-by J.D. Munch
Inauguration Day approaches quickly, hurtling toward us like a runaway train. But more than two months after the election, many of us remain stunned. Yes, this is really happening. Despite all the information we already had about Donald Trump, and despite the multitude of racist, sexist, and generally odious statements and actions we saw from him over the course of his primary and general election campaigns, he will be sworn in to office on January 20, 2017.
So now what? Every election leaves a significant portion of our population upset, even despondent. No president has ever been perfect, and no president has held policy positions that fit every citizen’s belief. But this feels different. The president-elect is the first to revel in discord, to peddle hatred on a daily basis to pander to the basest instincts of an electorate. He will be the president, a jarring fact for anyone who believes personal decency or a concern for even a nod to the import of objective truth to serve as prerequisites for the position. We must engage this reality if we are to move forward.
How It Happened
The incoming administration has claimed, and will claim, that it has a mandate for all it intends to do. At first blush, the combination of a fully-Republican Congress and the president-elect might even make it seem real. But delve deeper. A multitude of opinion articles purport to identify The Reason Trump won, or Clinton lost. They seek to explain in binary terms how a powerful storm of circumstances, people, and events created the cultural moment in which we now find ourselves.
These play into a false narrative that does more harm than good. Our elections place two individuals in direct opposition, and people vote for or against candidates for a litany of reasons. Clinton, attacked personally and politically over the course of thirty years, came in as a weakened candidate. Her campaign skills have always fallen short of her other abilities, making the avalanche of these attacks all the more difficult to overcome. A significant portion of people cast votes not in favor of Trump so much as against Clinton. They faced a choice they hated to make, and they chose the president-elect.
To this we add a general discontent among large swaths of the population. Many people struggle to understand why they are not able to do more to improve their relative positions in life. Their anger sought an outlet, sought a leader to follow. Trump gave them this, and did so through a pattern of lies and deception never seen before on this stage. The realm of politics has always been one of half-truths and shades of meaning, but the president-elect abandoned all but the most remote connections to truth, lying over and over until people believed him. He gave people what they wanted to hear, regardless of what they needed to hear.
And of course, the misinformation that spread through the Internet—a combination of false stories originating in the United States and abroad, easily debunked but carrying all the sticking power that salacious material brings. Throwing a nation’s grasp on truth and falsehood into chaos allowed Trump’s lies to fall into a nebulous enough territory for just enough people to push him over the top.
Identify Common Ground
We have, in short, a splintered populace. In some ways, liberals have contributed to this as well. The Democratic party showed genuine fissures during its own presidential primaries. By the time that process concluded, voter enthusiasm had dropped significantly among younger, more liberal voters—a group that should be reliably Democratic. And many of the most enthusiastic Trump supporters want what a Democratic platform should provide, but the party did not reach them. They voted instead for a President and a Congress ready to rip away health insurance, safety regulations, and workers’ rights on which they rely every day.
Moving forward, this should serve as a wake-up call. We face a government united in opposition to liberal ideas, despite many of those ideas carrying large majority support. We need to communicate those ideas more effectively, and show the contrasts between what Congressional Republicans and Trump seek to enact. We must observe what happens, speak out on what we see, and build coalitions among people who, despite the rhetoric and divisiveness on which the president-elect relies, generally want the same things.
We must identify and call out hatred and callous indifference to the suffering of real people. But we cannot let the incoming Deceiver-in-Chief distract us from the dismantling of rights and support that Congress has already begun to perform. Trump pumps out low-hanging fruit that too many reach and grab; our energies have been wasted on the trivial. Twitter rants and bloviating speeches must not pull our attention from the quiet, dreadful machinations set to unfold. Vigilance and response must be the order of the day.
Citizenship Between Elections
The election and its aftermath have created a crisis point for many. We care about our fellow citizens in this country, regardless of whom anyone voted for. The United States is a broad, diverse nation, whether we speak of race, gender, wealth, education, sexuality, or anything else. All of us have an interest in what happened—and more importantly, what happens next. The incoming administration claims the election is over, and thus we must accept the ridiculous whims and unethical actions of the next president, with any conflicts of interest and peddled falsehoods he brings and continues to perpetrate.
At this point, we have a choice to make. Do we slink into the shadows to watch in sullen silence the events about to unfold around us? Or do we step forward and refuse to accept the rule of a would-be despot, determined not to be cowed by his army of sycophants and the voices of a loud, repugnant minority? We can come together and make a difference. Write and call your Senators and Representatives. Engage in open discussions with your neighbors—not about political parties and binary options, but what they really want for and from this country. Determine to act, to be a citizen outside of the voting booth. Today is not an end, but a beginning. So let’s begin.