The next day

Yesterday America elected a schmuck.

It’s okay, though; this certainly isn’t the first time. But yesterday was an interesting tide of emotions. It’s the first major event since September 11th where I’ve seen large amounts of people express grief. What Obama’s first election brought us in giddiness and pride brought disbelief and numb horror on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

I never gave Trump much serious thought, even after he achieved the Republican nomination. I felt as if Trump represented some kind of bland evil that the greater-acting good throughout America would defeat on Election Day.

This is the real reason why half of America cried yesterday. Not only were we beaten, but our egos were majorly bruised.

For the last two decades, America has increasingly abandoned its rural areas in favor of economic opportunity and convenience within major cities, usually near the coasts. It’s no surprise that the left and right sides of America have been painted blue in the last few presidential elections.

So what happened in those red areas that were left behind? The economy stagnated. Factories and mines departed, and children who dreamed of being like their parents found that a high school education was no longer enough to secure a pension, house, or very much within the American dream. The coasts and cities became bastions of a new cultural elite that scorned the traditions and labor that made the country itself possible. As both educational and economic opportunities dwindled, that population grew mistrustful, and felt very forgotten by, the establishment.

You happy with your high-paying job over there in RTP, Boston, Portland? I wish you could’ve seen West Virginia when my family and I drove through it less than a year ago. Old towns that once thrived on the boom of coal mining were decrepit. I’ve never visited a rural area and seen food banks and social service centers so prominently advertised. People told us over and over again about the lack of opportunities available for work, but nobody wanted to leave. West Virginia was their home and history.

I never thought about any of this until Wednesday morning. I had gone to sleep at 12:30 on election night with a deep sense of dread in my stomach. I avoided looking at my phone until I got up at 6:40 the next morning to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t believe, and suddenly could believe, that Donald J. Trump had legally, rightfully been elected President of the United States.

I was immediately disgusted. “America’s made it’s bed–now we have to sleep in it,” I told Alex, who already knew the news. I thought of the red voting swaths and considered them fools.

But then I thought about something that had caught my attention on election night: one of the commentators said, “This is a vote against the establishment,” just as Trump had racked up 244 electoral votes, only 26 away from victory. And I thought about West Virginia and Florida, where a similar deficit of opportunities exists, though for different reasons. And then I understood why most people had voted for Trump.

Hillary was undoubtedly the most qualified candidate. She’s brilliant, ruthless, and I was honored to vote for her, even though she certainly has a flawed record. But Hillary is also the epitome of the establishment. She’s part of a dynasty, connected to a government that has failed to serve many people in this country. And it’s far too much of a simplification to say that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. Instead, it’s more likely that many of these people were actually troubled by some of the things they heard him say; those comments just didn’t apply to themselves or anyone they cared about (hi, white people!). Sexism remains well entrenched in this culture, so it’s no surprise that neither sexist or racist remarks would be enough to stir right-learning parts of the country into an outrage. They’re not there yet.

But to be fair, neither are “progressives.” We’ve been living in a bubble that was unexpectedly popped on Election Day. We’ve spent a long time dismissing Republican voters as uneducated, uninformed, stupid. Instead, I think we’ve seen distrustful, hurt, and scared people who have been left behind in a rapidly changing culture. (Let’s not get into the conspiracy theorists–they’re a whole other lot–I would rather look at how our government’s systems have failed a huge swath of people who have not forgotten it.) As one writer put much more eloquently than me, these people chose the one manner in which they truly have a voice, their vote, and they used it to send a very clear message.

There’s no doubt that the next 4 years hold some difficult battles. I am profoundly disturbed by rhetoric that is reminiscent of the era of internment camps in this country, of a time when women were devalued even more than they are now, or–let’s get real–Hitler’s Germany. We will have to work very hard to be proactive and bring our activism to the streets. It’s been too easy for progressives to use a hashtag and virtually check in as a form of “activism.” If we want to truly protect all human rights in the coming years, it will require a form of protest that many of us have never experienced.

All that said, many folks who voted for Hillary have slammed Trump voters as racists. Some of them undoubtedly are. But I’ve also seen some of those folks profess their own concerns. They didn’t like their choices either–but they couldn’t support a government that had continued to fail them for so long. I can’t defend their choice, but I can see where they’re coming from. Alex had a great observation yesterday: “Why don’t we just ask people why they voted for Trump?” Until now, progressives have been content to stay in their bubble of prosperity and surround themselves with people who hold the same views (myself included).

It’s time for real dialogue to happen about how we got into this situation and where our country needs to go. In the meantime, we must be vigilant about our most vulnerable people–and do whatever it takes to protect them.

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