When I was studying in Belfast in the 1990s I remember vowing to myself that I would one day live in America.
It was because I was tired of living in a paranoid police state, where mistrust and suspicion was the coin of the realm.
I wanted to live somewhere free, I told myself, somewhere I could be myself, somewhere I would never see another barricade or hear another surveillance helicopter droning over my head all night long.
So I came to America and for a long time my plan worked out.
In the late 1990s America still meant endless highways, boundless promise, a place where I could be who I wanted to be, live wherever I wanted to live, love whomever I wanted to love.
Here, for the first time in my life, I felt free. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live.
But this week, just one night after Donald Trump’s election, I watched hundreds of armed police officers staring down thousands of angry protesters near Trump Tower at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. I saw men and women in the streets in tears. The police had put up barricades to protect the building from them.
Then I looked up because I heard a helicopter droning over my head, with its surveillance cameras trained on the crowds below.
Northern Ireland, with its sectarian politics, with its paranoid majority corralling every minority, with its deep mistrust and its military surveillance, and with its ever-present threat of violence, has followed me across the sea.
I am heartbroken to realize this. For the first time ever I have the sense of an ending.
How did this happen? How did big, openhearted America transform itself into the kind of paranoid fortress that I once fled?
It happened when we stopped seeing other immigrants as our friends and neighbors and started seeing them as enemy threats.
Rudy Giuliani is the poster boy for Trump’s “they’re coming for you” anti-immigrant five alarm fire for a reason. It was anti immigration sentiment that brought Trump’s most passionate voters to the voting booths in state after state, polls show.
To get them there Trump made a Faustian bargain that will one day be his undoing. He told middle class white voters that he would protect them from the swelling immigrant hordes. He told white working class voters he would protect their livelihoods. I am the only one who can save you, he told them, just make me president. So they did.
Over 80% of white evangelical and born-again Christians voted for him, Mormons gave him Utah, he won a majority of the white Irish Catholic vote.
So he rose on a tide of racial anxiety, not on an economic one. He won the backing of America’s white and wealthy voters including white graduates, and white female voters. He also won the backing of the white working class.
You have to be living in a lot of fear to believe that a New York City billionaire will see and protect you. Apparently they were. So we are where we are.
But this racial targeting, this dangerous Faustian bargain, has come at a profound cost to our national fabric, because we are an immigrant nation and Trump has had to tear up its foundational promise of equal treatment to become president.
The first place you will see the nation’s horrified reaction is in the streets. It’s already happening. Unprecedented numbers of protesters have already taken to them.
The next place you’ll see it is in the schoolyards. Your kid in kindergarten is going to turn to the Mexican kid and tell him he's going home when the wall comes.
Anti-racism protesters against President-elect Trump stood outside the U.S. embassy in London. pic.twitter.com/84ZgMOuHr4— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 9, 2016
Your teenagers will feel safe to bait the gay kid and the trans kid and the Muslim kid. And they will do this, bet your last dollar, because yesterday they lived in America where minorities were welcome but today they live in Trump Land, where they are not.
If you don't know how damaging this will be to America yet you are going to very soon because if you voted for Trump you just made the most spectacular and life-defining mistake of your life.
Shots weren't fired, but it was a civil war of sorts. The uncle who sat tight lipped across from you at the Thanksgiving table that time you brought your same sex boyfriend home has finally spoken. Your aunt who would have preferred you not to date a Muslim girl spoke too. No need to tell you of their anxieties, they let the vote tally speak for itself.
On CNN today water boarding (an international war crime) was listed as one of President Trump’s top priorities alongside repealing Obamacare and building a Mexican border wall.
The gloves will come off on the tens of thousands of immigrants living in the shadows here too. The message from the Trump White House will be stark: you can't have a raise, you can't have health care, you can’t have social security, but see those immigrants? We’re deporting them! They will tell us this is progress.
So what consoles me now in this season of dread is that this 'victory' already feels short lived and pyrrhic. It’s already over before it’s begun.
I’m not foolish. I’m not one of those observers assuring you that it will all be OK. That’s what people trapped in an abuse cycle with a bully tell themselves. I don’t believe it. None of this is politics as usual, Trump is not a typical politician, none of this is going to be OK.
What consoles me after eight years of immensely dignified and progressive presidential leadership, Obama voters - millennials in particular - will not be stepping into Trump's Brexit style time machine to join him in his race into the past.
I won’t be either. I want to live in freedom. I remember what it looks and feels like.