I never seriously believed that Trump could become the next president of the United States. My shock was partly due to the fact that I live in the bluest of cities in a blue state and get the bulk of my information from liberal news media. (I have tried in earnest to read/listen to mainstream conservative news in order to understand the other side but I just can’t handle the lobotomizing effect of emotionally-supercharged, propagandist headlines that are devoid of facts or content). But more than anything I was shocked because I was sure that this country was just too good for the Republican candidate. And the discovery that I was wrong has left me wondering about the very viability of democratic nationhood.
The best way that I have been able to interpret the outcome has been as a metaphor for a terrorist attack. Many people (ok, around half the country) have been so completely excluded from the orthodox channels of influence that they were willing to do something crazy, even destructive, to finally get their voices heard. And, though many people are upset, the reality is that many people are also now being forced to listen.
I am listening. As a coastal ‘elite’ I’m supposed to be completely cut off from the concerns of middle America but I was born and raised in the Midwest. Much of my family lives in the rust belt. I know something about the economy of the region and the pain that comes from living without real hope for the future. And I am fully aware of the ways that I benefit from living in a place with the power to write its own storyline. The Bay Area is a place where ideas can become reality and the future truly feels like something that we have the great privilege of shaping. The prosperity and opportunity here give residents the ability to look forward. Not back.
This is my country and I want to make sense of it. I actually believe that there are real solutions to the problems that affect the many places that are struggling. But there are so many things that I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how people can be more comfortable paying to incarcerate than to educate. I don’t understand how anyone believes that it is possible to feel comfortable putting a racist in power without accepting racism. I don’t understand how anyone can take out their economic frustrations on the people who struggle to survive while providing the labor that powers most of our food system and a good portion of the construction industry. I don’t understand how anyone can be concerned about Muslim fundamentalism without ever questioning the nature of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. I don’t understand how women can support a man whose only metric for their worth is whether or not they can give him an erection. I don’t understand how anyone can be more concerned about what another person might choose to do in his/her bedroom than whether or not he/she has access to healthy food. I don’t understand how anyone can assign more value to the life of a fetus than the lives of billions of people living on this planet (fine, I do understand this, but I don’t understand how such rhetoric continues to be acceptable).
Over and over again since the election I have heard people who voted for Trump tell those of us who are despairing over the outcome that we can now finally understand how they have been feeling for the past 8 years. They seem to be referring to the comfort one gets from having someone that they can identify with in power. But, if by chance they are actually referring to the fact that we now know what it feels like to live without hope for the future, then I fully agree.