In which the 2016 presidential election rattles the nation.
To my dear reader,
When I first heard the song “Love’s On Its Way,” from Corinne Bailey Rae’s album The Sea, I was a teen with very little appreciation for the political sphere. Despite that, I found “Love’s On Its Way” inspiring in a way that I had heard my parents speak of political anthems before – songs such as “Blowing in the Wind” and “We Shall Overcome.” With its foreboding, anguished lyrics, sung by Bailey Rae’s thin whisper of a soprano voice over steadily growing synths, guitars and bass drum pulse, it felt like musical fuel to propel me into political action. This didn’t lead to anything – I firmly sat in my apathy and general disdain for politics – but I briefly felt like doing something, which, to an apathetic teenager, is more or less the same thing.
Fast forward six years and I found myself reeling from the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States. A week has passed and, after a roller coaster of shock, randomly bursting into tears in public, derision, feeling as if I just broke up with an entire nation, and anger, I’ve begun to process this turn of events. Although I am now an adult-like human still with very little appreciation for the political sphere, I have, for the first time, been forced to fully consider the effect of politics on my daily life.
I will fully admit that I voted for Hilary Clinton. Although I had no particularly strong feelings about her, I considered her highly experienced, very reasonable, supportive of progressive politics and, more than anything, a better alternative to the volatile, misogynist, populist Donald Trump. I was honestly thrilled by the prospect of a female president, and assumed that with 51% of the nation being women (who would presumably feel similarly), Clinton would win by a landslide. This, of course, turned out to be false, as white rural male voters turned up to vote for Trump in droves. I was infuriated, but as this week passed and I listened to discussions of the election and read the avalanche of newspaper articles, several facts and ideas began to temper my opinion.
- The President Is the Soul of the Country: I’ve heard from several places that the President’s powers and ability to affect people’s daily lives is ultimately quite limited by the other branches of government, meaning that what the President does first and foremost is set the tone for the nation. A progressive president may not enact many progressive policies personally, but their time in office may lead to other politicians doing so during that time and afterwards. A conservative president may be barred from enacting policies against immigrants by the cries of the public, but other politicians will be galvanized to do so by the sentiments of the president. In this way, a presidential candidate must be inspiring, and so many people found Hilary cold and uninspiring, while finding Trump at least amusing, if not inspiring in his disregard for political etiquette. Many people that voted for Obama also voted for Trump, because both could command attention, and thus inspire, in a way their opponents could not.
- The Forgotten Man Is Still, Undeniably, Here: Trump has made reference to the “Forgotten Man,” a term with many often contradictory meanings. Trump’s meaning, however, implies those who have been “forgotten” by the globalization and digitalization of the world. In rural America, this is a great many people – people living in squalor, people unable to find jobs after dying industries lay them off, people old enough that they are unable to find a new place in a world wildly different from that of their youth. I am not saying that the pain of these people is any worse or more important than the pain of other people. I fully acknowledge the problem that older white people living in rural America often hold racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic and religiously intolerant views that make meeting their demands while also meeting the demands of anyone else very difficult. But I also acknowledge that those people aren’t dead yet, and they’re living in a world that seems to have left them so far behind, they’re willing to rattle it to get someone to pay attention.
- Small Progressive Wins Make Big Progressive Wins Happen: With all three branches of the government being held by Republicans, a tidal wave of conservativism seems inevitable. Yet despite voting so many Republicans into the federal government, statewide and regional elections brought all sorts of small, meaningful wins for progressive politics. Former Nevada attorney general Catherine Castro Masto became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate. Oregon Governor Kate Brown became the first openly LGBTQ person to win a gubernatorial election. Florida elected Stephanie Murphy as the first Vietnamese-American woman to Congress. Although such wins seem small in the face of Clinton’s loss, the fact that the U.S. simultaneously voted in a man who says that he “[grabs women] by the pussy” and wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico while also voting a Latina into Senate, a bisexual into gubernatorial office and a Vietnamese-American into Congress is telling. The world is changing, no matter what steps backward the federal government may take.
Part of me wants to say that anyone who voted for Trump effectively voted for sexual assault, open racism, xenophobic action and religious intolerance. Another part of me partly disagrees.
It says, “If you voted for Trump because you were tired of feeling left behind by globalization and digitalization, I can understand that.”
It says, “If you voted for Trump because you felt that people in this country illegally should not have the same benefits and share in the fruits of those that are legal citizens, I can understand that.”
It says, “If you voted for Trump because you considered Clinton to be another smug, condescending, conniving, elite politician disconnected from the daily realities of running businesses and paying mortgages, I can understand that.”
I may not always agree, but I can understand.
However, it also says, “If you voted for Trump because you want to restrict the rights of Muslims, I cannot condone your religious intolerance.”
It says, “If you voted for Trump because you wanted to prevent transgender people from living lives with all the same opportunities and successes and failures you have, I cannot condone your transphobia.”
It says, “If you voted for Trump because you think a woman shouldn’t be in the Oval Office, I cannot condone your misogyny, and your mother probably went through twenty hours of excruciating suffering to push your enormous baby head out of her vagina, so don’t you think you owe women some more respect?”
Again, I can understand – but I may not always agree.
I’m not here to defend Clinton and her supporters completely, or deride Trump and his supporters entirely. I am here to say that, after this past week of shock, randomly bursting into tears in public, derision, feeling as if I just broke up with an entire nation, and anger, what I am thinking of is Bailey Rae’s song “Love’s On Its Way.” I am thinking of the line “I want to be able to say that I did more, more than pray.” I am thinking of how what our new, volatile president does is largely beyond my control, as are the decisions of the other two branches of government. What I can do is become involved in local, regional and statewide politics, and make music and tell stories saying no matter what, everyone counts – transgender teens and black physicists and women afraid for their safety in dark alleys and Latina Senators and impish, impetuous, gay, half-Filipino, Jewish adult-like humans that insist on writing even if no one is listening.
And the Forgotten People of rural America. They count too.
With all due respect,