- The anxiety and pit in my stomach is similar to the fear I felt walking onto a COVID ward. For the first time, I fear for my safety as an American.
I stopped at a red light but was distracted by the people to the left and right of me. They were waving Trump flags, holding up Trump signs and of course, not wearing masks. They were shouting at the top of their lungs, louder than ever. A slew of honking caravans flying Trump flags came racing down the road. A chill went down my spine. Is this America?
I remember walking to the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theater in Detroit, where a group of Trump supporters were holding their signature oversized banners and waving flags. One yelled to me “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY,” accompanied by foul language. I looked around not realizing he was shouting at me, a born and raised American.
The culture of intimidation, bigotry and hate has been mounting over the last four years. As I sit quietly watching Florida turn red on the electoral map, I think to myself, the soul of our nation is on the line.
As the Electoral College numbers come in, my mind flashes back to working on the frontlines during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a scary time to be a healthcare provider. I couldn’t see my family. I lost many patients, friends and colleagues to the virus. We were ill prepared as a nation for this pandemic and so many people consequently lost their life as a result. Yet, just days ago, instead of applauding physicians for our hard work and putting our lives at risk, we were insulted with accusations of cashing in on COVID-19 patients. No doctor I know has received a pay raise. In fact, many have been laid off or received pay cuts despite working endless hours during this crisis.
On Election Day, I was seeing patients. Half were COVID-19 patients. The other half were suffering from extreme anxiety. Of these, 75% cited today’s election as a reason for increased anxiety. A day full of COVID-19 and anxiety patients, seems reflective of the pulse of our nation in 2020. Patients are confused with the misinformation circulating. Does a mask really help? Instead of standing behind science, masks have turned into a political stunt. As I watch quietly North Carolina turning red, I think to myself, truth and science are on the line.
I flashed back to 2016 when I was devastated to learn a woman would not be our president, but instead, it would be a man who openly disparaged women with “locker room” talk. He called immigrants drug dealers, criminals and rapists. His behavior was not presidential, ridiculing a disabled reporter by flailing his arms around, bullying people on social media, and building a culture of hate. As I watch quietly, Iowa turns red, I think to myself, love for humanity is on the line.
My family came to this country for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve never questioned being American. The United States is the most powerful country in the world. Yet, for the first time, I wonder if my future children will be limited in this country by having Indian roots.
My involvement in this political campaign was none like any other because I strongly felt it was necessary to take action. If I was mortified with the COVID-19 response, I had to do something to protect my patients and my family. I was harassed on social media with obnoxious comments from some Trump supporters trying to debunk, through misinformation, every statement I made. It wasn’t a healthy political debate, it was a constant “us versus them.” As I watch quietly, Pennsylvania turning red, I think to myself, division over unity is on the line.
The anxiety and pit in my stomach is similar to the fear I felt walking onto a COVID ward. For the first time, I fear for my safety as an American. This election is not about being Democrat or Republican. There are plenty of Republicans that I respect and some Democrats that I don’t. There are many heroes past and present from both parties. This election is different because the current leader of our country doesn’t represent Democrats or Republicans. He represents a minority group of people who cheer at a plot to kidnap a Governor, or at a vehicle being chased off the road, or when people are called names. As a physician, I’ve seen the clinical impact of this President on our nation. Anxiety, depression, discrimination and bullying are on the rise. People think it’s okay to say whatever whenever because after all, that’s what the President of the United States does and there’s no repercussions. A judge can sexually harass a woman and still be confirmed. One doesn’t have to pay taxes and can ignore science. This is not the America that my parents proudly immigrated to.
As I watch the votes coming in, I can’t help but think of the French philosopher Voltaire’s words, “The more often a stupidity is repeated, the more it gets the appearance of wisdom.” I pray and hope the melting pot of America will not be destroyed by four more years of hate. But ultimately, the will of the people will be done. Yet, as I anxiously watch the results of my home-state of Michigan, I believe what Kamala Devi Harris said, “No matter where we come from or where we live, no matter your race, gender, background or faith. No matter how we identify or who we love, no matter the language your grandmother speaks, what we have in common is so much stronger than what divides us.” Count every vote and let the voices be heard.
Dr. Asha Shajahan is a primary care physician, writer and podcaster from Detroit, Michigan.