The internet is full of shock and surprise– and I certainly am– at the election of Donald J. Trump to the highest office in the land. In spite of polls, projections, and the vast majority of intelligentsia (both left and right) being squarely aligned against them, Trump and his supporters narrowly lost the popular election while squeaking by the Electoral College threshold of 270.
How did everyone get this so wrong? Two things. 1) Underestimating the turnout of angry whites who were fed up with the system. 2) Lots of hidden Trump voters– i.e. people who would not admit publically or in polls that they were voting for Donald Trump for fear of social stigma.
Know this, educated Republicans who claimed to be #nevertrump: the numbers show you voted for him. None of us will forget this.
Regardless of who you voted for, this election cycle has brought out the very worst in America. It was dark, mean-spirited, and petty. The major issues of our time– economic inequality, criminal justice, and climate change– got little to no attention in favor of pussy grabbing and deleted emails. Conspiracy theories were bandied about as equally valid when compared to peer reviewed research of exhaustive government inquiries. My only consolation is the notion (one I am not so sure of myself) that whoever won was probably just keeping the seat warm for the next four years.
The most common question that I have heard from naturally anxious friends is what does this mean? To me, it means that the narrative of anger and fear regarding the state of America won out. It really shouldn’t have, but perception meant more than reality to the people of Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. They were sure America was falling. From where and how far was never too clear. I disagree deeply with this mindset. America is and has been a great, if deeply flawed, place. But it is clear that this mindset dominates within white America.
Some of it is fair. They have been left behind, culturally, economically, and socially. While there are understandable reasons to snicker at this– gee, it sort of sucks when everyone else thinks your way of life is wrong and that you are to blame for your own poverty/drug problems/crime/joblessness, doesn’t it?– the dismissiveness (both real and imagined) that liberals and conservative elites have shown to their plight was their prime motivation in this election. Sure, Trump is racist (and supported by the disgusting alt-right). And misogynist. And xenophobic. But they could overlook that (and in some cases gleefully cheer for it). He heard them and promised to make it all better.
To be honest, I hope he does. Cities like Lima and Chillicothe need saving. The people there were left behind by forces out of their control (though they have exasperated the issues by repeatedly voting against their own interests). Forces that favored the economic elites of this nation. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe Trump can make Lima great again. Ending free trade won’t undo mechanization or the use of computers. His tax plan and social agenda won’t rebuild our infrastructure, pay school teachers, police, and emergency responders enough to recruit the sorts of people our communities need, or take care of our aging (and sick) population. His plans to institute racially discriminatory policing policies won’t heal our deep divides. His central platform plank, the deporting of “illegal immigrants” and the building of a wall paid for by Mexico, would be the modern equivalent to the Trail of Tears, leaving death, illness, and broken families in its terrible wake. Nothing Trump has suggested will fix what plagues us. That doesn’t seem to matter to most of them. They are simply happy the system has been destroyed. I have doubts as to just how much of the structure he will actually pull down.
Likewise, there are other areas for Trump supporters to be concerned with (and for the other half of the nation to breath more easily on):
Trump has paid lip-service to traditional right-wing issues like abortion, gay marriage, and guns. But he has also previously held the opposite views. Who knows what he will really do.
Trump talks tough about our friends, enemies, and partners when he has a crowd cheering him on. He’s been much more demure in less raucous settings.
Trump has no mandate. Losing the popular election makes it hard to claim you represent the will of the people. (Offset by the fact that the GOP holds Congress…)
Trump will face internal opposition. (I just don’t see it– Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP establishment has been exposed as the cowardly hucksters most of us thought they were. They’ll go along with Trump or be ousted)
The concerns are real. Much of his platform centers on discrimination against Hispanics, Muslims, and blacks. He has no understanding of foreign policy– it terrifies me that conservative voters simply waved this away. His economic and domestic plans are bigger government than even Hillary Clinton would have enacted. He is a self-aggrandizing fool who has never sacrificed anything for anyone and is about to take a job that is almost completely about sacrifice and is overwhelmingly thankless. What could go wrong? We have done something incredibly reckless…
Trump himself asked black voters, what do you have to lose? Their answer was “everything.” People who have had to struggle just to be recognized as citizens understand very clearly what they can still lose beyond diminished economic or social standing. White America does not know that feeling. For all their hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about safe-spaces and entitlements, it was the Gen X and Baby Boom whites who couldn’t handle losing a little status, money, or power. No risk was too great if it could promise them a return to the good old days, when men were (straight) men, women were where they belonged (in the kitchen), gays were not a thing (in public), and religious diversity meant real Christians or Catholics. Everyone (who was a white man or happily married to a white man) had a good job, made a lot of money, and was happy. When people can’t imagine life getting worse, they will take pretty awful risks. For some, it means drug use and crime. For others, it meant voting for a radical political candidate.
So here we are.
For me, I plan to redouble my efforts. I sincerely believe that much of our problem in contemporary politics is a lack of honest, factual discourse. We must all, liberal and conservative, commit ourselves to better conversation or we will be saddled with elections like this one forever. That means calling out BS memes, posts, and “news” articles that play fast and loose with the truth. It requires listening to each other and looking into opposition claims. Above all, WE MUST stop promoting conspiracy theories. Both sides are guilty of it– though the right has more by an order of magnitude. Without this, the candidates are free to distract us from policy discussions and concentrate on insane hypotheticals and dark “secrets.”
I plan on continuing to be the change I want to see in the world. I’m working on initiatives that increase access to healthcare and improve the quality of drug treatment for areas like southeast Ohio that are suffering from the heroin epidemic. I am working on several plans to lower costs to public higher education and to redirect public universities to serve their local populations. I’ll keep challenging myself and the people around me to act ethically and with compassion towards one another and our wider world. Whether you feel hopeless and afraid or happy and optimistic following this vote, I’d suggest moving on and concentrating on your mission. Go serve your fellow human, because nothing will change if you don’t.
Ultimately, we developed this overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair because too many of us stopped living for one another. Too many of us feel alone. From the meth addict in Springfield, Ohio to the shooting suspect in Chicago, Illinois, we feel like we are living in a system rigged against us and that we have no chance to get out alive (let alone get ahead). A government, liberal or conservative, cannot save us. Neither can an authoritarian leader. Only you can.
Get to work.