I have read and conversed a lot about the election this week, not to fortify my side, but in a sincere attempt to understand what kind of desperation in America led to this decision. Initially I was appalled that our country voted for such a contentious person, a man who seemed to offend everyone except white straight males who celebrate Christmas (and many of them too). We have reacted strongly, not out of anger, but out of fear. We don’t want him to be the role model for our children or grandchildren. We wonder how someone who used his entire campaign to provoke anger and bigotry can then accept his win by telling us he will be a president for all Americans.
I have read repeatedly that Mr. Trump is giving a voice to the working class. I will admit this was news to me. It seems impossible that the unemployed and working class can relate to a billionaire who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but I am starting to understand why. I’m sure that some voters truly are racist and would like an all-white America, but there are many more that are calling out for a better life for themselves. They can’t afford to care about the issues that many of us put first and foremost.
I was a teacher and now am comfortably retired. I acknowledge every day how fortunate I am. But many years ago I was a single parent of two young children, I lost my job and was in debt. I will never forget the despair at the thought of losing my home, or the shame of ever having to ask for help. The only thing I cared about at that time was survival and keeping what I had. I had a college degree. I had done the right things and yet I was a poor person living in the suburbs. If I had not been offered a teaching job on the day before school started that year I would not have lived the life I have now. That doesn’t happen to everyone.
I am nothing if not empathetic. I cry at the misfortunes of others on the nightly news and while reading the obituaries. But that is also why my focus is on social issues. I equate social issues with progress and gaining equality for our fellow Americans. But there is another side to the story of America. Like many Americans I have never been stuck in a dead-end job. I never had to go on public assistance to feed my family. I’ve never seen my town decimated by the closing of industries that sustained it. These are the people crying out for help. I now understand that the Republican focus on the economy and jobs is what is reaching working class Americans. They are sick of hearing about the rights of other people. How can you care about the lives of immigrants if you can’t feed your own family?
These struggling people deserve a better life, but at what cost have we ignored them? Why did we end up with what have been called the “two most unpopular candidates in history.” The strongest leaders are most likely not willing to do the job. In the age of Internet trolls, 24 hour-a-day ranting on news channels and too many late night shows that make fun of them, most people wouldn’t subject themselves to exactly what we’ve seen this past year.
The problem is that Mr. Trump should have never been nominated. There were plenty of others willing to do the job. The fact that a Republican won the White House is not shocking to me—that someone like Trump was even nominated is what disturbs me. What kind of desperation does that indicate?
You see, I am really trying to make sense of all of this. I will be heartbroken if advances Obama made on saving our environment disappear because I want a safe and healthy world for my grandchildren. I will be disappointed if the marriages of my gay friends are revoked because they are our fellow Americans. I can’t imagine finally gaining health insurance and then losing it. I will be saddened if our Muslim citizens become more marginalized than they already are. We are already seeing reports of more bullying and white supremacy in this country. That is not acceptable. Maya Angelou wisely said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is what is scaring so many of us.
Trump supporters now want us to come together. Some are blaming the protesters for the division in our country even though Mr. Trump’s campaign set the stage for what is happening now. I read that his campaign insults should not be taken seriously. But if not, how can we believe anything he says? If Mr. Trump truly wants to be a president for all Americans he should be addressing the protesters deepest fears right now.
Those of us who felt despair at this election need to have the time to process what has happened. I cannot change what the next four years will hold for this country I love except to be the best citizen I can be and to live out my values and beliefs.
And as an American I will continue to try to understand.