by Laurel Dammann
This election has not changed America; it has revealed America.
Under the guise of moral and religious belief and fueled by fear, frustration, and greed, unchecked capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and racism have long been left to fester in the heart of the American dream. With the help of irresponsible media and isolation by ideals, it was easy to live in relative passivity and believe that the United States was moving towards an inclusive future. We disregarded a large swath of Americans that feel, and in many ways were, left behind. We underestimated how much their anger and hurt could serve as motivation to take actions that could potentially damn us all. Ignorance, intentional or otherwise, has never been bliss; reality marches on to the inevitable eruption.
Under Obama, America made important leaps forward for its diverse citizenship. While many of these accomplishments were imperfect and not achieved easily enough to promote confidence, the administration began to lay the groundwork for American society to potentially move on from its segregated past. However, in the process the frustrations of many were invalidated, we began to “other” those that took issue with our views, and a deep disdain emerged. Disdain is only steps away from bigotry and hate, and it is a dangerously easy emotion to be ruled by. Empathy is much more difficult in the face of adversity, however, empathy is essential to stimulate dialogue that is open-minded and productively critical. Empathy is the backbone of compromise.
Many Americans rested on our indignation and became complacent; a particularly liberal privilege as our values most aligned with the political party in power. Both Republicans and Democrats drew their lines in the sand, halting hard discussions that are, while potentially troubling in content, essential to progress. Social media and discussing political issues with people we already agree with has come to define too much of present-day activism, taking the place of thoughtful action and meaningful debate. Americans stopped listening to one another and so Americans fractured.
The election of Donald Trump and the GOP to power shows us exactly what the United States is, and it is far from united. “Tethered” is perhaps a more appropriate word, as at this point Americans are strapped together more by divisive political history than united by vision. According to the Pew Research Center, 49% of Republicans are frightened by the Democratic Party and 55% of Democrats are afraid of the Republican Party. America’s two main political factions each see the other as a fundamental threat to democracy and their country as they hope it to be. Though Americans across party lines view the government unfavorably- only 19% of American citizens said they trusted their government in 2015- this common understanding that the system is corrupt is not at all indicative of a shared plan for change.
A mistake made by Right Wing politicians and many of their supporters is assuming that they know what is best for all Americans, that they can control belief by removing choice through authoritarian law. A phrase that encapsulates this concept is “white male supremacy.” White male supremacy has ruled the world for centuries and has remained the snake-in-the-grass of present day America. Hence we have attacks on freedom of speech, on women’s bodies, on marriage, on small businesses, on minority communities, and on anything and anyone that does not fall in line with its sociopathic, capitalist views. Of course, many Republicans could argue similar things about Liberalism and Progressivism, however, the differences lie in the details of the policies themselves. Instead of promoting a world in which individuals are given equal opportunity to self-actualize, conservative policy, as it stands today, creates an economic and social battlefield where Americans are pitted against one another. White male supremacy can only survive as long as we all remain divided. Moving forward from this election that devastated so many, we must not fall into a trap of absolutes. Now, more than ever, we must not fall so low as to hate.
“When they go low, we go high,” First Lady, Michelle Obama, infamously said. It is a poignant statement that calls for peaceful protest, but in its context it also stands literal proof of the “us versus them” mentality that cloaks our nation. The future of the United States depends on the collective response of its citizens to the tumult and it must be a response driven by compassion, a deep sense of social responsibility, fierce commitment to equality and freedom, and grace. It must not feed from vindictiveness, ego, and alienation. Those of us in positions of privilege must be not only allies, but advocates and activists. We must find commonality in emotional experiences. We must rise to the challenge of showing respect, even when none is given. Most of all we must listen, especially when we disagree to our very core.
Trump has said things, in both the public eye and behind closed doors, that are unapologetically racist, unabashedly cruel and demeaning to women, and dangerously irresponsible on the stage of world politics. He has made promises that are unconstitutional and that would put a majority of Americans in frighteningly vulnerable positions. History shows him as a scam artist without any particularly strong passion for his fellow citizens or politics except as another prize to win. He led Americans on with lies, preyed on fears that had long ago devolved into sexist and racist worldviews that never abated, gave permission for prejudice, and incited violence. Yet he was still elected. His presidency is an affront to women, to people of color, to Mexicans, to Jews and Muslims, to people with disabilities, to America’s allies, to our children, to LGBTQ individuals, and also to his supporters who do not yet see the damage they have done.
Whether they voted for Trump, they voted for a third party in protest, or they did not vote at all, these Americans have hurt themselves just as much as their countryfolk. In response to years of feeling disenfranchised, white women and uneducated white males turned out in large numbers to vote- the Edison Research for the National Election Pool shows that 53% of Trump’s votes were from males, 58% from white Americans, and many of those voters were over the age of 45 and many were not college-educated. Some saw in him a chance to be heard and empowered. Others saw change, whatever the cost. In all circumstances, they fulfilled the white supremacist ambition to keep the masses divided. Their feelings, no matter how condemned their manifestations, are real and must be recognized as important not just for their political might, as demonstrated on November 8th, but because they belong to fellow citizens whose concerns must be considered to shape a democracy that is viable. The many “isms” and phobias that plague America must be erased, but we have seen that it cannot be done by encasing ourselves in a bubble and pointing fingers when it’s punctured. We must address the anger and hate at its source by combating segregation, education taught through a white Western lens, and poverty. We must give all Americans the chance to have a voice that is not filled with hate.
As it stands today, America has succumbed to its most sinister demons, but because we see them now, in the brutal light of the days after the election, we can no longer deny that they are a danger. We can no longer turn away from the reasons for their ugliness. Trump’s supporters, third party voters, and nonvoters have defined this election and forced the rest of us to face the disturbing truth: white male authoritarianism and supremacy is a part of America we cannot pretend is dated, a fringe ideology, or insignificant in its influence. Furthermore, we must confront the hard reality that we are a hand in the climate that feeds it.