Long post warning—approx. 3 singe-spaced pages in Word.
I am sure many of my friends are wondering how I am doing today, especially since I just moved back to the U.S. after living abroad for most of the Obama era. To be honest, it has been a long, rough day. It has taken me most of the day to wrap my head around the election and to go through the stages of grief (anger is still up there). I still have raw emotion and deep disgust for what happened last night, and I hope putting some thoughts down here will be helpful for those trying to cope. To be clear, this is not a rant or a bashing of Trump voters. I am just processing everything, and I also want to make the point that for progressives, this better be a freaking wake-up call. But if you are a conservative friend of mine reading this post and you voted for Trump, you can continue reading for my perspective without any antagonism toward you. I genuinely welcome to hear your views and reasoning if you are willing to share (Seriously. I might disagree with you, but I do welcome open discussion here.).
I think most people (both my friends in the U.S. and abroad) have wondered, “How the hell did this happen?” I think that answer is complex, and whole dissertations will be written about this election. My simple go-to-answer for months was that this question was whether the electorate fears Trump more than it hates Hillary, but I know there is more to it than just that. There is a lot of finger-pointing right now, but one clear sign is that voter turnout was low (the lowest in 16 years). A protest vote of “not voting” doesn’t make your voice heard, especially when roughly 46% of eligible voters in our country didn’t even vote in this election. Of eligible voters, each candidate only had about 25% of the vote. Elections have consequences, and the only way you can make an impact is by showing up.
But I also think that those who did vote for Trump had their reasons, and they are not all rooted in racist or bigoted views. Some on the fringe are horrible, but I genuinely believe that nearly 60 million Americans who voted for Trump have a variety of reasons, and latched onto his mantra to “Make America Great Again.” Liberals often scoffed at that mantra for many reasons. Why be nostalgic for the “good ole days” when we lived under Jim Crow or open sexism in the workplace? To quote Billy Joel: “The good ole days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
But there is more to that idea than yearning for the past that may or may not have truly existed. Society has been changing fast, and people–in their perceptions–were getting left behind. This is true technologically speaking, but also just how we perceive certain issues in society. Terrorism has been increasing in a variety of forms. Other forms of social change aren’t welcome to all. Take views on homosexuality as an example. In 2004, 19 states passed constitutional bans against same-sex marriage; in 2015, gay marriage was legalized across the U.S. This change is incredibly fast, and other issues like this one make some people feel that they don’t recognize the country they live in anymore. I also think the economy was far more important than all of these issues. While most economic indicators are good right now post-recession, most people still feel that they are struggling to get by. I think most of the recovery appears to be more in the cities than in the rural areas, which reflects the vote we saw last night.
People wanted change. People wanted an outsider to disrupt their system. And they might have gotten more than they bargained for.
But enough analysis on how we got here. What the hell do we do now?
Random thoughts, with some suggested actions.
1. We need to stand up for our friends, family, and neighbors (or anyone) who do attract that most crude elements of Trump’s platform. I’m sure we all heard incidents pouring in today, and here are a couple that I’ve heard. A woman getting attacked for wearing a hijab. People who “look Hispanic” being told to enjoy the time they have left in this country. Gay couples moving up their marriage dates because they are afraid of losing their right to marry who they love. In fact, my employer sent out this e-mail to all faculty, staff, and students today that implicitly referred to the election. To prevent the worst of President-elect Trump’s platform, we have to make a clear, united message that this is not what we as Americans stand for. Ever.
Course of Action: Call out this BS if you see it around you. And considering supporting these organizations in any way to fight for equity for all Americans.
2. I watched a video from Colbert last night, who I do love and adore. He focused on a message of unity, while also emphasizing that we overdosed on the political system, and the good news is that we don’t have to do it for a while. I disagree with this particular point. Politics isn’t something that you just tune in every 4 years and tune back out. It is the day-to-day things, from local city councils to the state governments, to our federal government. Civic engagement takes work, but is an important cornerstone for our democracy.
Courses of action: Multiple suggestions here. I’ll admit that I haven’t done or necessarily do all of these, but it is important to consider for future action.
- Action 1 – Vote: If you haven’t done so, register to vote. Now. I don’t care if the election is years away, get it done so it isn’t an excuse down the road (info on each state here). Then vote in ALL elections, not just the presidential one. City, state, and federal elections, primaries, and special elections—keep track of what is going on. You have zero right to complain if you don’t make your voice heard. Don’t just think ahead to 2020, think ahead to electing Democrats in 2018 to take back the House and Senate.
- Action 2 – Keep up with the facts: Follow the news regularly, and not just from news that confirms your own political views (also called confirmation bias). It is easy to only seek out certain news sources, and I know that I am guilty of it,too. This video from John Green suggests that we aren’t working with the same facts anymore, which makes it rather hard to communicate with each other. It is easy to disengaged with the news, but being uninformed or misinformed is a civic issue.
- Action 3 – Participate. Do what you can here. Don’t just complain on social media, actually do something. Volunteer for a cause you care about, or be an active participant in your political system. Go to city council meetings. Volunteer or engage in your community. Hell, run for office if you’re so inclined. So many of the races up and down the ballot are won by people because they run unopposed. Don’t like the incumbent representative? Then, run yourself (or seek out candidates who you think can do it and support them). But if you’re tired of the status quo and feel your government doesn’t represent you, this is one way to change the system.
3. I hope this goes without saying, but know that people who voted differently than you are not “the enemy” or “evil.” I know I that I had this knee-jerk reaction back in 2004 when I was younger and more immature about dealing with post-election turmoil. Realize that those who voted for Trump last night may have had similar feelings 4 or 8 years ago relative to what you have now. I do agree that Trump is a far worse liability than many of his supporters may realize, but only time and his presidency will prove this to be true.
Course of Action: Don’t be a dick to your conservative friends. We’re all Americans, damn it, and we’re all in this together. You can be angry, upset, disgusted, and disappointed. Channel this to some of the actions above. But don’t lash out because that changes nothing, and only makes us more divided.
4. One last thing—I think the thing that genuinely disgusts me about this election (beyond the Trump platform) is that Republicans in Congress are being rewarded for their obstruction of President Obama. They have done some pretty radical things over the last several years—shutting down the government (or threatening to do so), going over the fiscal cliff, filibustering a cabinet position, not even voting on a Supreme Court vacancy….and those are just the highlights. Now they have full control of government, and can repeal Obamacare all they want (assuming Mitch McConnell gets rid of the filibuster, which I think is highly likely). All I can say here is that since they have the keys to the car now, they’re responsible if they wreck this thing.
Course of action: ….I’ve got nothing. Drink? Cry? In all seriousness, write to your Congressional representative if they consider legislation that is important to you (see this video made after Orlando, which gives tips to how to write your representatives). And yes, I’ll do this even in Tennessee where both of my senators are Republicans. Hand-written letters are more effective than e-mails or tweets. And yes, these things still matter in this day in age. Is it an act of futility? Maybe. But you need to utilize all channels and be an active participant in this process.
Bottom line: Today sucks. Tomorrow might not be as bad as it seems, but it still seems pretty bleak from here. But if you don’t like what happened in this election, channel your emotions into actions. Don’t just throw your hands in the air and give up. Apathy and disengagement solve nothing. I know that I haven’t acted in all these ways that I’ve recommended here, but I will try to act this way in the future. And I’ll be damned if my country goes down in flames without a fight.