I went to sleep last night with the election undecided. I woke up this morning to learn that Donald Trump had won. I also woke up to find half the country losing its mind.
I did not vote for Trump. I am a constitutional conservative/classical liberal, yet despite the fact that a Hillary Administration would almost certainly have further eroded our constitutional rights, I couldn’t give Trump my vote; it’s the first time in my life I haven’t voted for the Republican candidate at the top of the ticket. So let’s say that this morning I’m feeling mixed emotions.
But I have one thing to say to both sides of this year’s bloodless war (because that’s what elections are).
And I mean that sincerely.
A little perspective might be in order, here. For those who were politically active or aware, eight years ago when President Barrack Obama, our then most left-leaning US senator, won the White House, there were people on the Right firmly convinced that he was going to create a corps of Brown Shirts, put dissenters in re-education camps, etc.
Didn’t happen, of course, but today a significant number of otherwise intelligent people are convinced that Donald Trump is going to inaugurate a wave of government thuggery against racial minorities, against women, against homosexuals, against illegal immigrants, against everyone not of the Master Race (and I use MR intentionally, since many of them pretty much think Trump is Hitler).
But that’s not going to happen, either.
And yet the fear and despair is very real. I’d be tempted to call it overblown, except I remember many feeling variations of all this when Reagan won, when Clinton won, when Bush won, and when Obama won. Reagan was going to trigger WWIII, Clinton was going to abolish the 2nd Amendment and socialize the country, Bush was going to sell the country to his cronies, Obama was going to (see above).
Why is that?
It’s really very simple. Everyone has the quite rational fear that the opposition’s victorious candidate will try and push the country in a direction they won’t like. That’s what elections are about. That makes the day of their loss a day for gloom, naturally.
But the fear? I have a rational and intelligent friend who wrote on Facebook this morning:
“I woke up this morning and cried. My heart is broken and I’m terrified of walking out my door. I don’t know if violence against people like me, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, is going to be state sanctioned or not.”
“Sanity lost the Executive and Legislative branches tonight. And, there will be seats to fill on the supreme court in short order. All the branches of the US government are now poised to bring about the apocalypse. There may not be a minimum safe distance, folks.”
And why shouldn’t they? After all, the liberal pundits are saying pretty much the same thing.
“We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.
“We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.
“It turns out that we were wrong.
“I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.”
“Our little gathering broke up in confusion, with more than one of our guests wondering if they would actually have to move. It’s something that I, as a native-born, white male — some of whose family were probably in this country circa 1620 — will have to consider, too, if my wife and I are to have any form of health care before we reach Medicare (assuming that Medicare will still be there, either). These are words I never thought I would have to write. This has indeed been a campaign full of surprises, and I fear it will take away all our words for good.”
And of course, this is the way they think about those who voted for Trump;
I will say it again: Chill. I would be saying the same to those on the Right in despair if Hillary had won.
Because this is what happens with every election; both sides demonize the other side’s candidate and voters to an extent that you would think, listening to them, that civil war is imminent. That the triumph of Fascism of The Left or Right is imminent. That the winning candidate is Hitler.
Underlying all this, naturally, is The Syllogism.
- I am a rational/good human being.
- Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
- If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
- Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.
During the heat of the election season, with candidates, supporters, and political pundits on both sides throwing every possible accusation of EVIL at each other, of course The Syllogism prevails. And on Election Day this means that, in the eyes of half the country, in the ashes of their loss, the ignorant, the stupid, and the evil, won.
Some people never recover their mental footing after an especially rancorous election; if you thought that Bush Derangement Syndrome was bad (and yes, Obama Derangement Syndrome), just wait till you see Trump Derangement Syndrome.
A little more perspective; when President Obama won, coming into office with a Congressional majority ready to help him advance his agenda, many Democrats believed that the voting shift foretold a Permanent Democratic Majority. Some Republicans thought so, too. It plainly wasn’t so. Yes, from the perspective of the Right great damage was done, but the Permanent Democratic Majority failed.
There will be no Permanent Republican Majority. And in the meantime, while from the perspective of the Left, great damage may be done, there will be no goosestepping gestapos knocking on their door. There will be no state-sanctioned violence against them. This is not the End Of America. It’s not even The End Of America As We Know It.
There are two reasons for this.
First, the great majority of those who voted for Trump are not, despite the frothing of much of the press, ignorant, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, haters. Just as when President Obama won, Trump has been swept into office by a protest-movement. And for most of the people in this movement it hasn’t been about racism, sexism, etc.; it’s been a populist and anti-establishment movement. Trump managed to pitch himself as the populist anti-establishment candidate, and won. The poisonous Alt-Right didn’t elect Trump, in fact they hurt his chances just like the racialists on the far Left hurt Hillary; both sides declared the other to be the full embodiment of their lunatic fringes. No, Trump won because he seized the tide and ran against a candidate just as noxious to the Right and much of the Middle as he was to the Left and much of the Middle.
That means that the above meme from American NewsX got it wrong, and America has not been revealed as Conrad’s new “heart of darkness”. As impossible as it is for many to believe, last night most Americans on both sides voted with good intentions.
Second, we are a constitutional republic. While respect for the limits of federal power (and especially of executive-branch power) has taken a beating in this past administration, the checks and balances built into our system remain strong and so we’re not going to go the way of Venezuela. The Right has managed to take both the executive and legislative branches of government; well, the Republican Party has been in this position before. So has the Democratic Party. It won’t last, and while it does the Republican party is far from monolithic; factions within the party will check its excesses.
Meanwhile, despite recent erosion of the 1st Amendment, respect for our constitutional rights and liberties remains high; American citizens who voted Left are in no more danger now than American citizens who voted Right were before. Racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities are not in danger, any more than religious folk and gun-owners have been in danger under the Obama Administration. The Right is not now about to commence a march into fascism; it couldn’t even if it wanted to.
That’s the beauty of the American constitutional system. It thwarts all attempts at radical and rapid change.
The winners will exult for a time, until the more optimistic ones find that Trump is no more a wonder worker than President Obama turned out to be. The Right will win some legislative and policy victories. Then the pendulum will complete the rightward swing of its arc and swing left again. The cycle will continue.
Be kind to your friends and neighbors. Many of them have had a bad time.
M. G. Harmon