I came to terms with some truths before Election Day, my first presidential election. I voted for Hillary Clinton with few qualms.
Clinton is not perfect, but she can be pushed. She is ambitious, but she has a demonstrated history of fighting for the underdog. She is flawed, but she can be and has been held accountable for what she has done.
So I did it. I voted for Hillary Clinton, arguably the most qualified candidate ever to run for President. And I looked forward to taking part in the movements criticizing her actions, recognizing her shortcomings, and pushing her to do better and be better. I promised to not shy away from that responsibility.
I believed a Clinton presidency could have meant business as usual. But a Trump administration will be business as was usual in the 1950s, before voting and immigration rights acts were passed. Business as was usual in the 1980s, when systematic prejudice and ignorance led to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Business as was usual in the 1800s, when women and members of all minority groups were prevented (through laws or otherwise) from voting. This is not exaggeration. This is the Trump Doctrine. This is the rhetoric he spews, the ideology he espouses, and the America he sees as great.
Trump’s vision of America doesn’t include me. It doesn’t include the majority of the people I care about. It conveniently doesn’t address us. He caters to the prejudices of each group with a kind of surgeon-like precision that makes people forget that he has done and that he plans to do nothing to help them. Caters to the indoctrinated hatred of the poor white working class. Caters to the behind-the-scenes racism of upper class white women. Caters to the Islamophobia in Hindu communities. Caters to the homophobia of the lawmaking elite. The way that Trump has channeled centuries of ignorance and bigotry into a single movement is appalling. The way that he has convinced disenfranchised Americans that he is the anti-establishment candidate they need is terrifying. Trump was not a candidate from outside the establishment; he just belonged to a different one than Clinton did.
Those who voted for Trump reconcile themselves by accepting only convenient truths. That it is easy to hate Hillary. That Trump was a businessman. That Trump says the word “jobs” occasionally. That Trump will sacrifice every foreign relationship we have “for America.” That Trump says he wants to “knock the hell out of ISIS.” That Hillary [insert accusation here] emails.
I accept the inconvenient truths. Clinton has made several disastrous mistakes. Clinton tokenizes. Clinton scapegoats. Clinton fear-mongers. But Clinton has fought for children, fought for women, fought for what she believes to be right, although we might completely disagree on what that is. Donald Trump has never fought for anything or anyone but himself. That we extend his selfishness to theoretically include us is a profound mistake. His self-satisfying version of a “great” America is one with him on top. His nuance goes no further.
Donald Trump’s version of America does not include my parents. It does not include my friends. If it includes women, it includes them as objects for his personal use. If it includes minorities, it includes them as tokens for his personal ego. If it includes anyone, it includes them for his personal gain. Even before being elected, Trump helped create an America that is unsafe for people of color, for women, for Muslims, for the LGBTQIA+ community. People I care about are hurting inside as they are forced to accept the legitimacy given to words that dehumanize and devalue them.
I refuse to accept an America that accepts me into its living room and tells immigrants like my parents they were never welcome here. I refuse to accept an America that demonizes people in need seeking a better life here. I refuse to accept an America that characterizes compassion as preaching tolerance in public and hiding prejudice in private. I refuse to accept an America that forgives a defender and alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. If this is America, I suppose I should thank this election for revealing it. But I cannot and will not accept it.
And now, in the aftermath of the election, I’ve been told that my responsibility as someone whose community is currently in a state of mourning is to practice empathy and love for those who are not.
I get that many of you need to practice compassion for your family members and friends who voted for Trump. I get that to rationalize you feel you need to ask others to do so as well. I get that your loved ones aren’t bad people.
But they have allowed a dangerous campaign to gain ground. They have allowed a dangerous precedent to be set. They have allowed a dangerous movement to be legitimized. Acts of hate against Black people, Muslim people, Latin@ people, and women have actively been increasing — they numbered in the 700s less than two weeks after the election. You cannot speak from your highly intellectual, privileged perspective and tell people that their terror is melodrama.
I get that you voted your conscience. I get that you voted for the candidate whose ideals you believe in. But you participated in a system that has put people in danger. That has legitimized the notion that the presence of “others” is a threat to the white way of life. You have to deal with that truth the same way the rest of us have to deal with the consequences of hatred against our communities being declared worthy of the highest office of the land. We’re not trying to call you bad people, but it’s not our job to make you feel better about the decision you made.
People who characterize Trump supporters as voting for an administration based on bigotry are not in the wrong. Everything about Trump’s campaign — his vague but extreme rhetoric (the ban on Muslims, the generalization of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, his derogatory remarks about women), his supporters (Rudy Giuliani of stop-and-frisk fame), the GOP platform (conversion therapy) — hearkens back to centuries of embedded systemic prejudice in this country. This election was different — we are not mourning the loss of our chosen candidate. We are grieving the realization that the country we call home has openly disregarded our safety in favor of comfort for the privileged.
In the time that has passed since Election Day, a lot has happened. President-elect Trump has begun assembling his administration. Certain appointments particularly stand out to me. Senator Jeff Sessions, a proponent of “law and order” with a history of racist rhetoric and opposition to civil rights, will be appointed Attorney General. Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, sporting an impressive record of inflammatory and often false statements on national security that scapegoat immigrants and Muslim Americans, will be Director of the CIA. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a vocal Islamophobe and proponent of questionable interrogation techniques, will be named National Security Advisor. Last but not least, Steve Bannon, chairman of the alt-right Breitbart News (which has been accused of providing a platform for homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and white nationalism), will be White House chief strategist.
In the wake of the announcements of these appointments, there has been enormous backlash, primarily from those who identify as liberals. But these particular individuals have faced extreme criticism in the past from conservatives and Republicans as well. It is striking to me that while I have continued to see exhortations from non-liberals for unity, acceptance, and other charming ideas, I have heard no widespread indignant outcry from Trump voters. There are many people who sympathize primarily with one or two views that Trump or the Republican party espouse, who have objected to the anger and fear that many marginalized people feel toward them. To me, these appointments are an ideal opportunity for Trump voters who are not racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted to support their own claims.
There are so many conservatives, moderates, independents, and liberals who are still spending their time devaluing the fear of those who have the most to lose if Trump’s campaign promises become reality. Trump’s stated plans, dismissed by so many as empty and unlikely to be carried out, have come to fruition in the immediate aftermath of his victory. And we are still spending our time defending Trump voters and diminishing the validity of the emotions of the brokenhearted, angry, and marginalized.
Yes, there are those who voted for Trump who experience righteous anger against an establishment they believe failed them. Yes, the path to success involves us listening to them and understanding why they feel this way. But talking down to people of color, to LGBTQIA+ folks, to women, to anyone who is experiencing legitimate fear for their physical well-being and telling them to practice love is demeaning. It is condescending. It is useless.
Who told Trump supporters to practice love? Who pleaded with them to practice compassion? Who instructed them to vote based on empathy? Notice who you are asking to give and give and give and who you assume has the right to take. Don’t presume to say that Trump’s candidacy was ordinary, that it did not actively endorse prejudice. If you believe that a Trump presidency is best for you, try figuring out why before you expect those who stand to lose the most to be happy for you.
Instead of policing other people’s anger and frustration, instead of constantly defending voters who selected Trump, instead of deflecting the conversation, follow through on your assertion that you do not support bigotry. Those of you who said during the campaign that you would be the first to criticize if Trump followed through on his prejudice, where are you now? You should be writing to and calling your Congress representatives to say that you are a citizen and you do not support these decisions. Instead of spending your time mocking or delegitimizing protest and dissent, you should be on the front lines. It is not and cannot always be the job of the marginalized to remain silent in the face of oppression, to quash their frustration when it makes you uncomfortable, and to still claim the responsibility of changing the systems that oppress them.
Trump’s version of America is not mine. It does not include me, and I will not legitimize it. I cannot and will not make excuses for people who do. This candidate and members of his following have brought bigotry into the mainstream in a way that will take decades to undo. Those of us who saw the danger in a Trump presidency recognize our privileges and accept, with no other choice, the responsibility of undoing this damage. I commit to speaking with people with differing ideologies, sharing resources, writing rebuttals, reading analyses, watching speeches. I commit to informing myself and further cultivating compassion for the people who do not share my experience. I commit to being an advocate for my communities and to uplifting the voices of others. I commit to an America that resembles Trump’s “great” America in no way. This election cycle does not signify the beginning nor the end of my civic responsibilities. And I hope those who gave Donald Trump the presidency but do not endorse his bigotry recognize the same.
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