Trump and the Country We Lost

Tonight, I’ll be glancing warily at my phone. The interminable presidential campaign will (please, please, please) be over. Most likely, Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. The adrenaline of a presidential campaign and euphoria of making history will begin to wear off. The reckoning will begin. Me, I’ll be looking at my phone with an upset stomach.

In the coming days the media will bounce through certain refrains. First, political entertainment, the “post game” autopsy (again!) of the Republican party and thoughtful republicans will (again!) call for soul-searching. The second will be more high-minded calls to “heal our divide.” Clinton will no doubt promise to be a president for all Americans, to hear Trump supporters and call for us to come together. Well hold on... some of us need a moment to grieve our gravely wounded ideals. The rush to assure Trump voters that their pain has been heard is like offering sacrifice to the storm before tending to those gutted in its wake. Before we turn to the necessary reconciliation, let me, hopefully just once, sound an unbecoming and bitter note.

Let’s not mince words. Trump has turned disillusionment into disenfranchisement, alienation into visions of persecution, has brooded darkly about “rigged” and “stolen” elections and suggests his losing could cause riots in the streets. His spectacular ability to stir economic anxiety with xenophobia, racism and misogyny, into a poisonous stew has many concerned about the days ahead.

African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Women-Americans (that 50% minority) have learned how little our neighbors cared about our being regarded with mere decency; how quickly our fellow citizens could be made to hate us. Assuming that winning will cure all underestimates the coarsening of hearts and wearing of our already frayed racial bonds.

I, for one, keep fiddling with my phone.

I can only speak for African-Americans or more precisely, one African-American. Being Black too often means being “protected” by a lifetime of scar tissue; accumulated reminders that some of life’s stings are determined by your skin but often gnawing uncertain as to which ones. Darker skin too often hardens, allowing one to survive anticipated daily wounds. But this makes it all the more searing when the attack penetrates.

Like most Black American I know well that racial animus exists. And I am nagged by the suspicion that many of the “respectable” reasons professed for hostile conservative policies are thin cover for racial disdain. But Black Americans are, well, like everyone else. So in quiet conversations in offices and louder ones in barbershops, across dinner tables and in backyards, we argue about how deep the rot. One group of Black friends tries to convince you that the bulk of America’s politics is fueled by explicit racism. The rest of us push back against the deepest despair. In our hearts, we held or hoped for better. If some dictatorial manic channeled racial contempt into a bid for power, we knew our nation would rise to utterly reject them.

Trump’s campaign has ripped open the national scar tissue. His political life began embodying the lie that President Obama was not an American. The implication was clear; any Black man claiming authority was “different” than the stained lot of hellish “inner cities” and illegitimate. His success sweeps away hopeful delusions. When your most cynical Black relative argues that American politics is just thinly veiled racism, what words can we muster?

The splintered friendships across racial lines are a different kind of pain. If the indictment of your Black friend wearily bows heads, the acceptance of Trump by white friends causes you to avoid meeting eyes. A dear white friend of mine has been my friend since college, not in spite of his being more conservative but in part because he is conservative. With good will and great integrity, he is a window into the best of the “other side;” a constant reminder that our politics should not define our friendships. The guy was one of my groomsmen.

But this… this feels different. It feels visceral when he argues as though the candidates’ failings are roughly equivalent. When he shared that he admired Trump’s African-American “outreach” I felt a punch in the gut… Too drained to lay out the deep contempt in Trump’s words. And this guy is not even voting for Trump; just arguing. We have been arguing for two decades but this one posed danger and real hurt. Instead, terse texts are exchanged, conversations grow sharper and fear of deeper damage curtails conversation. Trump’s campaign has turned disagreement to closely to betrayal. So I know I should call and sort it out. Every now and again, I glance again at my phone.

In his cruel language, if nothing else, Trump is inclusive. Hispanic Americans have seen potent discrimination quickly metastasize debates from immigration policy to vicious scapegoating for every economic ill to descriptions as “murders and rapists.” Muslim-Americans were reminded that many refuse to view them as real Americans and will forever treat their religion as a reason for suspicion. Trump revealed his grossness by claiming entitlement to molest women on whim. But for me, the most chilling moment was his slipping on a gentleman’s mask as he stepped off the bus, greeting Arianne Zucker with faux graciousness that covered his causal disdain. It is one thing to know of crass, amorphous hatred “out there.” Seeing contempt on video is a gut punch.

The whiplash of betrayal is not abstract. It is in emboldened racist Facebook messages trumpeting insults once whispered. Teachers are worrying about our children copying crassness on national display, leading to an increase in bullying and racial slurs. After Brexit won the day, fueled by vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric, Great Britain has seen a 58% explosion in hate crimes.

Those who know me will be surprised. I am not given to gloom. Indeed, I withstood thise election relatively well for months; I was the liberal decrying Trump’s bigotry but insisting the lion’s share of his supporters were moved by empty proclamations of being an economic savior. The election’s end has brought my collapse. My sympathetic rationalizations for Trump supporters and abettors turned to disgust and finally anger. Impossibly the man became uglier and uglier each day. Whatever originally motivated Trump’s supporters, only callowness could allow them to ignore the grossness of the man.

Now so many of us must face that nearly half our country is enthralled by or at least willing to support the most thinly veiled sexism and racism for political expediency. Principled arguments for smaller government or deep Christian convictions ring entirely hollow; they stood along for male privilege and bigotry all along. Our friends, our neighbors and our country came not just perilously close to electing a dangerous buffoon but were willing to betray us. And now we must return and make peace with those who help or ignored this man heap hatred and hear it was just politics. If there is one group of supporters who should be disappointed, disgusted and mad tonight, it is the disparate Hillary supporters.

Of course I know this will not last. Nations have overcome much deeper betrayals. Indeed, America has overcome deeper rifts. We will remember that decent people on all sides recoiled from Trump. We will pick up the phone and chat with our friends, who themselves are exhausted, across politics. But for one night, I am not yet ready for the conciliatory speeches. We know we must heal but we out not just rush to pretend we’ve healed. Tonight, I am still stunned at how causally so many made themselves willfully blind.

Tonight, there will be worthy celebration for electing our first female President. But when we awake, we will turn to holding our political leaders accountable while finding a way not to hold grudges against nearly half out country. The political classes will obsessed with how we must “hear the Trump voters,” I wonder who will listen to the rest of our bruised and broken hearts.

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