back to is that in some ways this is my fault.

It’s my fault because I voted for Clinton when she ran against Obama in the 2008 primary, but I didn’t tell anyone because she was the unpopular choice. I wasn’t embarrassed about my decision, but being a real liberal seemed to mean voting for Obama. So I voted quietly in the primary, felt my disappointment quietly when she lost, and seamlessly joined the Obama supporters in the general election.

It’s my fault because I voted for Clinton when she ran against Sanders in the 2016 primary, and I didn’t tell anyone because again she was the unpopular choice. She was even more qualified this time around and I had a greater appreciation for the depth of her public service, but being a real liberal seemed to mean supporting Sanders. So I voted quietly in the primary, and rarely mentioned my preference for her.

It’s my fault because during the long months of the primary and the general election I didn’t tell anyone how strongly I felt about Clinton. I didn’t put a sticker on my car, I didn’t put a sign in my yard, and I didn’t wear a T-shirt. My loudest statement of support was the tiny pin I purchased after the convention, at a time that it felt safe to be a Clinton supporter.

It’s my fault because when I ran into people who were voting for Trump—at the grocery store, in the gym, in my neighborhood—I changed the subject because I didn’t want to get into an argument. I told myself that it wasn’t worth it and that they wouldn’t change their minds.

It’s my fault because though I knew my mother was genuinely torn between the two candidates I didn’t engage with her. I didn’t want to know that she actually thought there was a real choice to be made.

It’s my fault because I never once asked my sister what she was thinking. She’d supported the Tea Party in the past, and I assumed she was leaning towards Trump. I didn’t want to know.

It’s my fault because my father and I had a massive fight about Clinton over Easter, and in an effort to preserve our relationship I stopped talking to him about politics. If we didn’t talk about it, then I didn’t have to deal with the possibility that he was sexist and racist in a way I’d never considered.

It’s my fault because I capitulated to the expectation that I not express my emotions publicly. I’m upset right now, and it isn’t lost on me that expressing this upset is potentially disqualifying. It isn’t lost on me that saying I’m angry will make me vulnerable to the accusation I’m too emotional. I’ve spent a lifetime calming down. It’s something that I try to do when interacting with men professionally, and it’s something that I try to do when I interact with men personally. And every time I do this in my private life, I normalize it and make it harder for women to succeed in public life.

And it’s also my fault because when I did support her, I did so in a provisional and caveated way. I said things like, “I realize she’s not a perfect candidate” and “I’m not arguing that she isn’t flawed.”

Brian Snyder / Reuters

After the shocking election of Donald Trump on Tuesday, as people continue to process their emotions, work through their exhaustion, and manage their anxieties, I’ve seen many of my friends and colleagues turning to poetry. James Fallows, in his note “First Thoughts on the Election,” ended with a poem by William Butler Yeats, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing.” And Megan Garber interviewed the editor of Poetry magazine about why poetry seems particularly resonant at this moment.

On my social media timelines this week, screenshots of people’s favorite verses have been welcome oases at which to rest. And I’ve returned several times to a favorite poem of mine, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W.H. Auden, especially these verses:

‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.


‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

I asked some of our readers on the Disqus group known as TAD to send me the poems they turn to when dealing with change and hardship. A couple of staffers submitted poems as well. Here are a dozen of their responses (with only brief excerpts of the poems, since we can’t reproduce them in full due to copyright concerns):

“Differences of Opinion,” by Wendy Cope, begins:

He tells her that the earth is flat—
He knows the facts, and that is that.

Full poem here.


“The Place Where We Are Right,” by Yehuda Amichai:

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.

Full poem here.


Walt Hunter, a poetry professor in Greenville, South Carolina, writes:

Ellen Girardeau Kempler

A reader in California sends a photo of a discarded piñata of Donald Trump she saw yesterday:

Here’s “Trash Day on the Left Coast,” a photo from my morning dog walk. We also passed two women (separately, not together), crying.

Most of the Atlantic readers in this massive discussion thread are also distraught over Hillary Clinton’s loss. From the most up-voted comment, by Terri:

The United States of America has elected a man president that is more suited to being the dictator of a Banana Republic than the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. And those that elected him they knew exactly what they were doing. Give Trump credit. There was no deceit. His bigotry and misogyny were on full undeniable display as was his ignorance, his pettiness and his vindictiveness. This is what close to half of the electorate wants as its leader. There is no other conclusion.

Another reader, Kat, voted third party:

While I agree Trump’s unsavory aspects appeals to Alt-Right miscreants and undoubtedly won him some votes, they are a minuscule portion of the electorate compared to women. The fact Trump won despite his reckless and bigoted remarks, which undoubtedly cost him millions upon millions of votes, only shows the weakness of the global capitalist vision that is at the heart of the DNC.

People need living-wage jobs in a nation state that preferentially serves their interests as citizens. Many of the more rarified, post-Marxist leftists out there don’t seem to even believe in social democracy, or refuse to accept that social democracy requires social cohesion, labor protectionism, etc.

A lot of the hard core Critical Race Theory types may find themselves aligned going forward with libertarian capitalists of the NeverTrump variety. I mean what common ground do Bernouts like me have left with some of you except for a few social issues like reproductive choice?

I also asked some readers in this discussion thread how they’ve talked to their kids about Trump’s stunning victory. Jim via hello@:

The morning after the election, I spent part of breakfast reassuring my 7-year-old son, who is scared that because Donald Trump will be president, his friends will have to leave the country just because they are Mexican. In our carpool, I needed to do the same for two girls, 9 and 8, who are afraid their father will likewise have to leave because he is Latino.