Remembering Nov. 8, 2016, can be a good thing

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A Hillary Clinton supporter watches results in Texas.

As the long autumn night descended upon Manhattan last Nov. 8, Brendan McGinn was certain of two things. Hillary Clinton was about to become the first female president of the United States, and this evening was going to be the best birthday that McGinn was ever going to have. That's because he and his girlfriend had scored tickets to watch the live broadcast of Stephen Colbert's HBO election night special, which was bound to be both celebratory and hilarious.

But the couple still had to wait on a long line, and it was during those moments that everything that McGinn thought he knew about the U.S. of A. changed. Almost everyone in the line seemed to be reloading an election tracker from the website FiveThirtyEight.com on their phones, and nobody could believe what they were seeing. Donald Trump had a 30 percent chance of winning, then suddenly a 40 percent chance.

By the time the two reached the head of the line, Trump's odds were 91 percent and they had no interest in sitting inside a theater and pretending to laugh at Colbert. They instead headed for a nearby bar, where McGinn "pounded" a couple of Guinness pints. That was just the beginning. "It was the rest of the week, though, that sticks with me, the absolute silence in the city," McGinn - who lives in Astoria, Queens - told me by email. "Trains full of people, nobody making a noise. Discarded 'I voted' stickers littered everywhere. And women every morning the rest of that week crying in public on their commute to the city."

Wednesday's one-year anniversary of Trump's 2016 victory still resonates for the many not-great ways that the 45th president has changed America. But also fascinating is the obsession - at least among the not-always-silent majority who strongly disapprove of Trump and his presidency - with reliving that night: Where we were and who we were with, the exact moment that an early sunset's firm if not totally unwavering confidence in a Clinton victory (as predicted by every pollster and seemingly credible pundit) morphed into the dark realization of Trump's victory, the various stages of denial, grief, and not exactly acceptance.

It may seem inappropriate to some, but for a lot of citizens, what happened on Nov. 8, 2016, reminded them of the sadness they felt on Sept. 11, 2001, or Nov. 22, 1963, the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Of course, no one died an unnatural death on election night 2016 - despite the many heart palpitations - and unlike the 2001 terror attack, this was like an emotional bomb that only devastated half of the nation. Yet those three epic dates in modern American history share one common bond. People went to bed on those nights with the gut-wrenching feeling that things in the United States were not what we thought they were when we arose that morning.

Those feelings are especially raw one year later for society's marginalized and for women (not all women, as Trump won a narrow majority of white females) and their male allies who couldn't believe that America could elect him after he'd been caught on tape bragging about groping female body parts.

"How are you supposed to reconcile your own values with the 46 percent who were OK voting for a man accused of sexual assault a dozen times?" the New Yorker McGinn asked - the most common refrain among those who still remain most devastated over Trump's election.

"I think there's a way that we connect with others through our pain," George James, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Council for Relationships and program director of the Couple and Family Therapy Program at Thomas Jefferson University, told me when I called to ask why so many people cling to bitter memories of last November.

But he also stressed that clinging to memories of Trump's election night helps many people stay focused on positive change, whether that means voting in this week's local elections or taking part in other political activities. There are some people, James noted, who hold on to a terrible report card or a job rejection letter for motivation, as a way of saying, "This is reality. This happened. What am I going to do about it?"

I felt a shock of personal recognition from that last point. My own memory was finally leaving the newsroom around 1:30 in the morning, arriving home just in time to see the chyron across the bottom of my TV screen: "Donald Trump Elected President of the United States." I thought to take out my phone and take a picture - but I didn't need to because that moment, which felt like the end of one thing and the beginning of something else, has never left me. And it's reassuring to know that many positive things - the Women's March, or the citizen resistance that so far has saved Obamacare - were born from that same despair.

It's not at all a bad thing that so many of us can't stop thinking and talking about how low we felt on Nov. 8, 2016. What would be truly terrible is if we forgot.

Will Bunch is a staff columnist.

bunchw@phillynews.com

215-854-2957 @will_bunch