From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
She is New Here
by Riane Konc
When I vote in 2018, I will remember that Donald Trump was elected when my daughter was learning to walk, and Donald Trump hates women.
He would deny this, of course. “Nobody respects women more than I do,” he would say, ironically insisting that this time his words do matter, that claiming he loves and respects women makes it so, that his words in this moment erase all his other words, erase the rape allegations, erase his strolls through dressing rooms filled with underage girls, erase his own admission of sexual assault. “I love women,” he has said, because he confuses love with desire.
But of course he is a man who reviles women so publicly and obviously that he practically spits it. “Such a nasty woman,” he said, and he meant any woman who would ever get in his way.
In November 2016, my daughter had just started to walk. She took her first steps that October, but on Election Day she was really going for it, lurching precariously across the living room, arms stretched out like the most adorable zombie you’d ever seen. The news was on in the background, showing a changing blue and red map, but she ignored it, taking step after unsteady step until she collapsed into my arms and we all cheered.
During Donald Trump’s campaign for President, she was a baby still, and starting to say her first words: yes, no, mama, dada.
“Cat,” I would say, and she would meow.
“Bird,” I would say, and she would sing.
“I’m going to make coffee now,” I would say, and she would scream, because it meant I was going to leave the room for potentially up to thirty seconds.
Here are some words she still does not yet know:
She knows “dog” and she knows “pig,” but she is young, so she thinks these are words for animals, not women. She is new here.
People ask us all the time who she looks like, and I’m not sure. She’s her own person in so many ways, even already. She has bright red hair and dimples she didn’t get from me or her dad, and a personality somehow equal parts somber and giddy.
“Who made you so smart?” you can ask her, and she’ll say, “Mommy!”
“Who made you so silly?” you can ask, and she’ll say, “Daddy!”
Two years in, my husband and I are still doing the genetic math, trying to figure out which parts of us comprise her. We can’t help it, looking for glimpses of ourselves in this stranger we made, the way that parents do. There is nothing she likes more than to spend her time sitting in a pile of books, flipping happily through cardboard page after cardboard page. (Our famously incurious president does not read, preferring his memos to be a page long, illustrated if possible.) “She got that from you,” my husband says, but she got it from both of us.
“She has your smile,” people say. “And his eyes.” I don’t know if that’s true, but those are two things people always mention with babies. The smile. The eyes.
When Donald Trump was asked if his own baby, Tiffany, took after either of her parents, he said nothing about her smile or her eyes, only mentioning two things, one in pantomime: his infant daughter’s potential legs. His infant daughter’s potential breasts.
“January brought an unexpected election of an inelegant man to the honorable post of the President of the United States,” wrote my ninety-four-year-old great aunt in her annual Christmas letter. Since that election, our daughter has often been a necessary distraction. What I have wanted to do most days since the election is cry or yell about the fact that we elected a racist, sexist, inelegant, and incurious toddler to the honorable post of president. What my actual toddler has wanted me to do is sit down in her pile of books and read about a pigeon who wants to drive a bus eleven times in a row, and most days, we do.
My daughter was born in 2015. In 2018, about four million babies will be born in the United States, half of them girls. So many of them, like my daughter, already in their own pile of books, already so kind and curious and smart.
Even today, across the country, thousands of these kind and curious and smart babies are learning to walk, pulling themselves up onto shaky legs, willing one chubby foot in front of the other, taking steps that every day are stronger, straighter, surer.
Today they’ll walk.
Soon, they’ll run.
Take action today:
Donate to RAINN to improve the lives of victims of sexual violence.
Organize a voter registration drive in your community.
Riane Konc is a Midwest-based writer who contributes frequently to the New Yorker and occasionally to Reductress, McSweeney’s, the New York Times, the Rumpus, and other places on the internet.