It’s been a week now, and people are still in shock over the prospect of a President Donald Trump. There’s marching in the streets. There’s hashtags with the slogan “Not My President.” There’s a desperate attempt to change the minds of electors before the deed becomes official.
My liberal, supposedly open minded, supposedly educated friends are freaking out. They are lashing out in all sorts of ways, calling anyone who ended up pulling the lever for Trump a misogynist, a racist, a homophobe, an idiot. They truly believe it is all James Comey’s fault. Or the media, for giving Trump a free ride. Or possibly all the people who didn’t vote. Or those of us who voted for a third party candidate. They are afraid for their future. They wear safety pins to show their solidarity with their Muslim, Black, Latino, gay neighbors.
I don’t blame them for this outburst. I can’t say their fears are unfounded or their anger unjustified. Certainly the bizarre twist of events that lead to victory being snatched away from the first woman to be nominated to a major party made for a surreal Tuesday night and a gloomy Wednesday. Certainly we’re in for a long, ugly four years. Most likely America will lose its vaunted, if mostly self-styled, place as the “Leader of the Free World.” There will be scandals, real and imagined, possibly congressional hearings and investigations on which pundits on both sides will dine. There will be storms of unprecedented proportions and there will be unrest and riots and mass shootings and other things we cannot predict. But let us also step back and reflect a little. Because I think we all knew in our hearts that a Clinton presidency was not going to be any easier. It wasn’t going to be less ugly. There would still be storms and unrest and riots and mass shootings. Most assuredly there would be scandals and investigations and hearings and massive amounts of aimless punditry. A Clinton band aid was never the answer. The rise of Trump was the inevitable eruption of a slow but inexorable disease, the symptoms of which have been mostly ignored by everyone. You, me, the media, our elected officials. We’ve all been so busy trying to swim up the river in an ever more rapid current that we haven’t been able to put together enough of a dam. Some of us don’t even notice the river.
A few years ago I began to sour on the two party dichotomy, finally seeing through it the way many people had seen through it back in 2000, the last time we failed to elect a President who won the most votes. At that time, I not only believed that George Bush was incompetent and dangerous, but that he would dismantle all the progress liberals had heretofore achieved. Roe v. Wade would be overturned (it wasn’t). Social Security would be privatized (it wasn’t). The Kyoto Protocol would go unsigned (it was). What else were we worried about? It seems trivial, now. Then Barack Obama was elected President, and things seemed to be looking up.
Except nothing changed. Well. Some things changed on the surface. Symptoms were treated reactively: The Affordable Care Act was signed into law. There was a lot of pretty talk on climate change. Smart phones and social media became the dominant means of doing everything. Gay people could finally get married. But some big issues remained untouched. The quality of education kept going down. Higher education remained out of reach. Quality jobs were disappearing. Salaries were stagnant. There were a great many weeks where the flag was at half mast. We all still believed in the American Dream, but we were swimming harder and harder, and inexorably beginning to get swept downstream. Arab Spring happened. Occupy Wall Street happened. The conservative media and the corporate-liberal media began to actually paint reality with different brushes with very different statements they both claimed were “facts.” People were sitting in their own little echo chambers, getting dragged deeper down the drains, increasingly eyeing their fellow Americans with suspicion. Calling them names. Assigning positions and beliefs on them based on superficial differences. Dividing us up enough so that some feel that it is okay or helpful to march the street and pretend that Donald Trump is Not My President even though he very clearly is, if I read my electoral map correctly and take accurate note of the country’s borders. Where does a 50 state union go from there?
This election cycle, I supported Bernie Sanders. I was blessed to be one of the early adopters of his vision for America, packing into a small but enthusiastic crowd of fellow progressives at one of his very first rallies after announcing his candidacy. I was buoyed by his leadership style, one of plain-spoken but powerful English, and his insistence that we were all in this together, that we all had to engage, get involved, be the standard bearers of his message and his work. I believed, and still do, that the last best hope for this country’s future is for a strong, healthy, educated and engaged populace, a stable, sustainable environment, and a more equitable sharing of resources. But I also saw the undercurrent of desperation that lead the masses to support such a populist message. The rise of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, in a communist-fearing capitalist country such as the United States is a symptom, not a solution. Had he prevailed, we would not be sitting here in fear of fascism, racism, sexism and hate. But the undercurrents would still be there. Maybe suppressed. Maybe marginalized. But not cured. And worse, the people who created the wave of Democratic Socialism would be lulled into complacency. They would go back to sleep, believing that in a few weeks or months, they’d have their universal healthcare and their college education. The tide would break over the rock of reality and the movement would fail. It hadn’t had quite enough time to fully engage itself in all levels of politics, all levels of consciousness. And yet, there was increasing awareness that we were running out of time. An establishment candidate was not the answer, either.
It became clear that both major parties had failed to effectively navigate the ever faster river. They were caught in the rapids. On the one hand, the Republican Party couldn’t rally its own to put forth any viable candidate at all, instead fielding an incredible number of weak primary challengers, of which naturally the least qualified but most known candidate emerged the victor. On the other hand, the Democratic Party put its thumb on the scales, remembering long outdated lessons about fielding populist candidates and failing to stick its head up outside of its own echo chamber to notice what was going on out in reality, and thus ended up placing all its hopes and fears onto the shoulders of a woman who, rightly or wrongly, was perceived as damaged goods by almost anyone not in her immediate circle. Then everyone put blinders on and began to stumble towards the finish line, as if that was all that ever really mattered. Both major parties essentially made it clear that, either way, this wasn’t going to end well.
And it didn’t.
But at least now we finally realize we have a disease.
As the dust settles and we stop casting blame and start to accept the new reality, we have some hard choices ahead of us. There are some things, like the unstable climate, the lack of quality health care, the poor quality of our schools, and the increasingly reduced resource base, which we can’t entirely control. Not on a national level, anyway. Not with this level of division. But there are some things that we can change. We can change the way we treat each other, online and in person. We can begin to transcend party affiliations and start to identify the problems that affect all of us, so that we can come up with solutions that work for all of us on a purely local and grassroots level. We can demand that the people we just elected into office pay attention to us. We can re-acquaint ourselves with the actual mechanisms of what makes America tick. We can stop posting memes offensive to the “other side”, and stop signing useless petitions on Facebook and start hosting potlucks and volunteer at the library and reinvest in our own communities. We can stop taking so much stock in our chosen news-sources and try to broaden our horizons. We can look at actual vote totals and read actual studies instead of relying on some poorly written editorial by an exhausted and poorly paid journalist. We can look away from the computer screen and pick up a history tome or two. We can look up from the virtual universe created by our smartphones and ask actual people for actual directions to actual places. We can re-engage in our society the way the Founding Fathers intended us to when they envisioned a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
What just happened in 2016 was a symptom of decay, not only of our political system, but of our entire civilization, because of our repeated individual inability to rise above the fray, our dangerous acceptance of an increasingly unsustainable status quo, our blind willingness to follow white rabbits down holes. Increasingly, the system has tightened its grip to such a point that it can no longer change except by its own collapse. Shoring it up by increasingly unstable and untenable measures only invites more obvious cracks. It’s going to come down. And when it does, the one thing that will finally unite the conservative and the liberal average citizen is the realization that it doesn’t matter who the President of the United States is.
It only matters who we are.