*This post was originally a response to a Facebook post, shared by a friend, but written by a stranger.
I appreciate the empathy, level-headedness, and decency of this post. I agree that we MUST learn to better understand the other side, not because we don’t believe in our political values, but precisely because we are passionate about them, and we must better understand our fellow Americans in order to communicate those values effectively. And, of course, for the good of our nation; I believe our "divided house" can stand -but only if we keep open the gates of peaceful (albeit heated) debate and compromise. I loved the call for those who voted for Trump to show vigilance and accountability in speaking up against Trump’s words and actions now that he is president elect; I believe the same would have applied had Hillary won (i.e. her supporters would have a special responsibility to monitor her actions).
But my favorite thing about this post was that it demonstrated an ability to respectfully disagree, an ability that Trump’s entire campaign (and perhaps his entire life, at least based on his track record of tweets) failed to demonstrate. In fact, it is this ability which breeds compromise and which happens to be at the heart of democracy itself. As I see it, Trump’s message was a message of anti-democracy, a message of authoritarianism and even proto-fascism. I know many will dismiss this as “extreme rhetoric,” but what other words can I use to describe a man who said, “I alone can fix this,” and who threatened to jail his political opponent? (the peaceful transfer of power happens to be a cornerstone of successful democracy). Trump did not win the primaries through intelligent and reasoned debate; he won them largely by insulting and dismissing his contenders. And although it was not included here in the list of “cons about Trump,” it is this anti-democratic stance and disregard for constitutional norms which I believe is the most important, over-arching “con” that transcended political and party differences -because it threatened the fiber and freedom of our American way of life. Obviously, many others did not see it this way. And that’s where I’m struggling to make sense of Tuesday night’s results.
I understand that Hillary was perhaps the most hated nominee ever to run for president. I can understand a third-party vote and I can respect it. But I am truly struggling to understand the many, many wonderful Americans (and fellow Mormons) who decided that Hillary was the lesser of two evils and actually filled in that bubble next to “Trump/Pence.” Reading this post helped somewhat. But there are still so many areas where I am left scratching my head in utter dismay.
I understand that Obamacare was not affordable, but to dismantle it completely with no alternative plan? I understand that some regulations have hurt small businesses, but to wildly lower taxes on the wealthiest of wealthy Americans at a time when wealth inequality is reaching record highs? Any criticism of the Clinton Foundation pales once placed side-by-side with Trump’s pseudo charities. And the same goes for any criticism of Clinton’s lack of a moral compass. Yes, she has sold out to the highest bidder, but Trump WAS that highest bidder (figuratively speaking). Yes, she has accepted large amounts of dark money, but she was also the candidate talking about overturning Citizens United, thereby lessening government corruption, while Trump was talking about overturning Roe v. Wade. And, despite her checkered past, Clinton has, time and time again, made a stand for morally important issues. What has Trump EVER stood for?
The main area that frustrates me is this: Hillary was a “normal” candidate, Trump was not. And many good and reasonable people, including the author of this post, are failing to say it. And I believe that it needs to be said. Instead, they basically say, “Well, each candidate had pros and cons. People were stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was like choosing between apples and oranges.” Perhaps; if the apple was merely mealy and over-ripe and the orange was moldy and rotten. Hillary was unacceptable like wearing short shorts to school in the dead of winter; Trump was unacceptable like wearing nothing but a string bikini. The difference was there and it was a big one: there was strong precedent for almost everything that Hillary said and did (other than being a woman, of course). Yes, the emails were not great, but there was a strong precedent for the use of private email servers in government. The same goes for embassy attacks. The FBI ruling on Hillary (each time) has been “careless but not criminal.” Has Hillary told lies and made back-room deals? Absolutely. Has she told or made many more than most other prominent politicians? I’m not convinced that she has.
Again, place her dishonesty side by side with Trump’s. Have we ever seen a president show such an utter disregard for facts (e.g. Muslims celebrated in the streets after 9/11)? Have we ever seen such shameless, in-your-face whoppers? Have we ever tolerated a prominent figure openly mocking persons with disabilities (let alone our president-elect)? Have we ever, in recent history, tolerated racially charged “witch hunts” led by our own president (e.g. the birther movement)? Has a prominent nominee ever mocked a woman for possibly being on her period, or a contender for the size of his penis or the looks of his wife? No. Trump’s promiscuity and indecency was not hidden in the background or admitted apologetically; it was unashamedly shouted from the rafters.
And this is to say nothing of the fact that Trump will be our first president to have zero military or government experience, and that he seems to be embracing a philosophy of nativism and isolationism --at a time when globalization is on the rise and when global organizations such as the EU and NATO are largely what is keeping truly frightening figures like Putin in check. Or, worse still, Trump has threatened to legitimize ISIS by giving them the full-blown, “boots on the ground” holy war that they’ve been dreaming of. Terrorists should be ignominiously executed as the cowards and criminals that they are. They, by their very nature, cannot be defeated in traditional warfare.
We are in uncharted territory here. We have made the unacceptable acceptable. We have debased and degraded the discourse of our democracy --and how do we undo that? Combine this with Trump’s disregard for democratic norms and values and we have a scenario frightening enough that is should have overcome party loyalty or differences in political opinion. A vote for change is one thing, but you don’t “drain the swamp” by electing the swamp monster. You do not fight back against “an expanding and unaccountable executive branch” by electing a demagogue.
I don’t want to “write off half the nation,” and I refuse to do so, so please, please help me understand.
Finally, the last question asked in the post: “what am I missing about my own party that drove these people to such desperation for change that they were even willing to vote for Trump?” It’s on the right track, but, ultimately, misleading. Many people who voted for Trump do, indeed, place the bulk of the blame for their problems on the Democratic Party (or, to hear Trump speak, it rests with just two people from that party: Obama and Hillary), but the true picture is much, much more complicated. You have to look at the changes that globalization is bringing, that shifting demographics and new technologies are bringing. You have to look at the changes the “black lives matter” and “LGTB rights” movements represent. You have to understand the complexities of the rise of radical Islam and the fact that wages have stagnated for the past few decades while the vast majority of gains in GDP have gone to the top one percent. You have to ask what role our Reality TV obsessed culture played in all of this. You have to consider the way that social media has inoculated us in our own personal echo chambers, and has propagated fake news in a way we have never seen before. And that’s just for starters.
The better questions might be, “Why have we become so polarized? Why have we lost basic faith in our system of government? How was our our anger and fear so effectively misdirected? What moral numbness allowed us to convince ourselves that Trump was ‘just another candidate,’ that scapegoating entire groups of people and turning to a bully was ever, ever OK? And what part did both the Democratic and Republican parties play in helping to create that desperation? What part may I have played?”