Somewhat paradoxically, social media keeps me from living in echo chambers in which the only people I engage with are people that think pretty much like I do. Through these platforms, I’ve learned about news sources I’d never heard of, seen views expressed that shock and surprise me, and I’m sure have expressed views that might shock and surprise others. So I was worried about the election until just before when I became completely convinced that HRC would be elected as our first woman president. And I was excited. She has 30 plus years in public service, has worked for kids and families her whole career, and has raised a family while doing demanding work outside of the home. I guess, although I’m not nearly as accomplished as she, I identified with her. And her loss, accordingly, has felt very personal.
At first, my immediate concern was my children, how to keep them from getting mired in cynicism, fear, and negativity. That effort kept me distanced from my own emotions for a day or so. And then the news reports and personal anecdotes began. The KKK will have a victory celebration for the president elect in North Carolina. A friend witnessed a pick up truck full of young men at a gas station harassing a young woman – telling her they were going to “grab her by the p___y,“ quoting the president elect. A former student described a note left on a neighbor’s door signed “Trump Train” telling a gay couple they were “sick” and should “get out” of the neighborhood. The couple has lived there for years.
My colleagues who I work with on behalf of new immigrant kids and families are getting desperate calls from students in local community colleges most of whom are participants in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program seeking information and support, some feeling suicidal, and some acting on those feelings. These incidents are not in some far away place. They are not third hand reports. They are happening to people I know in my community. I am heartsick.
Likewise, old friends who I rarely see but who have meant a lot to me at different times in my life feel targeted for their political choices, labeled bigots, etc. Most of the people I know that voted for Trump or a third party candidate are not bigots. They may not be well-versed in power and privilege. But they do not want to persecute others based on race, creed, or sexuality. They voted their financial interests. Or they are deeply anti-abortion. Or they have hated the Clintons for decades and could not move beyond that. I also doubt they think there will be steel mills again in Ohio or textile manufacturing in North Carolina given a Trump presidency. They voted based on one or two issues personally important to them and they are angry that they are being labeled. As I read their posts, silence seems to be the best option but also a betrayal of my own principles and of those people made so vulnerable by the outcome of this election.
This is the state in which we find ourselves when a candidate makes a deal with the devil like Donald Trump has made. Perhaps his ultimate goal is to support business interests in ways that democrats disagree with. Given that he’s never governed we have no idea what he real motives are. Like past conservative nominees he has used social issues like abortion to stir up his base. As the LA Times reported this week, the chances of the Supreme Court reversing itself on Roe v. Wade are quite slim no matter who is president. But, the great departure, that threatens the reputations of many that voted for him, is his deliberate, undisguised, and consistent appeal to race-baiting combined with disdain for women, people with disabilities, among many others. A friend working the polls in a small town in North Carolina affirmed this and described people coming to the polls saying, “I haven’t voted in years. But I’m coming out to vote for Trump. He says what I think.”
Some thoughts are best left unspoken. Now that they’ve been spoken by an elected leader, Pandora’s box has flown open and the poisonous special sauce that got Trump elected has spilled onto everyone who has helped him along the way. Do I blame my Trump-supporting friends for the KKK rallies, for children being harassed in school because of their religion or skin color, for women being told in Starbucks, “Smile honey. We beat the c_ _t.?” How do I answer such a question? I am furious with them and I love them still.
The election is over. A choice has been made which can’t be undone at least for four years. But we can unify around a message to the new president and send it clearly whether we supported him or did not. This demon that makes neighbors into hated “others” has no place in American democracy. Job one for him is to use his bully pulpit to put that demon back in the box and throw away the key. It is his first test as president and we cannot wait until January for him to undertake it.
Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum
Epimetheus opening Pandora’s Box.
Giulio Bonasone (Italian, active Rome and Bologna, 1531–after 1576)