Yesterday I wrote about what I told my children regarding the results of this election. It focused on being upstanders, being active, vigilant allies for the people who Trump has vowed to harm. Then I talked a little about my extra role as an adult, that along with being a more active ally, I also needed to listen to the people who had voted for Trump and try to understand their fears, try to understand exactly what it is they voted for, what exactly do they mean when they say they want to Make America Great *AGAIN* – Because I think it’s that word again (along with all of the rhetoric that was hateful to everyone who is not an able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual, upper-middle class, white male) that has a lot of us worried. I talked about wanting to try to move past this “us vs them” rift that has grown so wide in our country.
One of my readers, James, took issue with that last bit, and while I haven’t gone back this morning to read exactly what I wrote – his specific issue resonated strongly, especially after the day I had yesterday in school listening to the very real fears of my classmates, my instructors, my friends and my family. I fear that my words may have actually sounded too reconciliatory, so I wanted to clarify.
First, the complaint – That I made too strong an equivalence between Clinton supporters and Trump supporters, because Clinton supporters by and large have genuine things to fear from a Trump presidency (because we all have genuine things to fear from this next four years), while Trump supporters by and large did not have genuine things to fear from a Clinton presidency – most of their fears were based on lies. He also took issue with my claim that the Democrats were as much to blame for the “us/them” rift in our country as the Republicans, and cited the overwhelming and unprecedented Republican obstructionism throughout Obama’s term.
He is right on both counts.
Here is a brief list of real, substantiated fears that I heard yesterday – a list that made me realize that despite my attempts to reassure my children that we, personally, would be okay, has made me realize that no, we are also fighting for our lives.
- Repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the insurance coverage it provided to millions of people who could not previously have insurance due to pre-existing conditions.
- Reversal of Roe v Wade and further attacks on women’s reproductive rights at the same time that we elected the poster child for rape culture to the highest office in the land.
- Marriage equality and LGBTQ* rights.
- The safety and rights of Muslim people, middle eastern people, Latinx and Hispanic people, Black people, immigrants, refugees.
- Climate Change
- Further privatization of education, including additional public money going to private religious education, and the further encroachment of Christianity into public schools.
- Expansion of our current wars, erosion of diplomatic efforts in favor of military “solutions” in other conflicts.
- Erosion of the social safety net
- Reduction or elimination of the minimum wage
There is so much else that we were making progress on as a country – was it frustratingly slow, absolutely, but the arc of history was bending toward justice. And now, it feels like we have just slammed the brakes on all of that.
By comparison, what did people have to fear from a Clinton presidency? What did they have to lose?
White privilege. At least that’s what our liberal knee-jerk reaction seems to be. But the truth is, the majority of people who voted for trump are blue collar workers, they are rural farmers, they make their living from energy industries threatened by the progress I want to see our world make. And this is where the listening comes in – because we have to be willing to see and understand that for a lot of Trump supporters, their livelihoods really are being threatened. We have to hear that. THEN, we can maybe help them understand that it is not some shady, nefarious, liberal elite cabal that is doing them harm, but the actual policies of people like Donald Trump who lobby to re-write tax laws to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, who lobby to re-write trade deals and labor laws to benefit corporate CEOs at the expense of American workers, people who fight against unions and labor protection, and undercut the social safety net, even while they fight for the right to keep paying below poverty wages… We cannot help them see the benefits of our idea of progress, if we do not acknowledge the reasons they fear it.
As to the claim that Democrats are not as responsible for the rift as Republicans… Personally, I agree. I’ve watched Obama try to reach across the aisle, try to find compromise, try to moderate himself, moving from the center to ever more right (though this last year of “give no fucks” Obama has been a welcome tack back to the leftish). I’ve heard both Hillary Clinton and President Obama call for us to come together, to heal, to find common ground and ways to work together to move the nation forward – despite the divisive rhetoric spouted by Trump. I’ve watched the Republicans in office engage in unprecedented levels of obstructionism, culminating in them leaving a supreme court seat vacant for the better part of a year rather than even consider a well-regarded centrist judge proposed by Obama and vow to continue to block literally any nominee proposed by Clinton should she win. I have seen Democrats get elected because they tout their ability to reach across the aisle at the same time I have seen Republicans be denied office for the same thing, while their opponent takes the nomination, and the seat, by promising to refuse compromise.
Our democracy is broken. And that, I think was the message we heard in this election. Whether you see it in the popularity of Bernie Sanders, an actual leftist, or the win of Donald Trump – a non-Republican who won on a promise of #HulkSmash.
I think this is what I was struggling with yesterday – because I’ve been so incredibly frustrated the systematic breaking down of our government during Obama’s tenure – the way that Republicans have refused to do their jobs, like two-year-olds having a tantrum. I’ve seen the government shutdowns over things like women’s rights, gay rights, etc. I’ve seen the refusal to engage on issues not only of deep importance to the American people, but also issues of popular consensus – things like universal background checks for gun purchases. I’ve seen it – and it grossed me out.
But now… Now we have Trump, who campaigned on a platform of hate and fear. Who campaigned on a platform of us and them. Who made fascist style threats against his political opponent, threatening to lock her up. Who campaigned on promises of removing first amendment rights from journalists who dared to point out his flaws or challenge him in any way. The electoral college has elected a man who was endorsed by only two living world leaders – Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Il.
Meanwhile, the popular vote actually asked for Clinton. Meanwhile, no one seems to be talking about investigating the many reported irregularities that occurred this election, including Hillary Clinton’s name being misspelled on ballots to read “Hilliary” creating a near subliminal reinforcement of Trump’s “She’s a liar” rhetoric. No one seems to want to figure out how many voters were swayed by the strange last-minute shout of “there are more emails!” followed only after a few million votes were cast by, “never mind, nothing to see here.” No one seems to want to examine how many voters were disenfranchised by the rush to re-write voter ID laws after the Voting Rights Act was gutted, or how many were illegally turned away from the polls by poll workers who either didn’t understand their state’s new laws, or acted from actual malice.
The race has been conceded – but we cannot surrender!
I’m grappling with what that means – what that looks like.
Here in Colorado, it means continuing our state’s march toward progress. Continuing to work for a greener future. Continuing to be more inclusive of more people, while defending their basic human rights, including the right to bodily autonomy and the right to make their own decisions about their health care.
As a nation, we have to require that our elected representatives do what I told my children to do – defend those who cannot defend themselves, stand up for those people are at risk of harm from a Trump presidency, uphold and defend the civil liberties of the people Trump has threatened, hold the line on health care, refuse to allow the ACA to be repealed unless a true alternative is proposed that will ensure health care coverage for all the Americans who are currently insured – and hopefully expand that access to even more people. Hold the line on women’s reproductive rights, refuse to back down. Hold the line on LGBTQ rights. Hold the line on climate policy and green energy. But it’s not enough – when I say we have to expand rights and access, we have to remember why people voted for Trump – and we have to include those people in our plans too. We have to expand access to training programs to help people move from dying industries to thriving industries. We have to invest in infrastructure to assist businesses – and create jobs, but we have to do it consciously.
We cannot go backwards. We might be able to survive a halt in progress, but we cannot allow a reversal of all that we have worked for and created. We cannot turn our backs on our children’s futures.
And even as I type this, I can hear the voices of my Republican readers, of my middle of the road readers, saying, “So, basically you’re asking Democrats to engage in the same tactics that made you so mad at the Republican party?” And that is what I’ve been struggling with – because I want a working government. I want us to make progress as a nation. I want the USA to become a leader in the world again for something beyond most “boots on the ground,” most people imprisoned and most gun deaths per capita. I’d love to see my nation become a leader in human rights, in environmental policy and progress, in education, in health care, in the eradication of poverty.
But that’s not what Trump has promised. That’s not what is on the table. And we cannot be complicit to hate, to intolerance, to the destruction of democratic values and systems.
What keeps ringing through my head as I type this is, “Democracy is dead, long live Democracy.”
The system is broken, in some way, for just about everyone. For the last eight years we have watched the Republican party deliberately and intentionally break it more, all the while shouting, “look, see, it doesn’t work, we should tear it down.” So is it really any surprise that the candidate their base nominated won on an outsider promise to smash the system and rebuild it in his image? But have you seen his image?
So no, I will not go quietly into this Alt Right. I will work with whatever means I have, whatever tools I can use to keep us from going backwards. I will work to elect public officials who will vow to hold the line on the progress we have made and to do what they can to push for more where and when they can. If that looks like obstructionism, if that looks like divisiveness, if that looks like the death of democracy… I would rather that than to have historians look back at this election and say, “See there, children, that is how fascism begins, that is how it starts – with fear and hate, and with people who knew better giving in to it in the name of healing and reconciliation.” Because we do know better. We have seen this play out before – and we know we cannot give in.
We are the rebellion.
Love trumps hate.