November 10, 2016
“I wanted a change from business as usual in Washington.”
“I voted for the candidate who represented Republican values.”
“I voted for the lesser of two evils.”
These are some of the things I’ve heard and read in the last few days as those who supported Trump attempt to explain their decision. As an initial matter, I’m not sure that anyone should be required to defend why they voted for one candidate over the other, but given the current climate, it’s not surprising that some of the electorate feel compelled to provide a rational basis for their choice. And that’s fine.
In the last week, I’ve read two blogs by young college women, both of whom supported Trump. The first, “Dear Hillary, I really hope you do not become the first female president,” http://www.loneconservative.com/?p=365 is a barely literate, severely fact-challenged pastiche of Clinton myths and faulty assumptions, and it deserves no one’s time or attention. It left me nauseous and contemplating my own wishful retort: “Dear Summer Marie, I really hope you never hold any position in which you regularly interact with young people.”
The second, “I am not a racist,” by Cassie Hewlett, https://cassandrahewlett.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/i-am/, is better. It’s well-written and shows some insight and maturity, most importantly as to the point that not all Trump supporters are hateful, mean-spirited trolls looking to deport anyone who wasn’t born in this country, or to end marriage equality. Cassie, like many, explains that she voted for Mr. Trump because she supports small businesses, free trade, and a stronger foreign policy – nothing wrong with that. Cassie also points out that as a Republican on an American college campus, she spent most of yesterday surrounded by Dems in Mourning, which made her fear being ostracized if she were to express her happiness at the election results – that’s not cool, either.
But I have to take issue with Cassie, and with those otherwise rational and thoughtful people who voted for the human equivalent of Cheez-Whiz, because their choice for president addresses none of the stated reasons for why they picked him in the first place.
First up, change. A lot of Americans are really, really frustrated with the partisan-generated gridlock that has plagued our country ever since Senate Majority Leader and Perennial Turtle Impersonator Mitch McConnell voiced his intention to make Barack Obama a one-term president by opposing every single piece of legislation that wasn’t sponsored by a Republican. That frustration was evident in the Republican party’s nomination of Trump himself last Srping, and in the mass adulation of my candidate of choice, Bernie Sanders.
If you examine the results of the 2016 Congressional elections, however – and I did – it’s obvious that change was not, in fact, the driving factor in most voters’ election choices: Of the 472 Congressional races, incumbents ran in 424 of them, and 416 of those incumbents won re-election. Because 66 Senators were not up for re-election, 482 of the 538 members of the new Congress will be incumbents – that’s a whopping 90%. Does that sound like a mandate for change to you?
Next, a return to Republican values. The GOP has long been the party of strong foreign policy, a free market, and small business. It’s the party of people who were born in a log cabin they built themselves, people who aren’t looking for a handout, people who made their money the old-fashioned way, by sheer dint of hard work and determination. Those are fine values.
But in President-Elect Trump, we will have a commander in chief with no foreign policy experience – that is, none. Nada. Zilch. A man who, despite his many business ventures appears to have been far less successful than his gold-plated personal narrative would suggest. A man who has filed for bankruptcy more than once, who has presided over numerous entrepreneurial failures, and who is notable for stiffing small businesses for fees for services rendered and goods sold. And as for pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps? Not so much – you can’t call yourself a self-starter when your first business venture was funded by $1 million you got from your dad.
There’s also the legitimate criticism that Trump is a Democrat in sheep’s clothing, a man who is secretly pro-choice, has no use for Christianity or any other religion, for that matter; a man who at one time said he agreed that the rich should pay more in taxes. From 2001 to 2009, he actually was a registered Democrat (as are most of his children), and he has donated to the campaigns of many Democratic candidates for public office.
Now, none of those things should be shocking or upsetting to those of us who bleed blue – and it’s the potential that he may turn out to be more moderate than his campaign dogma would suggest that gives me a small glimmer of hope. But Trump as the personification of Republican ideals? No. If Republicans had wanted someone who truly was, they had sixteen other candidates to choose from. They chose Trump.
Finally, the “lesser of two evils” defense. The flaw with this argument is that while Trump may be evil (although I think that may be too strong a word), Hillary is not. She is flawed, she was perhaps the single-worst candidate the Democratic Party could have selected, and she did little to correct the public perception of her as a dishonest and obfuscating career politician. But she isn’t evil.
What she is, is a woman who is careful in her pronouncements (with the exception, perhaps, of the “basket of deplorable” comment). She demonstrated rigid message discipline, refused to react to repeated low-blow attempts to throw her off her game (think Donald Trump bringing along Bill Clinton’s accusers to the second debate, for example), and she was relentless in her preparation. There was a lack of transparency that concerned many, and the nagging sense that a whiff of scandal seems to follow her wherever she goes.
But whatever her shortcomings or lapses in judgment, she did not make statements that lead many groups to believe that, if she were to become our leader, they would be marginalized. She did not reduce women to objects of sexual gratification. She did not suggest that Mexicans are criminals and that those of Mexican descent cannot be counted upon to discharge their professional duties with integrity and neutrality. She did not threaten to ban an entire group of people from entering our country based upon their religion. She gave no one in this country – save the rich – any reason to fear that their way of life might be in jeopardy.
And this is probably the single-most important thing that Trump supporters do not understand. They do not comprehend the impact of Trump’s statements on the groups to whom they were directed. For her part, Cassie Hewlett credits her parents for raising their kids “closer to the city so that we did not grow up sheltered and ignorant of the diverse world around us,” and for not being told that she “could not date or befriend someone because of their race, ethnicity, or gender identity.” I guess the Hewletts are to be commended for their forward-thinking child-rearing philosophy, and yet inherent in same is the appreciation that ignorance is the natural consequence of the very sort of isolation that Donald Trump now seeks achieve.
Cassie says that, as a result of the parenting she received, she’s not a racist, or homophobic, or sexist, and I believe her. She’s not likely to be swayed by Trump’s rhetoric, but not everyone was raised the way Cassie was. There are plenty of people – people who were raised in a sheltered, ignorant environment, people who do think it’s wrong to date or befriend someone who isn’t of the same race, ethnicity, or gender identity, and if we are to be a nation of equals, it’s critically important that our leaders take care that their words and actions do not alienate the very people they were elected to represent and govern. Prejudice and bigotry and anti-semitism do indeed exist in this country, and probably always will, but it is the job of every American who claims to strive for the equality imagined by our founding fathers to squash that kind of hatred when they see it, not to promote it.
But, because we now have a country in which our President-Elect has let it be known that Muslims are no longer welcome, can you be even remotely surprised by the anecdote I read on a CNN comments thread last night, in which a couple of hooligans in a pick-up taunted a Pakistani gentleman, minding his own business and gassing up his car the day after the election, jeering, “it’s time for you to go back to your own country now, Apu”?
I don’t believe all Trump voters are bad – I am related by birth or marriage to a number of them who I know to be otherwise good and loving people. What I do believe is that the life experience of most Trump voters is vastly different than those of the groups who now feel unwelcome and disconnected in a post-Trump presidency America, and that the assumptions and privilege that underpin the lives of most Trump supporters (and, indeed, my own) don’t permit any meaningful understanding of what it is like to be a racial, religious, or ethnic minority in this country.
Those who voted for Trump hoping that he would restore economic prosperity and a strong defense were able to disregard and quickly forget all the things he said that they didn’t like as the gristly part of a steak they are anxious to dig into. For blacks and Latinos, and Jews and Muslims, for those of Middle-Eastern descent, and those in the LGBTQ community, those statements can’t simply be set aside and ignored as the thoughtless, careless comments of an impulsive man given to hyperbole that they probably were. Those statements, many of which were made when he felt himself to be under attack, strike at the very fiber of who they are and whether they have a place in this country. That’s why Trump’s statements were so terribly damaging.
It’s time to move on, now, and move on we surely will. We are a resilient people who have a lot of cat videos and Instagram posts to get to, and we will heal. In the meantime, we have to find a way to peacefully co-exist in this country. As the main character in “LOST” used to say, “live together or die alone.” We have to try to understand, and accept, and love each other – all of us, every part of us; we have to try to see all the things we have in common and to rejoice in all the blessings we share as Americans. We are one nation, one country, one beautiful and magnificent and abundant land of freedom and opportunity. Let’s try to live in it together.