Up until midnight, I was so sure that this wasn’t going to happen. The people I knew weren’t racists or xenophobes. They didn’t explicitly demean women or mock those with disabilities. They weren’t looking to take America back to some halcyon time when the gods and the white men frolicked together in fields, while women and darker-skinned people raised limbs heavy with chains to pour wine into the men’s gaping mouths and used up their own bodies and dignities to sate the white man’s pleasure. But then midnight hit, and Clinton conceded the election, and suddenly messages from friends all over the world started pouring in, asking me if I was ok, if this was really happening…
Because somebody is, and believes, all those things. And those somebodies have elected Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States. Some staggering number of somebodies are so cavalier about the well-being of Latinos and LGBTQ people, women and Muslims, that they voted for a man whose rhetoric and demeanor and beliefs are the shades of Pinochet and Trujillo and Hitler come back to haunt us. Those somebodies truly believe that a man who openly assaults women and lies and cheats and steals… will be a better president than a woman. Because let’s call it like it is, folks. America just wasn’t ready for there to be a pair of ovaries in the Oval Office.
But my goal here is not to spew blame. I think–I hope–that people chose their candidate because they truly believed he was the best hope for the future. We have our president elect now and, sadly, we deserve him. All of us. I do and you do and all the people who voted Hillary and Bernie and Jill Stein and that other guy. Those of us who hoped that Americans were better, kinder, more accepting, and more tolerant than we turned out to be. We all deserve him.
Because we let this happen.
For so long, we have believed that we were the best, the brightest, the North star to the entire world. Over half the population has never bothered to get a passport, because why would you leave? Where else would you need to go if you already live in the best country on Earth? The rest of the world is scary, anyhow. Full of criminals and sex trafficking, corrupt officials and drugs, rabid dogs and, worst of all, poor people. Our confidence in our own comparative greatness has let that very attribute slip through our fingers.
Because we thought we were already the best, we have let education lapse. We have sat by and waited for someone else to solve the problem of skyrocketing higher education tuitions, allowed the military to come into our high schools and recruit those who no one was paying attention to anyway, stopped reading for the sake of reading and learning, acquiesced to the fact that teachers are barely paid a livable wage. We have written angry words on our Facebook pages and then sat back with a satisfied smirk before turning back to the television and binge-watching House of Cards (because that kind of corruption could never happen IRL, right?). We have sat and been silent, stood up for the national anthem, hand over heart, and waited for someone else to chase away the angry, violent storms darkening the horizon.
As a collective group of citizens, we have failed, and what comes next will come down on us all.
But it will be what happens afterwards that will really decide what kind of country we are, and want to be. Those of you who stand up for the women in your lives as their right to choose is taken away, for your LGBTQ friends and family who will be sent back to second-class citizenship, for your Muslim and Latino and minority friends who overnight have realized that they truly are seen as criminals and sex offenders and terrorists by the fearfully quivering masses of whiteness–you will be the harbingers of a new age of American. What Hillary Clinton promoted in her campaign must continue to stand true for us: We are stronger together. We are a country of people who all (with the exception of Native Americans), whether recently or generations past, came here as travelers or were brought involuntarily from another place. We were all once the hated and misunderstood intruders, but now we are all Americans together. Whether we speak English or Arabic, Spanish or Cantonese, we are here because we love the ideals that America stands for. Fight for that which you love.
We have minds that can think rationally and hearts capable of the deepest compassion. Use them. Educate yourself. Talk to people. Let’s shake off this idea that we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion because we might disagree. Disagreement is healthy! We’ve let intellectual, honest, and open debate atrophy and die. Use your natural abilities to think and speak and feel.
Donald Trump is our president elect. We have chosen him, or, at least, allowed him to be chosen. We have allowed fear and intolerance and small-mindedness and apathy and complacency and sexism to defeat hope. But this is not the battle for Middle-Earth. We are not suddenly plunged into a darkness from which there is little hope for return. We must rage against the dying of the light. Hold on to your hope, but do not guard it as a miser his gold–work to keep it alive, work to make your hope a reality.
Most of all, show the people around you that you care.
Don’t be afraid.
And, you know what? Let’s make America great again. We the people have the power to make it so.