by: Michael Shields
How to move forward, now that America has spoken…
I was well aware in the darkened hours of early Wednesday morning, when I struggled to make sense of a map of America charged with a gleaming red indicative of a Republican triumph, that I would have to find the words in a mere few hours to tell my daughter that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. My daughter is only five, but even at this puerile age the narrative of the 2016 election trickled down to her and her classmates. In just kindergarten, the kids spoke of walls, of lofty promises and of a man that had little regard for those different than him. The story that was playing out was one they could somehow grasp. There was in this tale a villain, essential to any reputable children’s tale, and there was an opposing force, who in this case was a woman, something my daughter latched onto with vigor. She and her classmates were well aware that the final confrontation of these two forces was to occur in the shadows of last evening, well past their bedtime, leaving the parents of this politically-charged gang of juveniles to furnish the final chapter of the story. And so in the waning moments of the 2016 Presidential Election, as Hillary Clinton conceded, I was left terrified, in search of the proper perspective and of the words to explain to my daughter what had happened.
I am not alone, I know. I am far from the only parent who this morning had to shake it off some. To attempt to put a positive spin on the situation. The first thing, I told myself, was to let her know that things are going to be all right. I told her forthwith, when she lobbed that predictable question of “Daddy, who won?” while still rubbing the sleep from her eyes, that “Donald Trump won honey, but nothing will change for you,” a promise that I cannot earnestly keep. I told her that no matter what she had heard, from her classmates, peripherally from the evening news, or from the conversations of her parents, that Donald Trump would be different once he became President, and that everything was going to be okay. I chose a soft landing for my daughter this morning. I took the easy way out. I lied, and I am not proud of it. But in my defense, I was still coming to grips with the fact that the electorate, in aggregate, endorsed a man whose electoral campaign was rife with hate, lies, disrespect, and improvidence.
As I wade sheepishly into this new political era, it is easy to surmise that the nation has changed. But in fact, this isn’t the case, rather what has been hiding in plain sight for years on end has materialized in a new light. I have said time and again during Donald Trump’s Presidential run, that we are better than this. That this man – so full of bluster and intolerance, and void of class, decency, and love – is not representative of us, the people of the United States. Last evening proved that this is decidedly not the case, and this optimistic viewpoint which I have always been proud of, must now be reshaped to adapt to a new reality. A reality where about half of the country, which I reside in and hold dear, didn’t simply overlook misogyny, narcissism, dishonesty, bigotry, nativism, anti-semitism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism behavior – but empowered these failings. As elated as I was when Barack Obama became President, a moment in time when I believed for the first time as an adult that we were forging ahead together as a country, is how defeated I feel today.
I take comfort in the fact that the United States has been set up with a series of checks and balances that prevent any one person, or one arm of government, to act with unchecked providence. And I do understand that not every vote cast for Donald Trump was done in acceptance of his revolting behavior. But whether a vote for Donald Trump was done under the guise of voting against Hillary Clinton, or as a method of uprising against the elites and the faulty political system in place and the status quo, it was done so knowing full well the man he is. This is a lot for Liberals, benevolent Republicans, and intelligent minds, here at home and abroad, to comprehend.
Admittedly, I wasn’t fully aware of how deep-seated the fear of change was for most Americans. I wasn’t entirely in tune with an anger stirring within the heart of middle America where many felt subjugated by the prodigious social change happening in America over the last decade. One of the things I cherish so much about this country, and the primary reason I chose to live and work in New York City, is my deep appreciation for diversity. It is impossible to learn anything new from someone who is just like you, and I believe that the more we come together, the more we will grow and become stronger. Ultimately, I believe this is the only way the country, and our world, will work, through acceptance and understanding. And I feel that the election of Donald Trump spits directly in the face of this idea. Plainly, the premise of “Making America Great Again” doesn’t simply have bigoted undertones – but is blatantly racist and harkens back to the darker days in American history. Donald Trump’s election is, in essence, a backlash to eight years of having a black President, and the potential of a female one, thus crafting our Presidential-elect as, in part, racism and sexism personified. I had begun to think, that with the rise of marriage equality and eight prosperous years under a President who was a minority, that we as a nation were on the up and up. But the line was always thin, thinner than I had imagined, and last night it snapped.
I believe today, as I did yesterday, that all humans are created equal. That we are all deserving of respect and entitled to the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And while there is reprieve in knowing that Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote (another jarring and obvious example of the shortcomings of the Electoral College), we are left to hope today that Donald Trump becomes a President in direct contradiction to the man we have seen throughout this entire campaign, who champions not only his impassioned loyalists, but all who reside in this country. All the people he has insulted and dismissed. People of all nationalities and colors. But more important than keeping that hope alive, it is high time to become more inspired and more active. It is time to demand truth from the media and our politicians. To struggle for the authentic ideals our country was founded upon, and those that value human life and dignity, and a coexistence with each other and with nature, above all else.
So, with this in mind, I must retread upon that conversation with my daughter. I must show some guts. I must tell her the truth. I must let her know that while this President does indeed represent many Americans, and he should be respected as Commander in Chief, he doesn’t represent who she is. I will tell her that being a good person matters, no matter what your position in life or job title. I will continue to tell her that bigotry is wrong – that all people, whether homosexual, trans, people of all color and creed – are as full of as much light and love as she is. I will explain to her – once I figure it out – how this happened, and let her know why it is so important to be involved, and that nothing – not even the freedoms that she has grown accustomed to – are ever fully safe unless we continually fight for them. Although the country has just elected a man that scoffs in the face of Truth and of Science, I will teach her the importance each. I will teach her how delicate our planet truly is, and how the actions of humans can affect it. I will adamantly express the importance of free speech, and make sure she realizes that her voice matters, so very much. And I will make damn sure that she knows that it is not okay to treat women as the President-elect has, and that her body is her own and beautiful just the way it is.
Hate may have won a battle last evening, but Love will win the War.