Trump’s election into Office: Who are We? It would be days before I could have an opinion about the results of the election that I witnessed with a group of friends of Donald Trump to be President. Not only that but the Republicans taking the majority in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives was not foreseen. Just like that, all the noise and conflict and screetch that had been in place of discourse for most of the election cycle of what seemed like years and years ended in what didn’t seem possible. How could it be that someone who openly bullied everyone with texts, insulted and spoke with contempt about Republicans as well as Democrats be elected to represent our country. The candidate who, demonstrated religious intolerance, and a 1950’s style bearing dismissed without apology his own sexual assaults that came to light in the campaign, had a strange relationship with Putin and hacking emails, all of this without going down. The mystery of how somehow he kept Democrats on the defense hurling unfounded assertions and threats about with relish did not seem possible.
This particular community of friends, who came together on election eve, had kept their distance from the election process. Only in recent weeks, a few one by one sent out emails and texts asking if the potential of Trump winning the election could really happen. We kept current with Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donald, Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and New York Times editorials, so they looked up from their lives and asked out of surprise to the serious threat that seemed to be coming as the election came closer. Daily Kos Polls gave Clinton a 85% chance to win, that only declined to 70% when the FBI once again spread doubt about Clinton and the emails just days before the election. Only the Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com poll reported the chance that Trump could win. Each of the people in this room were active in climate change advocates, social justice workers who took their role as citizens seriously, more on the local California level than the national. It was as if this election jerked them into the reality that California is attached to the rest of the country, and ultimately would be impacted by the consequence of this election, but no one was prepared for what felt like the tragic defeat of Democrats washing over us like a storm as we sat huddled in the room together. The full table of food and drinks left untouched as the results came in. One by one people left unable or not wanting to even say goodbye as they slipped away.
People didn’t talk to each other the next day out in the world. Facebook was all quiet. The New York Times editorials were mild in their response, though just as surprised it seemed as the general public at the outcome. At our house, the cable news went off and it hasn’t been put on again. Like Lemmings we were led down a path and over a cliff. The well dressed and bright new stars who had the microphone and gave out their pronouncements as if they bore some basic truth now were exposed. They were making stories that sold ads on cable. The New York Times and other papers are now willing to say that it was like a hall of mirrors: opinions and attitudes shared within a context where everyone agreed on the same reality had led them down this path, and they had taken the public with them.
OK, so there were more popular votes for Clinton, but the election had been set up on the electoral vote system, and just because we lost didn’t mean we could change the game now in the face of this loss. Were the shoe on the other foot and Clinton having won the electoral, and Trump the popular, the very same people wanting to disqualify the electoral college outcome would have been on the streets in outrage if the situation were reversed.
Rather than having an emotion other than sad dread, I withheld any real response and looked for information around me before having an opinion or taking any action. Once I saw that Trump was elected into office by 53% women voters, and that an estimated 49% of the country didn’t vote, then I had a response. Those were the people who didn’t feel included: as the media and the candidates made assaults and noise, these people didn’t feel that Hillary Clinton offered them what they needed. They were the silent and invisible majority who expressed their no vote to Democrats and Hillary Clinton. For that reason, the anger that began to surface by steadfast and heartbroken Hillary workers though understandable, seemed misplaced. Who are you angry at? The women who did not identify with Hillary Clinton? Or perhaps, the people who turned their backs on the election many of whom had taken the position of the Bernie Sanders supporters, that the flaws of the candidates and the election itself made voting irrelevant, and what was needed was a social revolution.
But if not anger, what was the response to have? My neice from New Jersey, a fierce and courageous young woman wrote that she was afraid the morning after Trump claimed himself the winner of the election. My nephew a brilliant former Eagle Scout, high achieving, successful producer on a news channel in Philadelphia also wrote me saying he was considering cutting off relations with anyone in the family who voted for Trump. Fact is. we have family members who voted for Trump. In recent visits, no one has spoken for or against any candidate but just respected the differences in positions and candidates. But what now?
We had already made Air B&B and airline reservations to DC to see the first woman elected President to take her oath months before, and had been cautious in letting family members know about that. In our minds, we didn’t want to confront them with our glee in the event of her Inaguration. Now we will see our family, and we will deal with whatever comes up to be there. Somehow it seems even more important to be there on January 20th now. My response to my neice and nephew was that this is a time for tribes and families to get together. Compassion will be the order of the day. I hope to see them both when we are there for the Woman’s March in DC on January 21st.
Still being considered is which direction to take. Van Jones started a response to Trump voters and supporters called the Messy Truth. We progressives have all been talking to each other, watching the same cable news, reading the same columns in our newspapers and journals. The way forward may be to go beyond our comfort zone, beyond our understandings and assumptions, and get to know who these people are who voted in Trump.
Arlie Hochschild, retired Professor of Sociology from University of California Berkeley did a study on the Trump supporters in the South in her book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.” She begins describing the interviews she did in the South scaling what she calls her Empathy Wall,. She suggests that an inquiry must begin with genuine curiosity to understand not only how people think but how they feel toward our country, toward the government, their support of Trump, and about their lives. In a session at the Hillside Club that evening with Joan Blades, Co founder of Momsrising and Founder of MoveON, Hocschild indicated we were going to need to be curious, respectful and look for the common ground getting outside our liberal “bubble.” While Joan supported the idea that through Living Room Conversations, the great divide could be healed in true listening to those holding a different perspective, Arlie held another position.
Arlie drew the audience into an understanding of what she called the “Deep Story.”Dr. Hochschild described how it was for those Trump supporters who were in their own depths of need, shorted in jobs and income to see those who got to be at the head of the line of opportunities and benefits. Minorities and women who had advantage over hard working blue collar folks represent the class warfare rarely acknowledged. That kind of understanding described by Arlie Hochschild illuminates the basis of the great divide.
Her book about her interviews and study of the Trump Supporters is in her book: “Strangers in Their Own Land:Anger and Mourning on the American Right.” She sees the value of understanding and empathy and common ground as the need going forward, but very vigorously, emphasized the need for the action and stands presented in the social revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s being called on now to keep the social values and human rights gained. Sit Ins, Demonstrations, protests she suggested may be how in fact we go forward with the Republicans in majority in the House and the Senate, with potential of other Conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court justice in the Trump era, as well as the Right wing conservative Cabinet coming into play.
It may very well be we will encounter all manor of needs as described to meet new challenges that lie ahead, indeed a new social revolution may soon be our new world. It may call from all concerned to expand and extend the sense of self in the world, and take on including those who oppose all we have gained in the past decades in social justice and social equality.