In a historical irony, the electoral college, a system put in place to buffer the choice of president from the people, elected a man whose campaign was almost entirely founded on a distrust and resentment of the system. Donald J. Trump won enough votes in strategic states to become president elect, though not winning the popular vote. There wasn’t a single moment that I realized that he would win, but an iron ball of awareness started growing in my stomach around 9PM Tuesday night. From the sinking pit of realization grew a resentment that smoldered and glowed until a flash of rage collapsed it all back to ashes.
On Tuesday evening, it seemed so certain that Hillary would win that checking the counts was not a question of “if” but “by how much.” I knew it was possible that he would win, but I wasn’t ready emotionally. I’ve joined in irate bloviating on Facebook, quippy Tweeting, sympathetic support groups, political postulations, and classroom discussion; here’s where I am now:
It’s Never Just One Thing… But-
Anyone saying the election can be summarized by just one variable is underselling humans’ complexity and ability to hold many conflicting beliefs at once. I talked to one of my professors at length to try to gain some understanding — temper my temper. He told me, and later the class, that the white working class requires our empathy and understanding. His theory is that they are not all bigots, that they are economically hurting and feel ignored and condescended to by the establishment; after all, he cites, Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than has any other president, yet is not often called anti-immigrant. Wishing for better manufacturing jobs and a concern about terrorism aren’t evil desires. These people deserve to be heard, he says. While I agree wholeheartedly that to persuade others, one must listen to and make efforts to understand them, I am not so quick to justify the reckless actions of white voters.
A week before the election, I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance that unsettled me. She mentioned that only after hearing about an aggressive encounter between her friend and a Trump supporter did she realize the differences between the lives of black and white Americans. Really? How many unarmed black bodies would she have needed to see buried to come to that realization organically? This anecdote illustrates that while my professor may be correct in assuming that not all Trump voters are racist, they are certainly willfully ignorant of the abuse of minorities in America. Ready to throw black Americans far under the bus they just recently won the right to sit in the front of. Though their intentions may have been tied to some other justification, those who helped put Trump in office subjugated the protection of the most threatened Americans to their own whims, beliefs, and ideology. Not overtly racist, no; perhaps they believe they’re doing the right thing, but they’re now accessories to the harm that comes on marginalized groups. From what I could see from Facebook, that acquaintance voted for Johnson.
One cannot tease race out from the tangled knot of nostalgia. Perhaps America was great in the 1950’s when women were at home and the unions that brought about those stable jobs were segregated. The white working class man was held at a higher esteem than he is today. Humans are loss averse, meaning that they’re more motivated by the threat of losing something than the potential of gaining something else. I see this extending to cultural hierarchy. Like the poor white southerners who supported slavery, even though they stood to benefit from its prohibition, the psychological benefit of believing oneself to be above someone else in society is a strong motivator. These rust belt communities are no longer the center of American industry, and they’re hurting. These people deserve jobs and dignity like everyone else, but not at the detriment to other groups.
A Democratic Government is Only as Good as its Voters
Both the Times and the Post have run articles featuring unlikely Trump voters like Muslims or college-educated women. The common thread found in all of these articles is a misunderstanding of how policy and government work and a compulsion to take a bet, to try the experimental drug, and see what happens. All of these people believe in Trump because of his confidence and rhetoric, while the facts point to a Trump administration widening the gap between rich and poor. Not to mention a potential loss of human rights for huge swaths of the country. Those who are struggling are desperate, and what’s tragic is that I believe their circumstances are about to get worse, not better.
Americans want decent jobs for which one doesn’t need a college degree, but like the childhood pet turtle your parents told you went to live on a farm when you came back from school one day, they aren’t coming back. Equally chilling, it’s people like Trump who took advantage of abhorrent workers’ rights violations in the developing world to move manufacturing there in order to make cheap goods cheaper while pocketing the difference.
We live in a post-industrial economy, and even if one were to build beautiful, huge factories in the U.S., they would be filled with clever robots within the next 30 years. We don’t need humans to do menial tasks anymore; this is a great opportunity to improve overall happiness — I can’t imagine a single person who would rather screw on the caps of toothpaste tubes than design or program the machines that will do so in the near future. All that being said, it will be a challenging shift and will require a change of culture, attitudes, and (most importantly) educational system.
This is where I will grant that Democrats should have listened more. They assume that logically explaining economic theory and the job market is just as compelling as an emotional appeal to one’s well-being. We learned from this election that emotions are more motivating than facts, no matter how much I wish it were the opposite.
What to Do Now
I’m ready for a DNC that doesn’t expect the black community to unquestioningly vote for Democrats without campaigning for or directly addressing the issues of institutional racism. Hillary addressed Black Lives Matter in passing, but it was not a centerpiece of her platform. Bill Clinton was wildly popular with the black community, but his policies helped criminalize blackness and lead to mass incarceration. With a few exceptions, mainstream democrats only want to support black issues so long as they don’t threaten their popularity with their white constituency. Morality and justice be damned. I know many are writing about how Dems can reach out to the Trump voter, bring those precious white voters by the hand into the fold. I propose that they instead focus their attention on the black community to reestablish trust. On a strategic level, they can make up for any white voter alienated by the focus on marginalized groups by truly advocating for those groups, seeing higher turnout rates.
On a Positive Note
On a personal level here are some concrete things you can do:
- Subscribe to well-respected newspapers
- Journalism is in a bad place right now. For the cost of a few lattes, you can support the future of fact-checking and truth telling in America.
- Volunteer with a refugee rights’ group
- Trump wants to stop allowing refugees into the country, but where does that leave those who are already here? Hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have increased across the country post-election like a bad rash, so they will need support.
- Donate to Planned Parenthood
- While Trump’s stance on abortion is inconsistent, he will have the chance to appoint a judge on the supreme court. A woman’s right to choose will surely be threatened.
- Donate or volunteer with an environmental agency
- We can essentially kiss the Paris climate agreement and the Clean Power Plan goodbye. If you don’t want your children to die from complications due to climate change, help those fighting for our planet.