a nation uncertain: musings on the word "great"
I almost didn't write this post, because I've read enough political discourse in the last 24 hours to last three lifetimes, and I've also said before that I am not a political expert. And I know that readers of a very liberal blog are not the audience I should be appealing to. But this election affected me far more than I expected, and I can't help but remember Desmond Tutu's famous words: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." And as an American with the right to free speech, I cannot not comment on the events of last night.
I sat in front of my computer for six straight hours watching the polls, but after Trump's electoral vote count reached 255, I stopped watching. Because at that point, it didn't matter. Even if Hillary had won, it would've been a hollow victory. It still would have been too close for comfort. I am, in a word, disheartened. Not because he was elected, but because his election represents the state of the union. And that is a difficult truth to process.
The fact is, our country is remarkably flawed. And the reason we were able to ignore it was that we could simply dismiss Trump as a lying sociopath (which he absolutely is) and his followers as radical outliers (which they absolutely aren't). I am deeply ashamed to be an American today. I am disgusted that we have elected a racist, sexist bigot as our president. And as both a minority and a female, I am terrified that our new leader of the free world has advocated both genocide and sexual assault.
But the president only has so much power. Obama is the best human we could have asked for in office, and many of his reformation efforts were blocked by bureaucracy. Like his campaign manager taking away his Twitter account, there will be a system of checks and balances to keep Trump from coloring too far outside the lines.
And if there is one thing this election season has accomplished, it is a deeper understanding of the racial, social, and cultural rifts that have divided America since its establishment as an independent nation. A quote widely circulated during the Ferguson protests said it best: "A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect." And that is something we have all slowly realized—that the system is not broken; it works exactly as it was designed to, and it created both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
For me, it started a couple of months ago, when I actually began to seriously examine the phenomenon that is Trump, and his astounding popularity. And I found that there are two kinds of Trump voters. There are the kind that revel in hatred and intolerance and welcome a candidate that rejects political correctness. But then there are the kind that are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, struggling to survive, that feel forgotten and excluded from the benefits of a democratic system.
I found an article on The American Conservative's website, called "Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People," which was an interview with J.D. Vance, "the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan." My boss sent me a video that documented the effects of the election in McDowell County in West Virginia, which had the highest concentration of Trump voters in the country in the United States primaries.
And that's where the overlap between these two kinds of voters lies. After all, aren't xenophobia and racism simply the result of a lack of education? There are some truly hateful people in the world, but things like racism aren't inherent, they are learned.
I recently stumbled upon a White Nationalist forum and...wow. After I got over the sickening feeling, I just felt kind of sorry for them. I couldn't even imagine feeling that hopeless, or waking up every day only to expend so much mental energy on hating and resenting people. I thanked my lucky stars that I was privileged enough to travel and be exposed to other cultures and have a global education as well as an academic one. And I could see how these people feel like injustice is being forced upon them. No one likes to be told after 240 years of progress that they're doing it wrong.
I 100% understand where these Trump supporters are coming from. But I wish I could tell them that his presidency will not provide the solutions they were hoping for. A billionaire narcissist who skirts tax laws and refuses to give to charity cannot fundamentally understand the problems of the white working class. In the words of Lucille Bluth, "It's one banana, Michael. What could it cost, ten dollars?"
I fully acknowledge the message of the American people. I just wish it came from a different messenger.
I read another article in the New York Times, entitled "News Media Yet Again Misreads America's Complex Pulse," which called the election "a stunning upset." But it's what my boss calls the distance between social perception and reality. Here is a man with zero political experience and zero self-control, and yet, something he says resonates with the majority of our country. We, and the media, simply chose to ignore it.
My friend Steph said very eloquently:
I am terrified of a Trump presidency, but even more terrified of what will unfold if we, as a nation, fail to acknowledge the message that our voters communicated today. It's easier said than done, but the fate of our country, and of our democracy, depends on our ability to find common ground and unite.
There are riots happening on UC campuses now. But that's not the right reaction to all of this. We need to stop saying "I can't believe this happened" and start thinking about how we got here. We need to take a good, hard look at our country and find ways to fix it. And that starts with not rioting against the results of a fully legitimate democratic election.
I won't lie and pretend that I didn't think about leaving. I have never felt like such a stranger to my own country. This morning, I seriously considered extending my visa, and may or may not have Googled the feasibility of California seceding from the rest of the country. But that doesn't fix anything. It fails to acknowledge that Trump is not the whole problem, but the product of a dangerously unstable history.
After much consideration and several existential crises, I still stand by our country. But I am immeasurably disappointed, and I'm not convinced that we should be so quick to call ourselves "great." We thought we were progressive, and we were mistaken. Instead of being upset that a Trump presidency could set us back, we should consider the possibility that we were not there in the first place.
And so I will accept this peaceful transfer of power, and try to understand why this happened. This is all of our problem; the personal is political. And as tempting as it is to believe it will fade out or resolve itself, it won't. America will be fine, but it is up to us to determine if that was ever good enough.