I’m not afraid of the big bad wolf. But I do worry about the people that voted for him. Last week on “Real Time” with Bill Maher – a primary news and politics outlet for a huge number of my peers – David Frum of The Atlantic made a plea to all those millennials who “get their news on Facebook.” He implored Americans, especially us disenfranchised young people, to maintain a respect for institutions in the face of what has happened during this election season.I for one, am torn – torn not so much about the journalistic institutions which he was defending, as I cannot lay the entirety of the blame for Donald Trump’s election at the feet of the media. No, I am torn between how well American political institutions have worked for me so far as a young, white, heterosexual man, on the one hand, and how blatantly inadequate the same institutions are in representing the needs of millions of my fellow Americans.
Despite being a Jew and thus a minority, I’ve never suffered from real anti-Semitism. As I sit in the library of the painfully liberal school I graduated from, I can hear the chanting of students outside. I sit here, having been pretty well taken care of most of my life, thankful that the biggest difference anyone could really come up with between myself and the next guy is that I grew up celebrating different holidays. I ask myself, “How many out there in the crowd belong to the LGBTQ community? How many of those students have darker skin than me or practice a religion which is less accepted in American secular culture than mine?”
It is easy for me to calmly sip my coffee, as Trump’s comments haven’t really been outright anti-Semitic, despite his attacks on Hillary’s ties with “world bankers.” (But we know what you mean, Donald.) In fact, look at the American Jews living in Israel and the loss of certain counties in Florida – it’s clear that at least some of us believe in his message.
But even as I think about my LGBTQ friends, my Middle Eastern friends, and all those shouting students demonstrating outside in the square, whose identities have been outright attacked, slandered, or vilified by our president-elect, I do not worry about any of his xenophobic policy coming to fruition. I have to agree with Mr. Frum. Up until we are tangibly having our rights stripped away from us, it is important to have faith in our institutions and their ability to self-regulate.
Nevertheless, Trump’s election does pose a very real danger to the communities I’ve mentioned, not necessarily in the form of legislation, but in the form of the legitimization of a very ugly sector of American society. Without generalizing, I have to wonder how many Trump supporters saw this victory as a victory for white Christian nationalism. It seems as if every article coming out the morning after the election had to do with “why all the pollsters got it wrong.” Could they have made their error because the hate that formed a large basis of Trump’s campaign appeals to a much greater segment of the population than we thought? Did we really have too much faith in humanity?
Maybe we’ll be shown wrong and Trump will fix the Rust Belt and jumpstart our economy. But Trump is not the problem. The problem is Trump supporters motivated by his hateful rhetoric, who see his victory as validating their point of view, reading their own political agenda into the power grab of an orange Narcissus. If this is the case, the best way to resist this strain of our culture is not to rally against the institutions that we would have hypocritically lauded had they elected Hillary Clinton. Instead, we should remain dedicated to the institutions that favor us and remain united in the face of an element of American society that seeks to divide.
Which is why, when I finally went out to see the demonstration in the square, I expected to roll my eyes at a bunch of white, upper-middle-class kids like myself railing against injustices they’ve never experienced and validating a mistrust of the institutions that have allowed them relatively comfortable, safe lives.
Instead what I saw were signs of support, showing everyone marginalized by Trump’s campaign that this election will not cause further rifts between people. Yes, Trump is set to be the president of the United States. The most important thing we can do now is show those Americans who supported Trump based on his hate that we will not give up faith in the ideals of America and in the ideals of democracy.
The election is over – there is no more room for identifying ourselves by who we support. I can hold my tongue with Trump voters who supported him to “shake things up” or because they thought that his entrepreneurship would be invaluable to our economy. As misguided as I believe those positions are, they are at least grounded in actual grievances about our country.
But I can’t forget about those who voted for him, because they agreed that all Mexicans are rapists, that all Muslims are terrorists, that all young black men are thugs. We must invoke the First Amendment, among other institutions, to transcend their hatred and mutually work for the wellbeing of the country.
Josh Daniels studied religion at Western Washington University.