Like many people—at least a statistically significant portion of Hillary Clinton voters—I woke up on November 9 to a country I did not recognize. The world outside looked the same—the trees were clinging to their last leaves; the squirrels were burying nuts in the planters on the deck; my inconsiderate neighbor's garage light was still on, after another night of lighting up our bedroom like a surgery ward—but it sure felt different. There were 61,917,320 million people living in America who had voted for Donald Trump. He had won the unpopularity contest.
I thought we were going to put the billionaire bullyboy behind us on November 9, assign him his final place as a cautionary and humorous footnote in our political history, and get on with adult conversation. (I can now look back nostalgically to simpler times, when Trump was just a self-aggrandizing narcissist who claimed that Obama wasn't born in the US—an assertion on the face of it so absurd it relegated Trump to the lunatic fringe. At least in my mind it did; which is quite different from empirical reality.)
So much for pleasant delusions. There's no need to recap the events of the campaign or pore over the litany of ridiculous and vile things Trump and his cabal have promised. An imperfect candidate named Hillary Clinton lost fair and square. For a quick summary of where the Democrats went wrong, read Larry Beinhart ("What Happened?" here). And if you think Clinton didn't lose fair and square because the Electoral College is a vestigial arm of an antiquated compromise attempting to balance the power of the populous and rural states, well, okay. Check out the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which is seeking an end-around the constitutional amendment required to abolish the Electoral College by getting the states to agree to throw their electors behind the candidate with the most popular votes. New York State has already signed on (While You Were Sleeping, here).
In trying to understand why so many of us were shocked by the outcome of the election, I've gone full-force political junkie. I've read and listened to the self-lacerating pieces by the pundits and pollsters who didn't see this coming (Fox News included), and how they're going to break out of their insular, self-reinforcing bubble. I've read the triumphalist editorials on Breitbart News linking Trump's election to a global populist movement that includes Brexit in the UK and upcoming elections in France and Germany that may bring anti-immigration candidates to power. I've taken a deep dive into alt-right subreddits like The_Donald to swim with the #MAGA fishes.
In the New York Times, philosopher Alain de Botton chose to view Trump's election as a reminder of how fragile democracy is and how fundamentally fucked up we are, inherently, as people: "We shouldn't be surprised by our fellow citizens. That is what the human animal is really like: very sweet at points from close up, usually generous to small children and the elderly, hard-working, but highly prone to delusion, tribal, offended by strangers, disinclined to rational analysis and with a fondness for slaughter and reckless messianic plans. The elite are not 'out of touch' because they forget what a gallon of milk costs, but because they forget how dark and broken human nature is."
On Facebook, once the keening and lamenting subsided, the strident calls to action began. They read like this one from March Gallagher, the president and CEO of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley: "I must now focus every fiber of my being, spare minute, and every available resource to curb hate and protect American values, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, just to name a few. The time for convincing is over. I will now focus my efforts on organizing, planning, and protecting." *
I feel like I've read it all, searching for some shitty little bromide to help swallow this bolus of anger, shame, anxiety, and resentment. For now I know what the alt-right is and who the major players are. Now I understand how deeply unpopular Hillary Clinton is. (Agreed that it's not really her fault.)Now I'm beginning to sketch a picture of a country I didn't know existed. But all this information isn't helping. It's not clearing away the post-election catatonia.
There are at least 61,917,320 million people living in America who voted for Donald Trump. I've not spoken to a single one of them in a substantive manner beyond the rhetorical talking points of the election. About what their hopes and fears are. About how they make meaning in their lives. About what a shared future for all of us looks like. Because I refuse to believe that there are over 60 million bigoted, misogynist, climate-change deniers living in this country. Call me naive, but I need to err on the side of our better angels here.
So yes, we'll need to keep a very close watch on the incoming administration—many of us will take it on as a second job. And protect the groups targeted by Trump during the campaign. And continue to agitate for social justice. And organize and plan for the elections in 2018 and 2020. And be ready to take to the streets at the first whiff of fascism. But that's about Trump and his administration. I'm talking about us, all of us, those of us who aren't billionaires and have to live, in this country. How do we normalize relations in a land of loathing and fear?
It starts by listening, methinks. What if we started to have informed and honest conversations about what's most important to us? What if we found out that what we had in common was more powerful than our differences? What if we tried engagement? Knee-jerk opposition and blind hatred can't be the only option. What if we started by affording the political other the same treatment we hope for ourselves: not assuming that they are the shittiest people imaginable. What's the worst-case scenario? That we find out that our deepest fears are true and 60 million Americans are really terrible people? That feels a lot like where we are now, and that's a nonstarter for the longevity of the republic. Because folks, what happened in the 2016 presidential election was not about Donald Trump. It was about upending the status quo. There is new energy percolating in the country. We can choose to hate it or we can help try and shape it. Our choice.
12/6/16: *There was no attribution for this quote in the print edition, as it was lifted from Facebook as representative of its type, and not meant to express Ms. Gallagher's views per se. At Ms. Gallagher's request, I have attributed it to her. —BKM