So the election is over, and Donald Trump will be president. What do we make of what transpired? There are many takeaways from this election, but I’d like to reflect on just a couple of points.
The first is that sexism and misogyny are alive and well in the United States of America. Let us go back to 2008 for just a moment; imagine if it came out that then GOP nominee John McCain had been recorded using repulsive racial slurs in reference to black people. Then, picture African-Americans coming forward and accusing John McCain of openly racist behavior towards them. How would the public respond to the blatant racism of a candidate running for President of the United States, especially when that person is running against the first African-American nominee? Disqualifying perhaps? A national outrage? Then imagine that John McCain, after having said and done all those racist things, beats Barack Obama, an African-American. What would we think about America then?
Now let’s go back to the present. The GOP nominee for President of the United States, Donald Trump, has been recorded calling women “fat pigs,” “slobs,” “Miss Piggy,” rating women’s bodies on a scale of 1-10, and bragging about using his money and his fame as an excuse to sexually assault women by “grabbing them by the pussy.” Then a slew of women came forward to confirm that he had, in-fact, sexually assaulted them just as he publicly had said that he did. Donald Trump was running against the first major party woman nominee for President, Hillary Clinton. Trump even went so far as to say that Hillary Clinton did not have the “look” of a President. None of this was problematic for American voters. Donald Trump beat the first woman nominee for President after being openly sexist and misogynistic, and even after sexually assaulting women and bragging about it.
Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton despite the fact that Trump had zero political experience, along with no military experience (the first nominee of either major party to have neither), while Hillary Clinton was President Obama’s Secretary of State and a former Senator from New York. Americans did not seem to care about Trump’s lack of experience in comparison to Hillary Clinton’s years of public service; of even greater importance, Republicans, who in 2008 argued that then-Senator Barack Obama lacked experience to be President, did not care that Donald Trump lacked any political experience to be President. Whether you agree with her positions or not, Hillary Clinton was an exceptionally disciplined candidate who studied policy deeply, while Trump refused to prepare legitimate answers on numerous policy questions and even lacks a basic understanding of the role of the president. America does not seem to be troubled by this.
The second point is about the growth of fear and desperation in America. Some might argue that “white fly-over America” voted based on their naked self-interest. They unleashed terror on America’s most vulnerable by giving in to race-baiting and a politics of fear and hatred. I do not doubt that there is an element of that in this election. However, we also must recognize that Middle America suffers and feels just as unwanted and unwelcome in this country. People in Flint, Michigan—black, white, and everyone else–continue to drink poisoned water while their means of livelihood have been eliminated either via automation or globalization. People who live in coal country and former steel workers are losing their jobs while their towns dwindle to near non-existence. All the while, the costs of basic necessities have risen, the cost of educating their children have sky-rocketed, drug addition and overdoses plague their communities, and no one seems to give a damn about them. Worse yet, they are lectured about their “white privilege” while drinking water contaminated with the poisonous run-off from coal mining in West Virginia.
We have to understand their struggle, and it appears that we have failed to do so. Their vote for Donald Trump was a vote to destroy a system that they see as having abandoned them. They pulled the pin on the Trump grenade because they saw no other way forward. He may be a conman, his policies are probably not in their actual economic interests, his values are probably not their values, but he promised what no other candidate promised them: to blow the system up. I cannot condone their vote for Donald Trump, but I can understand why they chose to do it.
Nevertheless, while those who live in bright blue America need to do a better job of encountering Middle America, that does not absolve white Middle America from doing what they did. I have seen a lot of social media posts from friends who are apologizing for white America and asking how white people could betray their brothers and sisters of color, their Muslim neighbors, and other vulnerable communities. They have a valid point in that “fly over country” America voted for a man who insulted and threatened basically every ethnic and minority group in the country. He threatened to separate immigrant families with deportation, to round up Muslims, register them, and monitor their Mosques, and promised to create “law and order” in minority communities.
The people who Donald Trump has insulted now feel a legitimate sense of terror. They legitimately feel as if they are unwanted and unwelcome. Worse yet, it seems as if the election of Trump has made it acceptable to be a bigot again. Muslim women are being taunted and threatened; Latinos are being harassed in schools as their classmates shout “build the wall;” gay, lesbian, and transgender students at many colleges are afraid to leave their dorm rooms because they might be assaulted.
Rust Belt America needs to encounter ethnic, racial, and religious minorities. America is become more and more diverse, and white America needs to realize that diversity and multiculturalism are not values that liberals push on people—they are the basic facts of life. The United States of America is not going to get less diverse just because they want it to. Globalization is not going away just because they want it to. America is constantly evolving, and just because you do not like it that does not make it wrong. These two Americas need to engage each other, learn from each other, and find away to co-exist in this country. How that happens, I have no clue.