Green: A Presumption of Good Faith
We must believe in the fundamental decency of our fellow Americans.
Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. It seems easy to lose hope, to believe that this election shows the irredeemable hate that lives in this nation’s underbelly. We desperately want to disengage and hope that, in four years, there will be enough of a millennial or minority vote to return us to the path of “progress.” Mostly rural, white Americans decided this election. They felt left out, excluded from the progress of the past eight years. They have grounds to believe that globalization and technology have robbed them of their once-thriving livelihoods. They have been told that life is better now than it was eight years ago by people for whom that is true — but that is not how they feel. They have expressed this anxiety through a rhetoric rife with hate, but hate alone did not win this election. To continue to believe that it did would be to continue missing what the media and liberal America have failed to recognize over the past year and a half.
Until 8:30 p.m. last Tuesday night, I could not fathom a Trump victory. Every news source, Facebook post, and Op-Ed firmly reassured me that Trump would not win, that the resurgence of America’s dark past he heralded would be squashed on Election Day. I realize now that I was living in a bubble — one that I share with my educated and progressive peers and from which our country has been ruled for the past three decades. I could not see Trump’s appeal.
Trump is a misogynistic bully; he is a racist, megalomaniacal, thin-skinned, attention-craving reality TV star — and that’s the only side of him my Facebook showed me. But I have to believe that Trump didn’t win because he fits all of those descriptors; he won in spite of it. He won because we left those in the middle of our nation behind.
We have made progress in pursuing our ideals of an egalitarian society; we have benefitted from globalization; we have been the beneficiaries of the past eight years’ progress. Many — particularly the historically oppressed and disenfranchised — finally felt that the political system was beginning to work for them. But, in our race toward progress, we left white rural America behind. Last week, they reminded us of that. Although we often couldn’t hear their voices from our liberal bubble, their votes counted every bit as much as ours did.
Today we have two nations: one that has moved forward and one that has lagged behind. The internet-fueled world that led us to believe that we are more connected than ever before has in fact divided us so much that we couldn’t see what was right in front of our faces. We were so consumed by social media curated to confirm rather than to challenge our ideas that we could not fathom the discontent of a nation left behind.
“Make America Great Again” is more than the racially charged appeal that many of us dismissed it as; rather, it’s a nod to those for whom the American Dream, once so vibrant, is no more. If we want to continue on President Barack Obama’s path towards progress, we must first bring into the fold those we have left behind.
The worst mistake we could make is to continue dismissing Trump’s constituency as merely bigoted white people who dream of a return to pre-civil rights America. While these people surely comprise some of Trump’s coalition, his camp also consists of many regular, decent and hard-working Americans who, on Tuesday, voted for the only candidate who has spoken to them in years and who, whether believably or not, seems to understand their pain. Everything else aside, Trump’s win has given these voices a megaphone to reach the establishment and people like myself.
Now we must choose how to respond. We can either deepen the divides between us and retreat further into the echo chambers that led us to being blindsided by the results of this election, or we can acknowledge the grievances of the members of this nation we have ignored for so long.
I might be wrong to underplay the full current of his campaign’s divisive and racist nature, and should he choose those themes as his mandate, I will use my voice and presence to fight against bigotry and hate. I do not expect us to ignore the dangers that Trump poses, nor should we allow his ideology to be normalized into the American psyche. Giving a voice to the grievances of a forgotten populous does not absolve Trump of responsibility for the hate he has unleashed in this country, and I am certainly privileged to be able to see past his bigotry. But I need to see a glimmer of hope. I want to believe in the fundamental goodness of our democracy and in the people that comprise it. For that, we must believe that this election was about more than race and sex, that this win represents more than a repudiation of the liberal social progress we have made. If we are to have hope we must believe in the decency of one another, and listen to each other so that we can begin the painful work of reconciling our families, communities and nation.