Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, Leader of the Free World, Heir to the Democratic Traditions of the West. It sounds inexplicably surreal. Its been some six days since the first polls closed revealing an electoral map splashed with more red than was predicted just a few hours before. Since then, the world, the country, and the individual have had to adjust their own perspective to the slowly evolving reality that Donald Trump was elected to the highest office in the land.
Like many of my peers, I bought into the narrative that Hillary Clinton had the best chance of winning the election and that it was more likely to be a democratic runaway than a narrow republican victory. FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast gave Trump about a 28% chance of victory and assigned about a 10% chance of Clinton winning the popular vote while losing the electoral college. The Cook Political Report, University of Virginia Center for Politics, NBC, ABC, NPR, and the Associated Press all had electoral maps that were much more friendly to a Clinton win than the ultimate outcome. So it was not a case of confirmation bias that led us to believe that Clinton was going to be the president-elect come Wednesday morning, it was based on the widely accepted hypothesis of polling experts, who ultimately get paid to be correct. No one expected Trump to turn Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, AND Michigan red. There may have been a nonzero chance of that outcome, but our minds are conditioned to accept a 70% chance as an extremely likely probability so we were all taught an invaluable lesson in predictive statistics on Tuesday night.
Naturally, the immediate result from this reversal of practical expectations was the gracious, humble, and informed regurgitation of opinions on Facebook and other social media. Trump supporters, expecting to lose, oozed their glee into every internet nook and cranny creating an echo chamber of misspelled words, overly simplistic memes, and disdain for safe spaces and participation trophies. Undeclared republicans who tiptoed into the voting booth without a word, held their noses, and voted for Trump, proudly declared that they were on the winning side by rationalizing that their vote was a vote for lower taxes/”change”/anti-establishment feelings and not homophobia/misogyny/racism. Democrats sat punch drunk in a haze trying to understand how such an outcome was possible. Some took to social media with the same arguments that have filled those spaces for months, proselytizing to the deaf. Others took more drastic action by protesting in the streets, which seldom rallies public support to your cause. Most, I suspect, remained silent. Personally, I am having difficulty reconciling my worldview and my personal understanding of the country I live in with the results of this election. Below are a number of my election-related thoughts extracted from my swirling mind into a modern-day pensieve.
The American Republic
As abhorrent as it is to say, Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He will be the president for the next four years. I have accepted these facts. There is no alternative that does not do irrevocable damage to republicanism in the United States. I’ve seen some call for faithless electors to choose Clinton instead of Trump based on online petitions with millions of signatures. There are also many people calling for him to be impeached or hoping he’s assassinated. Can you even imagine the consequences of those actions? For better or worse, he will be the president on January 20, 2017. The hallmark of a functioning democracy and one of the reasons our governmental system works here but in few other places is that the Americans accept the results of elections. Trump’s pre-election comments about not accepting the results alluded to a situation that would’ve done more damage to our country than he could possibly do in four years as president. History is replete with examples of nations failing when their people no longer acknowledge the legitimacy of the government. Acceptance of electoral results is the bedrock of western democracy and without it, the Republic would shrivel and die.
So now we have a situation where republican majorities control both houses of Congress and a proto-republican resides in the White House, while the Supreme Court is stuck in a 4-4 ideological split. These factors are not conducive to effective governing, but are an unavoidable consequence of a representative government. In a democratic society, sometimes your party loses, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean that the ballot box is the unassailable indicator of what is true and right in the world, the alternatives, one-party rule or multi-party coalition, are anathemas to free and open societies. The belief in the system and acceptance of the honorable opposition party are crucial, yet remarkably underrated tenets of our democratic republic.
Donald Trump is the President of the United States, I stand in opposition to him in every way possible, but to deny his legitimacy is to deny the legitimacy of the Republic itself.
The Contradiction of a Trump Supporter
Many of the people who I love and that love me, good people who I have no reason to quarrel with otherwise, voted for Donald Trump. Since his nomination, I have discussed and argued with these people, but never was I able to convince them of Trump’s glaring disqualifications for the Oval Office. To this day, I cannot understand the logic of their choice. I am unable to reconcile their support for Trump with the human qualities I know they posses. Maybe my perspective is jaded by youth and relative inexperience or maybe society’s acceptance that elections allow us to demonize the opposition candidate so that when a truly unqualified candidate appeared, I did not have the vocabulary to describe him. Either way, I will readily admit that Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate from the beginning. Any person who worked in public service for 30 years will have their skeletons, controversies, and off-putting moments and she had more than the normal share of those. For someone painted by her enemies as a power hungry automaton with her crosshairs continuously aimed at the Oval Office for decades, she made a remarkable number of controversial statements in her public and private life that ultimately damaged both of her presidential campaigns. I make no attempt to deny that in a campaign against normal opposition, controversies like Benghazi, the email server, and the classified information breach among others are very likely to be disqualifying from consideration to become the President of the United States.
Donald Trump was not normal opposition. He is not a Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, John McCain, George Bush, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Richard Nixon, or even George Wallace – who I previously compared with Trump in the hope that they shared similar political ends. He is Silvio Berlusconi without the political experience. A man that insults the founding principles of this nation through a litany of anti-democratic, -phobic, and -ist actions and comments that he doesn’t even feel the shame to deny. He is a man who launched campaigns for president to boost his own ego, public image, and sell shitty steaks with his name stamped on them. Trump was the “self-funded” candidate that asked for donations on his campaign’s home page (and continues to do so even after the election). The candidate that put forth no policy vision except to say that everything we currently have is, “terrible” and that he and only he can Make America Great Again. Presumably with “big league,” “amazing,” and “the best” solutions never written down. Christian conservatives traded the greatest story ever told with the greatest policy agenda never told. In the place of a policy agenda, Trump inserted his personal image as a tough guy and a seemingly endless string of public controversies, including attacks on his own party! Then his supporters rationalized while surrogates deflected. By election day he had essentially desensitized the American public to his incendiary rhetoric through attrition and there is pretty much nothing that the Donald can do that could have jeopardized his block of support. Dealing only in absolutes, you are either a part of the Trump cult of personality or against it.
Representative politics, by structural design, inherently contains contradiction. No two people will have identical political opinions and a nation of nearly 325 million people will have a countless number of contradictory positions, yet the country has to elect 535 members of Congress and a president to govern the country at the highest level. Compromises will be made; personal beliefs de-prioritized in favor of the best candidate who represents the closest collection of those beliefs. However, Trump’s bizarre persona, nonexistent policy positions, and contradictory public statements force his supporters into mental and moral contradictions that are detached from reality:
- “He understands the plight of the middle class” – So a billionaire born with a silver spoon in his mouth who has never lived a day without the privilege of the rich ran for President of the United States so that he could change the social order of the greatest country in history to benefit the middle class at the expense of the upper class – the only societal group he has ever been a part of in his life? A man who brands every business venture with his last name is definitely in it for you and not himself.
- “The Media is biased against him” – Media bias is what FoxNews did when it didn’t report on Trump’s sexual assault abusers. Media bias is what Breitbart and The Drudge Report do everyday while they openly tout their pro-Trump stance. Media bias is unquestionably believing stories posted on WorldNetDaily.com or YoungCons.com or the OccupyDemocrats Facebook page. It is not media bias to replay the unedited video of your candidate making sweeping generalizations about an entire race of people. It is not media bias for debate moderators to ask you to clarify your public policy positions beyond, “we’ll have the best <subject of question>, you won’t even believe how good <subject of question> are.” It is not media bias if the media reports facts that negatively influence your public image – but it is media bias if they don’t report those same facts because they support your candidacy. Confirmation bias abounds when it comes to your perception of the media so it can be a difficult thing to critically think about and identify, but if you say you’ll do a better job at building me a house than any other guy, I’m not biased if I ask you for blueprints and I’m definitely not biased if I think that 17 lines on a napkin don’t qualify as blueprints.
- “Trump is honest because he tells it like it is and doesn’t need support from special interests” – Donald Trump was the only modern presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns. Why? Even if you don’t think that releasing tax returns is important, why would he break such a traditional act of public exposure without a reason? I don’t think its an unreasonable conjecture to think that his tax returns contain information he’d rather keep private and as long as he keeps that information private, it is impossible to know if those private reasons make him beholden to special interests just like every other politician. Politicians have to disclose their political relationships to donors, but Donald Trump did not disclose his business relationships with his shareowners and creditors. This is speculation, but it is speculation that could have been easily dispelled by the simple act of releasing a couple of 1040s and moving on. It doesn’t make any sense that he has nothing to hide, yet withholds his taxes from the general public.
- “He’s going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” – Trump’s flagship sound bite for the entirety of his campaign unsurprisingly plays fast and loose with the facts around illegal immigration. Building a wall on the Mexican border will do nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Asian and Central America and it won’t prevent immigrants from entering the country legally and then overstaying their visa. But hey, don’t let the facts interrupt your presidential catchphrase! (Update: Top surrogate Newt Gingrich says the wall was mainly a “great campaigning device” and the wall is unlikely to be built or paid for by Mexico.)
- “He doesn’t actually mean some of the things he says” aka “He’s not a politician so he doesn’t talk like one” – If the true measures of a person’s qualification to be Leader of the Free World aren’t the words he says in public and the actions he inspires the nations towards, then what is? If Trump says one thing and believes another isn’t he the same class of political two-face that he supposedly stands in opposition to? When he says that prisoners of war are not heroes, does he genuinely mean that or is he pandering to his base? Honestly, which of those two options is worse? Does he really mean that he wants to register all Muslims (citizens and noncitizens) in the United States? Its not really clear because he contradicts his position from day to day. It’s one thing to lack the polished speech of a seasoned beltway insider, its another to say confusing, hateful, and disrespectful things without any fear of the consequences. It is nearly a dereliction of civic responsibility to conflate the two as equal.
Donald Trump is perhaps the most successful politician in American history even before his first day as a public official because he was able to position himself so that his faults and shortcomings as a person were ignored by his political base. The man himself admitted there was nothing he could do wrong that would lose the support of his voters. Trump as a vessel of change undermines your beliefs through his own hypocrisy. The greatest contradiction of the entire Trump campaign was that it claimed it wanted to Make America Great Again while at the same time it misinformed and deluded the American electorate and undermined most of the 1st Amendment rights that are some of the greatest pillars of American democracy.
The post election autopsy of the Clinton campaign identified a number of reasons why Donald Trump was able to pull off his shock victory ranging from the ineffectiveness of the Clinton political machine to the FBI Director’s recent email investigation announcements to a disconnect between urban and rural voters.There have been no shortage of trends to identify as a root cause of Trump’s shocking victory.
I’ve read articles about communities outside of American cities where the death of manufacturing has crippled the blue collar way of life. Communities where the people of middle America feel left behind by the rest of the country as the technological revolution of the 21st century has changed America’s economy from manufacturing-oriented to services-oriented, at the same time shifting most jobs from the country to urban city centers. Trump’s unexpectedly red electoral map shows that the industrial midwest used the ballotbox to sound its distress. The hard reality is that these economic shifts are to a large extent irreversible and the transition to a service economy is unlikely to abate any time soon. The steel mills are not coming back; there is no economic simulation where manufacturing workers in the United States can earn wages to support the average American’s high standard of living while there is global competition from foreign countries with lower standards of living and thus lower wages. (No – a trade war with China is not the answer) The United States experienced similar issues in the post-Civil War, late 19th century when industrialization transitioned the country from largely agrarian regional economies to a true national economy based on natural resources, manufacturing, and the railroads. This industrialization became the foundation for the country’s successes and meteoric rise as a global power in the 20th century. But as a result, there were undoubtedly a number of farmers left behind by this economic shift and manufacturing is experiencing a similar downturn today. I empathize with these Americans, but they bear the unintended consequences of economic development in a globalized world. Donald Trump cannot stop that trend and I wish they weren’t duped into voting for him because they think he can.
The other common theme in the post-election day Facebook dumpster fire was that a vote for Donald Trump was a vote for <insert issue here> and his supporters did not condone all of his radical policies, just the ones that don’t focus on race, sex, or personal liberties! The simple fact that Trump voters had to qualify their support with the disclaimer that they don’t support the seedier parts of his candidacy is, in itself, a warning indicator. As I stated above, I have friends and family who supported Trump; people who I do not believe to be racists, misogynists, and homophobes in everyday life. I won’t classify an entire subset of people with certain characteristics in the same way that Donald Trump classified a judge based on his Hispanic ethnicity, condemned all adherents of Islam as terrorists, and objectified an entire sex.
But I will point out that ultimately your vote for Trump ensured that a despicable man with almost no moral compass, no decorum, no willingness to entertain any view outside of his own, and no willingness to learn will be the leader of our country for the next four years. You may not be a racist, misogynist, or homophobe, but you’ve voted for man who brings those qualities to his job as the leader of our country and the world. This is a man who pays no taxes and uses donations to his charitable foundation for personal gain despite his enormous wealth. This is a man who arrogantly (and ludicrously) claims to know more about ISIS than American generals when no sane person could agree. This is a man who chose as a running mate another man that still supports the use of electrocution techniques to “cure” homosexuality. This is a man who has his top surrogates go on TV and advocate for the revival of the House UnAmerican Activites committee. This is a man who is endorsed and wholly supported and celebrated by the Klu Klux Klan. This is a man who praises dictators and despots. This is a man who owns businesses that discriminate based on race. This is a man who threatens to lock up political opponents and condones “Lock Her Up Chants” at his rallies like he is running for president in some corrupt Central American drug republic and not the greatest representative nation in the history of the world.
Ultimately, this is a man who preys on your fears of the future and of people different than you to convince you that your way of life is threatened, when ultimately it is Donald Trump that threatens the freedoms that built this country and which I hope you hold dear.
So while your life may not be adversely affected by Trump’s election and you may not fully support Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, understand that never before has a campaign of open hostility to large groups of Americans found such a prominent foothold in this country; and that the future effects of such campaign rhetorical are completely unknown. Even if Trump does not act on any of his radical campaign promises, it is worth your consideration to ruminate on the effects of such negative rhetoric being elevated to the highest office of the land, especially the effects on those who are a persons of color, gay, or immigrants. America was built upon the tenets of freedom and tolerance, and thrives in environment of hard work, open-mindedness, and multiculturalism. I appreciate that the current state of the country is far from perfect and that hard times are not exclusive to rural farmers, intercity blacks, or middle class whites, but we cannot allow the single perspective of any of America’s subgroups to poison the soul of country. I do not think about the problems our country faces with the mindset what is best for only me, I think about them as what is best for us and what is best for the future of this country. I reject Donald Trump’s non-inclusive perspective of America entirely and I hope you will too.
The Next 4 Years
Donald Trump won’t be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States until January 20, 2017, but the “Trump effect” has already spread throughout the country. There are protests in major cities across the country by the ultra-left and reports of incidents against minorities by those emboldened by Trump’s victory. He has appointed Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff (drain the swamp!) as well as noted incendiary racist Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist setting up a tenuous balance of power between establishment Republicans and the alt-right fringe of the party. In less than a week since Trump’s election, is it clear that the next four years will redefine the standards of normal governance as we know it. We will wake up to news of tweets sent by our president that contradict both his earlier statements and official public policy positions. Or will it be tweets that are bold faced lies? Does anyone really think that Donald Trump will have the restraint to forget his twitter password while he’s at a summit with the G8 Nations? Is he going to tweet hashtags about Angela Merkel if they disagree on global policy initiatives? Hilariously, in light of the news that Trump and his transition team didn’t realize that they were responsible for staffing the entire White House West Wing, President Obama is reportedly volunteering as Trump’s presidential tutor. Which honestly is the best thing that could happen to to the Trump administration at this point. All of these silly sounding things will become normalized over the next four years, but it is important to remember that this isn’t an episode of The Simpsons and that we cannot let the next four years transform our expectations of a successful presidency. Normalization of lies, contradictions, and presidential twitter fights would would irreparably harm the prestige of this country’s executive branch. The Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation still affects the perception of the presidency even today. Now that we face four years of spectacle and social media controversy, it is vital that you refuse to lower your expectations for the public standards of your government.
The good news is that Trump’s presidency may be a turning point in American politics by exposing and discrediting the alt-right movement and the religious right as major factors in the Republican party. It can be an extremely difficult and grueling process to campaign for public office, but it is exponentially more difficult to govern. Trump will come to find that it is much, much easier to criticize and suggest half-brained solutions than it is to pass and implement workable legislation. If Trump cedes to the demands of the religious right and alt-right members of his party in public policy, he will expose the archaic and unacceptable beliefs of those factions to the majority of Americans who will be unable to support him. If he resists the pleas to Make America White Again, it will undermine the fringe groups’ perceived political power and hopefully consign them back to their dark corner of the internet where they belong. In either case, it is my sincere hope that Congress can win back some of the powers it has ceded to the executive branch in the last 30 years and usher in a new generation of leaders and party platforms that reflect the electorate of 21st century America. After all, it was the ineffectiveness of King John that led to the signing of the Magna Carta which began this grand experiment in self-governing. Maybe Trump will be our King John and in four years, we’ll have to refer to all the toilets as “Donalds.”