November 13, 2016
Like much of the United States last Tuesday, I sat riveted to the reported updates of the presidential election. In disbelief I watched as the unthinkable happened. As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that the brash, unpredictable, and volatile Donald Trump would become our 45th president of the United States.
Since then, I have watched the inevitable ‘us versus them’ arguments break out online. Like a great deal of the rhetoric that preceded the election, they veer, in the vast majority, toward grand, sweeping generalizations and divisiveness. They all think this; we all think that. Friendships and families have been broken over the results of the election and people’s support of their chosen candidate. Tuesday’s election was indeed a historic election, though not historic in the sense we all thought it would be; we have been plunged in the midst of a civil war for the modern age, if not literally, at least figuratively.
“Libs need to get over it and quit being crybabies.”
“We won and they need to get over it. You didn’t see us protesting when Obama won!”
“Trump says it like it is!” and also, interestingly, “He didn’t really mean it like that!”
“You can’t hold it against him that he said something you find disrespectful to women in private, many years ago.”
These are just a few of the dismissive and divisive comments I’ve heard, both from friends and strangers over the course of the last week. This unrest in this great country of ours is not about a temper tantrum because one side didn’t get its way; the unrest stems from a genuine and true fear that many of the people now have in the wake of this election. We have elected a president who has said he believes in “stop and frisk”, believes in deporting millions, believes in banning Muslims, believes in erecting a wall to keep out Mexicans, believes that he can say anything he wants about women, because ‘if you’re famous, you can get away with it’. We have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-LGBT who supports ‘conversion therapy’; we have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-Planned Parenthood; we have elected a vice-president who believes he should get to decide the reproductive rights of women. The demonstrations and protests are not about being poor losers in a casual game of baseball; they are about being on the losing side of a privileged majority who has just reasserted its ability to further marginalize and exclude the rights of whole groups of people who have had their voices wrested away. This isn’t a game in which poor sportsmanship is mildly unbecoming; this is the real world where people’s rights, their dignity, their lives are in danger.
I do not believe that all people who voted for Donald Trump are racist or sexist; that’s exactly the kind of generalized, incendiary comment that I don’t like directed at anyone. Make no mistake, however, the racists and the sexists have been mightily, dangerously emboldened by this newly elected administration. The KKK is holding victory rallies, and students are being told at schools by classmates AND teachers that their parents will be sent back to where they came from. Swastikas and racist graffiti have cropped up in alarming numbers. People have been harassed and assaulted because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender. Is this what folks wanted when they said the world was getting too “PC”? I would hope not. But this is the world we have chosen when we have elected a man who is publicly and unabashedly a bully; you get justification to behave in this way. Words matter. And the words of our president-elect matter. Don’t believe me? Look at how the men and women of this country have chosen to respond.
I am not naïve. I know that there was still racism and homophobia and sexism before the election; of course there was. But many of us, myself included, had allowed ourselves to believe that progress was being made—that we had moved toward a more inclusive and hopeful society. But in one night, we have moved back our societal clock and eradicated many of the gains our society has seen in the recent past. I now have friends who fear their marriages will be declared invalid; I have friends who fear seeing their families torn apart; I have friends who fear that their voices won’t be heard when they speak out against sexism in the workplace. I have students who don’t feel they can voice their opinions about the election for fear people will find out their parents are immigrants; I have students who fear bullying because of the traditional clothing they wear. The response I’ve heard again and again from pro-Trump supporters is, “Don’t worry; I’m sure it will be fine. We just all need to get over it and work together.” But how can you work together under someone who negates your existence? Who trivializes your fear? Who does nothing to assuage half of the nation who has no idea if there’s even a place in this country for them anymore?
Words matter. Protests matter. If you fear your voice is being silenced, speak loudly, and again and again. I need to speak, to give rise to my own voice. It matters. If I don’t speak, my silence makes me complicit in the injustices that follow. This is not the world I want for my daughters, for my son. I want them to see that their voices, too, matter, and that they need not simply be subject to the world in which they live; they need not simply accept where they see injustice in the world because they feel they don’t have power. They can be forceful agents of change. If I did not speak, I would be complicit in the silence of my own children, and that is not the world I wish for them. Speak. And for those who say, “If you’re not happy, you can leave the country,” I say it is my right—my responsibility—to speak for what I believe in in this, my country. Speak.