The unthinkable is suddenly thinkable. Donald Trump is our president-elect. Despite narrowly winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton could not beat Trump, who claimed a huge victory (his 290 to her 228). The response around me has been a mixture of grim resignation, shock, sadness, anger, and fear. Instead of electing the over-qualified candidate with years of experience in public service, our country instead chose to elect a real estate mogul-turned-reality-TV star, with no experience in politics or civic engagement.
The pundits and historians will dissect this election to see just what happened. Why did Clinton – who enjoyed healthy poll numbers (though the FBI’s surprise announcement, that amounted to nothing hurt her critically) – lose an election that she seemed all but guaranteed to take? Why did Trump, who struggled to amass support within his own party, prevail in a surprisingly strong night?
I spent the night watching the show with my partner and a good friend of mine. We had a lot riding in the election – two queer men, one of whom is an immigrant, and a woman of color. We belong in groups that have been blamed for our country’s currant divide. According to Trump and some of his supporters, our push for equality has made white Christian men the new oppressed minority. A lot of this election was about backlash – when white men see a shift in that they are losing their grip on the privilege they hold so dear.
With Trump’s victory, the last 8 years’ of progress under the Obama Administration is under great threat to be negated or reversed. Trump ran on a campaign that reveled in highlighted the many divides of the country, but his campaign failed to address how to bridge those divides. Instead, he blamed the divides on those who suffer most from them – he blamed Muslims, immigrants, people of color, women, gays, for demanding their place at the table, and for fighting when those demands were denied.
From the start, this election was something different. It wasn’t just the historic nature of the candidates – Clinton being the first female nominee of a major party and Trump being the most unqualified candidate in recent memory. What made this election different was the tenor of the fight. Mudslinging is a treasured art in politics, but this election saw something different, sinister. We saw an open hostility toward liberals, immigrants, people of color, gays, women, the disabled, Muslims – the language used by Trump to denigrate these identities legitimized a lot of the resentment that was building up among white people who are simply unwilling to go along with a new America – one that was marked by true diversity instead of condescending tokenism.
In her concession speech, Clinton vowed to work with Trump to serve the country, she wished him the best, and said she hopes that he’ll be a successful president. It’s standard boilerplate stuff that a losing candidate has to say to save face and to appear gracious. The sentiment, no matter how sincere, rings hollow because this election was a rejection of her platform that reveled in the diversity. The voters saw her campaign as a threat. There is a lot of talk about how Donald Trump represented change. But that isn’t the whole story. Yes, Donald Trump is the ultimate outsider, and in that respect, he is an agent of change. But when one really looks at what he stands for, then one can see that Donald Trump isn’t about change at all – he’s about stagnation and regression. He’s about halting change. He’s about stopping and moving. The change that his supporters are interested in isn’t a change at all, but a status quo that has saddled this country since its inception. It’s one where hierarchies are constructed, based on wealth, gender, race, and nationality. It’s one where opportunities are granted to those who can afford to exploit the system to achieve them. It’s one where a select few will benefit, but a large many will suffer.
Many compare last night’s election to the Brexit – another global event that left me reeling and grieving. In much the same way my beloved United Kingdom rejected inclusiveness and openness for isolation, my even-more beloved United States is doing the same. Some more spirited liberals and progressives are trying to inject some fight into our side, by reminding us that we cannot get too mired down in misery. That we have to continue to fight for progress.
In the quagmire of last night’s brutal, some tiny pockets of wonderful did take place:
- Tammy Duckworth won her bid to become the senator for Illinois, beating Mark Kirk.
- Kate Brown is the first openly queer governor in the United States, winning the race in Oregan.
- Kamala Harris is only the second black woman to be elected to the Senate (after Illinois’ Carol Mosely Braun), winning her contest in California.
- Catherine Cortez Masto became the first Latina senator in U.S. history, winning her election in Nevada.
- Pramila Jaypal became the first South East Asian woman to be elected to congress, winning in Washington.
- Like Jaypal, Ilhan Omar is also an immigrant, and became the first Somali-American in the U.S., winning her bid in Minnesota
I hold on to this bit of good news because a) it’s important and not insignificant and b) I need something to hold on to.