Four years ago, a friend and I were smoking cigars in the Helmand desert, waiting to hear from the United States. The very real results of foreign policy surrounded us—hundreds of British and Danish troops, a memorial to the SF medic killed in the first fight for Gereshk, the buzz of drones and screech of jets overhead. If you’ve never been to Afghanistan, to Helmand, it has the general ambiance of the apocalypse. Yet that election never felt apocalyptical: Obama won, which is what I sought; a Romney win would have made me sad, and that’s about it.
Trump is different. Trump feels like the apocalypse. Huge truths I have foolishly believed in are being torn down. Trump’s hands are bloody, and he has sacrificed all that is good and right for power. And now I have to understand it. I never have to come to terms with it, but I do have to understand what may have fatally poisoned the country I love.
First, Trump voters have to own the hate. Terrible, insipid articles are crawling out from the darkness now as the media tries to normalize a vote for Trump. I’ve read a few—the Muslim-American who voted for Trump (the article contains precious few reasons), the ex-Bernie Bro who “just couldn’t,”—give me the articles on the real Trump voter, not these sideshows. The rich, white, and slightly empowered. I want to hear their reasons…Because “you have become responsible forever, for what you have tamed.” You heard Trump call Mexicans rapists, you heard Trump insult women, you heard Trump invoke mass killings and violence—and you followed for what? To shake up the system? Because you disliked Hillary? If you disliked Hillary, why not vote for a third-party? Johnson promised something different, and he never tweeted racist memes or called human beings “dogs.” But you didn’t, you voted Trump. So if you say, “I’m not a racist, and I voted for Trump,” that may be true, but you implicitly through your vote supported hate, and that is scarier to me than the out-and-out racist. That’s how you slip. You become inured to injustices perpetrated on the other, because it’s not you. It’s not your family. You lose your moral compass, you compromise your values for expediency.
In my vote for Hillary, I recognize the compromise I made. I knew how close she hewed to Wall Street. I know she voted for the Iraq War—and that hurt. But she was obviously prepared to be the President. She had always done her homework. She had to work harder than any male, especially a white guy, simply to receive a temporary guest pass to the club. As someone who appreciates intelligence and hard work, I respected her. And I will always vote against fascism.
But now we live in Trump’s America, and I feel lost. I have represented the United States three times in my life because I always believed the promise of a better world. That we can be the “shining city on the hill” that includes everyone. That the American dream is welcoming of all—and we can do the hard work to make sure that the door opens wider to include immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ—the tired, the poor, the dispossessed. Trump is the closing of that door. Oh, as a white male I can certainly still enter, but without the people I care about—and what sort of party waits for me on the other side?
Now, we are beginning to hear from the media. How this outcome was inevitable. How the Democrats have abandoned rural voters. How we have to listen and reach out and heal. Unfortunately, numbers don’t support that. 2 percentage points separates a Trump victory from a Clinton one. That’s not some undeniable truth that the right understood the grievances of America, but that the left either didn’t vote, or didn’t understand the vote.
Those 2 points…they will haunt us for years. And within the hand wringing and recriminations of the current “acceptance” crowd, they seem to ignore those 2. How many voters just couldn’t see a woman president? How did the gutting of the Voting Rights Act affect those 2? How do years and years of gerrymandering change the game?
I don’t want to put the blame on the left—there are already too many columnists doing this, and asking us to figure it out…in Trump’s America, onus is always on the victim. We have had failures—we cluster in large cities in blue states, we rely on demographics, we have lost the “working man’s” vote, we believe in a false meritocracy that strips power from many. Some of these will not change—no one who has moved to Seattle or San Francisco is going to move back to Indiana or Ohio…show me how that will change under a Trump presidency? Show me the game-changing entrepreneurs who want to leave the critical mass of ideas, technology, and financial support, for Alabama.
America’s strength of economy is built on services and entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurs cluster.
But we have also been implicit in the demonizing of unions. An alliance with Wall Street and business means we accept “right to work” as meaning workers’ rights. We gutted unions; the same unions that used to be the stalwart of support for uneducated (academically) workers. Trump offered nothing to these underserved who had agreed long ago to let their protections slip away as we worshiped at the altar of “job creation,” but he did give them something to blame—migrants, political correctness, people of color. Democrats must re-engage unions and begin to fight for their rights again, instead of simply bowing before corporations. Billionaire techies and financial wizards may talk as if they are friends of the left, but their actions must reflect it. We must reforge the left as representative of our views, instead of simply a vessel laden with both our precious and precarious rights and outsize interests.
We have to stop buying this narrative of the “poor Trump voter.” It is dangerous and doesn’t acknowledge facts. The dispossessed in Kentucky may have voted for Trump, but so did the possessed. They wanted to keep what was theirs in that unique form of American individualism that screams, “THIS IS MINE!” How can America be the sum of its parts when we all believe we are each uniquely responsible for and possessive of our part?
I take some relief in Trump’s ineffectiveness as a leader. He has already shown his willingness to appoint the exact same lobbyists and revolving door flunkies that so many who voted for him despise. He fires those who disagree with him; he can’t actually cut deals. His version of populism falls apart when called upon to govern. He will surround himself with sycophants, true, but even so, his temperament will unfold like a Shakespearean tragedy. God willing, it does not take down the rest of the country with it.
But to ensure his failure, we have to fight. The right blocked Obama at every turn. We must challenge our leaders to do the same. Don’t ask me to embrace the change and normalize this hate-filled President. He is awful as a person—the most telling for me is his lack of pets: Can you see Trump with a dog? His lack of curiosity about the world is antithetical to me as one who has spent so much time trying to understand it. We have to fight Trump. We block him. We disavow and disallow him to set the narrative. We force the press to dig at him. We challenge at every turn the disinformation of the right.
And in two years, and in four years, we don’t try to fight hate with policy. We fight it with emotion. We energize a base that felt it had few options. We change the percentage of non-voters from 44% to 20%. We pay attention in the mid-terms. We remember and make sure others remember.
And perhaps we have a discussion on the imperial Presidency—a construct of the modern era. A creation more empowered by rigid partisan divide—if you can’t create coalitions or make legislature happen, it becomes easier to use the office. Perhaps we view Trump as a return to the figureheads of the mid 1800s…
But don’t tell me to understand his followers. When you become desensitized to hate, you begin to accept what comes with your Trump vote. You accept the unacceptable. You accept that women are objects, that minorities are not a part of the United States, that you are the kid who rolled up the rope ladder to the treehouse. You may not be the bully, but you are the kids who ringed the fight.
Last year, I jumped out of our car to break up a beating. The loser was on the ground getting kicked. Both men were bloody, knives were mentioned, and we called the police. Who was right was a murky situation at best, but I cannot stand silently by and watch the downtrodden getting kicked in the ribs. I never could. We may all of us have to jump out of the car when we see hate. When we see persecution. When we see bullying and intimidation.
Welcome to Trump’s America. Don’t embrace it. Fight it.