Donald Trump is going to be president. It’s hard to know how to let that sink in. Should we be reasonable, infuriated, reasonably infuriated, infuriatingly reasonable? Already, students have tried all four of these approaches and I can’t quite bring myself to call any of their conclusions productive, yet it doesn’t feel safe to take no position.
What I do know is that I felt betrayed on November 8. Half of betrayal is surprise. Partly I was surprised that the polls were wrong, but mostly I was surprised that I was wrong about the character of America. I thought I understood the trajectory and spirit of this country, but the election of Donald Trump proved otherwise. While it is true that every election features millions of people who disagree with me, this year a large portion of those people sounded different. I honestly did not realize how much anger there was in this country.
Something I recognized on election night is that I don’t know a single Trump supporter. I have a few Facebook friends who endorsed him, but I haven’t spoken with any of them for years. Certainly, my social context does not reflect the distribution of voters in this country. The world I experience day-to-day is not a world in which Donald Trump can be elected president. The simplest thing to say is that on November 8, the Swarthmore bubble burst. The shock, however, extended far beyond this campus. So many pollsters and analysts were just as surprised as we were. So many of my family members and friends from home were just as blindsided. Polarization is a national epidemic.
As enticing as it is to separate ourselves from this newfound vision of America, we must do exactly the opposite if we want to learn from November 8 and move forward either collaboratively or oppositionally. Now is not the time to build a wall around the Swarthmore campus. If we do not come to interact meaningfully with Trump’s supporters, future elections will be only more polarized. Even if changing demographics shift results more to the left, increased polarization will still lead to volatility and anger.
And yet as easy as it is to say that we should open ourselves up to the new (or perhaps the old) America, doing so has obvious risks. There are protective measures that should be taken and protests that should be made. At the very least we must show solidarity with those who are now rightfully living in fear. For the communities that are most directly affected, action is imperative and inevitable. All should join in the fight to preserve the rights of those whose disenfranchisement Trump proudly campaigned on.
We hold some beliefs that will conflict with the new political reality and that would be invalidated by any compromise. We will not compromise on the equality of different genders, races, or religions. We will not compromise on the sanctity of the environment.
It might seem like there is a contradiction between our two intellectual duties. We owe it to ourselves to get to know this country once again, but we cannot forget what we already know about ourselves. Doing both will require us to seek out opinions we disagree with and to articulate our own opinions in circumstances where they will not dominate. Doing both will require us to be brave and deliberate.
Bravery and deliberation should be the watchwords of the Democratic Party in its new role as a minority. We shall not participate in a politics of fear nor build a wall to enforce our homogeneity. There is another party that does those things. We should work to place ourselves among those who we thought had faded into the past and let them know what we want the future to be like.
We will have to make many compromises because we lost this election. We cannot reject all change nor protest every movement that Trump makes. There are not enough hours in the day to fight so many losing battles. Dialogue, however painful, is as essential as always. There are some fights that we should invest every second of the next four years in, but we cannot do so indiscriminately without deepening the rift between liberals and conservatives.
We must choose our battles. We cannot afford to declare war on the entirety of conservatism, but we also cannot afford to disconnect from the dark political reality of America.
Featured image courtesy of Whiskey Riff.