Thursday, November 10, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Elections

President Donald Trump.

Words I never thought I would have to speak aloud, now my reality.

I admit that I spent the evening of November 8 getting more and more upset as the results came in. And I spent the day of November 9 wandering around my house, crying, doing chores, and pretending to work from home. But now it is time to get down to business and figure out what we can and should learn from this election.

There are a lot of things that worry me about the impending Trump administration. I worry that my right to marry my same-sex partner could disappear. I worry that law makers will make it legal to discriminate against me, my boyfriend, and my other LGBTQ friends. I am concerned that we elected a vice president who is anti-LGBT, anti-science, anti-intellectual, and anti-woman. I am nervous about the kinds of policies that a Trump administration and Republican Congress might put in place, with little opposition. But mostly I find myself deeply disturbed about how normalized hate-speech has become. I feel much more unsafe today than I did a few days ago. I fear that I will get called a faggot while walking down the street. I am sincerely afraid of being gay-bashed, for the first time in my adult life. And I dread that I will hear chants of "Trump! Trump! Trump!" as I get hit, as though his election justifies violence against my person. And yet, we must learn from this election.

In the past year and half, Trump called Mexicans rapists, referred to women as pigs, implied that all Muslims are jihadists, said that the inner cities (read: black folk) are terrible, mocked individuals with disabilities, and promised to strip away rights from LGBTQ people. If you are in one of those marginalized groups, like I am, you might have rejected his words and ignored his message. I know I did. His message to white, working class America was clear: you have been pushed out of the mainstream for too long and the America you love is gone; it is time to take our country back.

Trump's is a powerful message, if you can set aside the hate-speech. That this message resonated with voters should not be a surprise. After all, it was very similar to the message Bernie Sanders used to propel himself through the primaries. Of course, Bernie's message was that we should get government to work better for us and that we can fix it together. The core of Trump's message was government is broken and corrupt and he alone is the solution. Both men put together a populist platform. Bernie's was built on hope and optimism and collaboration. Trump's was constructed out of fear and despair and authoritative leadership. Maybe we would be having a very different conversation if it were Sanders vs Trump. Would Sanders' positive message have bested Trumps' hate-filled one? There is no way to know. But we must learn that people across America believe that politicians at the federal level are out of touch with the real day-to-day lives of good, hard-working folks.

Obviously Hillary Clinton did not prevail. Maybe her message was not strong enough. Maybe she was too disliked. Maybe she represented too much of the establishment. Those of us who supported her have to reflect critically on this election and wonder if maybe we were so excited to make the kind of her-story we wanted to see that we ignored the warning signs. However, we must remember that Hillary Clinton has gone farther along the path to the presidency than any woman ever. She didn't get the golden ring, but she did win the popular vote. There will be a first woman president of the United States. It just was not meant to be this time around.

Ignorance is its own kind of hate-speech. White, working-class, rural people have become a marginalized group in America. They feel ignored and dismissed by the ruling elites. I have to believe that not every vote for Trump was a vote for hatred. I know it is difficult to see that today. And maybe it will be difficult to recognize that for a long time. People vote for lots of different reasons. I know military and law-enforcement personnel who voted for Trump because he represented safety and security in a way the Clinton did not. There are small business owners who experience regulations which prevent them from running a thriving enterprise. They did not think about the LGBTQ implications of their vote because that issue is not as important to them. We have to learn about our differences and why what matters so much to you does not matter as much to me and vice versa.

This one is going to be a difficult pill to swallow for those of us with progressive mindsets. Many Republicans and those on the conservative right have spent nearly 40 years pounding away at the same set of messages: Government is broken, Politicians are corrupt, Liberals want to take away your guns, Democrats want to kill your unborn babies, Gay people are immoral, Immigrants will destroy this country, Free trade erodes jobs... The list goes on. All the other side has been able to say is something along the lines of "No, that's not true." Decades of being bludgeoned with mis-truths and outright lies cannot be countered with a simple refutation. If we want to move forward with a progressive agenda, we need to learn how to change the narrative.

I hope we learn, in time, that Trump's election was a watershed moment for American history. One that threatened to send our country back decades but instead thrust forward the next generation of progressive, liberal, intellectual leaders who fought for equality, decency, and prosperity.