My thoughts on the election
America has a lot of explaining to do.
America needs to explain why we would elect someone who bragged about sexual assault. America needs to explain how we will ever explain to college students why sexual assault is wrong if we think it is something the holder of our nation’s highest office can brag about. America needs to explain how we can tell the victims of sexual assault that their stories need to be heard if their President thinks otherwise.
The 81% of Christian white evangelicals who voted for Trump need to explain how electing a man who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” and has boasted of his infidelity is their best choice for President. These value voters need to explain what it is they actually value.
The military conservatives, the ones who told us it was unpatriotic to question the Iraq War, need to explain why they voted for a man who says POWs are not real war heroes, who denigrates Gold Star families, who says that he has sacrificed as much as the families of fallen soldiers, who calls our military a disaster, who invites a foreign power to commit espionage against the U.S. government, who praises dictators, who says he knows more about the military than the generals, and who claims Bush was to blame for 9/11.
Constitutional conservatives need to explain why they would elect a man who threatens our democratic institutions, who seeks to ban entire religions from entering the country, who censors reporters, and threatens to jail his political opponents.
Voters concerned over Clinton’s integrity need to explain why sitting on the board of one of the most praised private charities in the world, and conducting email practices previous state departments practiced as well, is worse than operating a fraudulent university, cheating on taxes, stiffing contractors, and using his foundation to pay for his legal bills.
Voters who couldn’t vote for Clinton “because she lies” need to explain why they voted for a candidate who has been routinely ranked by independent fact checkers as the most dishonest candidate in history.
People who preferred Clinton as President but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate need to explain why they wanted America to do the work for them of electing her, and why they get the special dignity to stay above the fray.
People who say their vote doesn’t count need to explain if, when added to millions of others claiming their votes don’t count, their vote still would not have made a difference.
America needs to explain why experience in government is no longer a prerequisite for the highest office of government.
America needs to explain why a man who claims a person’s Hispanic heritage disqualifies him from being a judge is well suited to pick supreme court nominees.
America needs to explain why a man whose own staff thought he should not be allowed to handle his own Twitter account should be allowed to handle our nuclear codes.
America needs to explain how parents can tell disabled children that their President really didn’t mean it when he mocked the disabled.
America needs to explain how teachers are going to assure their Hispanic students that their President doesn’t actually think their parents are rapists.
America needs to explain how Muslim parents will tell their families that this is their country too.
America needs to explain how we can assure our daughters not to worry, the President would never sexually assault them, because they’re not even a 6.
America needs to explain why it elected Donald Trump.
In 2012, I decided I wanted to be as informed as possible on the 2016 election. For the next four years, I read at least one article on the election a day. I watched every debate, every convention speech, and read every poll. I wrote in 2015 that I thought Donald Trump would be the nominee, but I thought, in the end, particularly after the tape, party loyalty would not be enough for the GOP to make such a dreadful Faustian bargain. Surely, normal politics would be put at the wayside, given how abnormally unqualified and morally reprehensible Trump proved to be. I really tried to convince those around me, conservatives I know at school and at home, to vote against him. I am overwhelming disappointed that after all this it would end this way.
To be clear, I’m not sad that Clinton is not President: she would have been a compotent, though uninspiring leader. I would not respond this way if any other GOP candidate won. Donald Trump is something wholly different: he is unqualified, morally abhorrent, and represents the closest America has ever veered towards fascism.
I normally scoff at remarks like this, but this time it was true: this was the most important election in a generation. This election was a referendum on what it means to be an American. The question was not what policies we ought to pass, but why is our country great, what do we consider morally conscionable, and who was this country made for. Last night, America decided this country was for the “real Americans,” and exit polls or Trump rallies tell you who those are. They’re more likely male, almost exclusively straight, and predominantly white. Never before had an election seemed more like two different candidates engaging with two different realities and speaking to two different nations.
We will spend years litigating this election, finding blame. Maybe the media gave in to sensationalism. Maybe Democrats took working class whites for granted too long. Maybe this was the inevitable reaction to electing our first black president. I know for certain, however, that many conservatives, including ones I grew up with, admire, and go to school with, need to ask themselves why they let this happen. The thing is, Trump didn’t convince the GOP to adopt his brand of politics: the base already wanted it. Conservatives need to think how they allowed their party to get to that point, and if they’re comfortable having enabled his election. William F. Buckley said that a conservative is “someone who is willing to stand athwart history and yell stop, even when no one else is inclined to do so.” The conservative Republican Party is gone, and Donald Trump is President, and too many conservatives were unwilling to yell stop.
So, what’s next? I’ve encountered an entire range of reactions last night. A friend of mine said he wasn’t surprised, that people make bad choices and America isn’t a great country. Another friend said democracy sucks. I had several LGBTQ friends of mine in tears at what happened, unsure why the country would turn back progress, and why half their country doesn’t want them here.
I wrote an article a couple days back, when I thought Clinton would win, about how, regardless of who would win, I’m hopeful because of the strength of the American people.
With the displays of American democracy at its worst in this election, I find my optimism in remembering that this ugly side of America is part of a greater picture. We are a vast nation. We are full of contradictions. We are stubborn, and sometimes terribly wrong. We often give in to shallowness and enjoy sensationalism and spectacle too much for our own good. Yet in spite of that, we always manage to beat back our baser natures and summon what is best in us in order to do what is needed. That’s the story of how women reached for the ballot. That’s the story of how love finally won last year. That’s the story of how we heard a man stand on the Lincoln Memorial and tell us about his dream. We are not deplorable. We are big hearted and big minded, and while we often fight the growing pains that come with progress, we do not avoid debate, nor do we fear the unknown. That is the story, after all, of how our nation was born.
A lot of that seems naive now, but I still believe it. I still count myself an optimist. I believe that, with work, things can get better, and that we all have an obligation to make that so. That’s my understanding of hope, and I don’t think my hope is unfounded. Voters were convinced by the wrong guy, but they can be convinced again. I still believe truth and justice will have the final say, but people are going to have to work for it. I still believe that nothing in democracy is irreversible, and that the only unequivocal restraints on political change are the limits of you and your fellow citizens’ ability to persuade the public.
So if you’re disappointed with the results of this election, don’t move to Canada. Don’t stop being interested in politics, because politics will always have an interest in you. Don’t stop believing that positive change is possible: we have done so much the last 200 years to think that now. And don’t give up on your fellow citizens. They voted for someone who is deplorable, but they’re not. Talk to them, listen to them, and convince them. We need to, not destroy or denigrate others, but persuade our fellow citizens to reject Trumpism. It is America’s new great task.
So if you’re asking what is next, the answer is not giving up. If this election teaches us anything, it’s that we can’t take our democracy for granted. We can’t take progress for granted, or even respect for human decency for granted. Now more than ever is the time to get involved in politics. Now more than ever is the time for activists, for debate, and for dreamers. The cynics and demagogues had their day, but that day won’t last forever; in America, it never does. Progress took a few steps back, as it has before, but the building of a more perfect union cannot stop now. Cynicism, apathy and despondency cannot reign now. Not when there are cities to save and students to inspire. Not when people’s voting rights are threatened. Not when the cries for racial justice still go unanswered. Not when there are people wondering if their lives matter. Not with millions of people who can lose the healthcare they gained for the first time. Not when the right of couples in loves to stay married is on the line. Not when there are immigrants living in the shadows, wondering if this nation of their dreams is still living up to its promise. Not with victims and future victims of sexual assault too scared to speak out. Not with millions of women and our young girls still waiting for the glass ceiling to break. There is too much to do, and our time on earth too short, to give in to apathy, to cynicism, or a bitter resentment towards our countrymen that will drive our country even further apart.
No matter what anyone says over the course of the next four years, this is a country belongs to all of us. It is not the domain any one class can claim. No Americans are more ‘real’ than others. I think we will all believe that one day. So I’m not going to stop betting on America yet. Trump will shake this country but he cannot break it. We are not that fragile. We are made of tougher stuff than that. We will survive, we will move on, we will endure. I have no doubt that we will stare down the cynics and summon what is best in all of us and make our country whole again. I love this country so much. I’m sad that Trump took the White House, but my hopefulness, my belief in others, those are things he can never take.