Where were you the night Donald Trump was elected president?
For some, that's like asking what they were doing the morning of Sept. 11, or during the Challenger explosion, or any other shared American tragedy. For others, the specifics of Nov. 8, 2016, have been blurred by time, the shock of the moment, or lots and lots of alcohol.
Bri Pruett, for one, knows exactly what she was doing. She was onstage at Mississippi Studios, hosting a party.
The comic had been asked to emcee the North Portland music venue's election night party—an event she, and presumably everyone else who attended, assumed would mark the end of a chaotic campaign, the election of Hillary Clinton as America's first woman president, and a return to some semblance of political normalcy.
There were raffle prizes, advertised as a "Basket of Adorables." Kittens adorned the fliers. Bus Project founder Jefferson Smith analyzed the local results, while Pruett did standup in between updates on the presidential race.
"I was writing jokes about the news anchors and the pageantry," Pruett says. "I was not thinking about how to respond if the house of cards started to wobble."
It was one thing to process the results alone at home. Doing so in public was another. It happened at bars and theaters across town, but the party at Mississippi Studios represented perhaps the most stark example of expectation crashing headlong into reality and bursting into flames.
With the country on the verge of another high-anxiety election, we asked several attendees to revisit the night Portland's liberal bubble burst. Many of them say confronting their own naivety stung worse than the result itself.
Bri Pruett, host: It's wild that I woke up that day thinking, "This is going to be such a fun event and I'm going to host the shit out of it."
Amy Dials, producer: I think it was just called "Election Night in America With Bri Pruett," and we had really fun raffle prizes. In the Basket of Adorables there was, like, stuff from Tender Loving Empire. And in the Basket of Deplorables there was vodka and stuff from a weed store on Hawthorne. It was like some sinful stuff and some cute and cuddly stuff.
Pruett: I found the email they sent me asking to host, and if you could read this email, the lightness and lack of anticipation is astonishing. We were so fucking dumb.
Dials: I would have comfortably bet an irresponsible amount of money that Hillary would absolutely win.
JoAnn Schinderle, attendee: I woke up that day and made coffee, I brought fresh flowers into the house, and I just had the sense of, "We're going to have a female president by the end of the day today."
Whitney Streed, attendee: I had decided to stay home for the evening just because I was sure she was going to win. And then as the night progressed, it became more and more clear that it wasn't guaranteed. I felt like, "I don't want to be alone anymore."
Dials: There was nothing but excitement going into the night. The night felt so historic and festive. And then it just crumbled.
Pruett: It was truly only an hour into the show when the energy changed.
Dials: I was talking to DJ Tex Clark and [co-host Jefferson Smith's wife] Katy. They're two of the smartest people in the room, if not in Portland. And something happened to where they both were like, "Holy shit, he just won."
Pruett: There was a time in the night when I looked at Jefferson and he started drinking. I remember thinking, "If you're on a sinking ship, look at the captain and you can tell how bad it is by their face."
Dials: There was just this moment of before and after for me. I didn't understand why they knew or how they knew that he had won. But I knew these two people were not wrong because I trust them. And so it was this really weird thing of looking at them and then looking at the room, who had no idea. I can't remember if it was 10 minutes later or a half-hour later when everybody caught up with what it actually meant.
Pruett: Some of the Midwestern states went. I don't have a background in the Electoral College, but there was this slow parade of people leaving.
Schinderle: I remember everyone was like, "It's going to come down to Wisconsin," and being that's my home state, I was like, "You motherfucker." I distinctly remember people clearing out and admitting defeat, and I was holding onto this last string of hope. I was like, "There's no way. I'm from there, I know people from there. There's no way they believe in this guy. There's no fucking way." On the big screen, the Wisconsin numbers came in. It was just this state, huge on the screen, and it was red. And I was like, "Oh my God." I was speechless. I started crying to myself a little bit. It felt like a betrayal.
Streed: When I left my apartment, it was probably 8:30, maybe 9. Nothing was certain, but it was uncertain enough that I was like, "I don't want to be here." I took a bus, so it took probably half an hour, 45 minutes to get there. By the time I got to Mississippi Studios, it was far more clear that he was going to win. And it was really empty. There had clearly been a lot of people there until very recently.
Pruett: Mississippi Studios has these standing tables. There was a guy standing at a bistro table, and when the news station called [the election], he flipped the table over. Candles and fliers went everywhere. I'm from the bar industry, I expected him to get bounced. Somebody walked over to him and in that second I could see on his face, "We still need to be human. This is happening to us all." He picked everything up. Everybody got it.
Schinderle: Everyone was kind of just grieving in their own way. I remember there was this hippie-looking couple in their 60s seated down in front of me. They turned to each other and went, "If Bernie had won the nomination, this would have never happened." I saw red. I clenched my fist and was about to scream at them. I bit my tongue so hard and just got up and ordered a shot of whiskey.
Streed: The thing I remember most was there was this skeleton onstage. It was decked out in Hillary paraphernalia. It was the saddest-looking skeleton I had ever seen.
Pruett: The smart people were the ones savvy enough to ignore the Nate Silver polls and stay home because they knew if they were in public they'd turn a table over. The naivety in all of us was breathtaking.
Schinderle: I was determined to stay to the end out of sheer disbelief, and this weird feeling of solidarity. At the end there were only like six of us left. I remember a lot of people had cleared out before [Bri] had given her concession speech.
Pruett: I had to do something to land the plane. I got onstage, got on my knees, and I made some speech.
"I know a lot of people who will say things like, 'I have a cousin or an uncle who is voting for Trump and I blocked them on Facebook and I'll never talk to them again.' I think it's important to have a narrative of how people who have hate in their heart, for whatever reason, to find their way back. That can only happen if you keep those people in your lives and try to let your message, your mission in life, ripple outward. Reach people, connect. We have an amazing community in Portland. I'm from Portland, I'm overjoyed to be part of this community. But sometimes it's a community and sometimes it's a fucking echo chamber. What we've seen tonight is, we don't exist in a vacuum." —Bri Pruett on election night 2016
Pruett: I smoked pot until I felt less ashamed enough to sleep. Then got on a plane at 4 am to fly to Denver for my first TV spot.
Schinderle: Walking home was scary. I don't even know what time in the morning it was. But I have curly blond hair. I have a lot of makeup on [and] red lipstick. I'm wearing a presidential-looking dress and this American flag shawl. As I was walking out, I was like, "Oh my God, I look like a Trump supporter." I took the flag shawl off and kind of scurried to my car. I was like, "I don't want people to think I was on the wrong side of history tonight."
Dials: The next day had that post-9/11 stillness in the air. Everywhere you went there was this thickness of startled emotion in every room and every person you passed on the street. It was very eerie.
Schinderle: I feel like with this election, I was so scarred from the last one that I truly am like, whatever, nothing matters.
Dials: I'll be obsessively watching the news, looking at my phone and eating a lot of snacks.
Pruett: I've booked two nights at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. I'm going with two witches. We're going to smoke pot and chant, and if it doesn't go our way, we're going to smoke pot and chant more.