For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is not theory; Newton's Third Law of Physics proves it. Now, with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, so has U.S. politics.
In 2008, our country experienced an unprecedented revolution. Record-shattering voter turn-out elected America’s first African-American President. To achieve such an extreme social and political advance, nearly 70 million – including never-before-seen numbers of blacks, Asians and Latinos, showing up at polls for the first time in their personal histories – cast ballots for President Obama.
It seemed at the time to be a dramatic and sudden shift away from the Good Ol’ Boy System of white privilege in American politics. Many thought it ushered in a new era, tipping the scales firmly in favor of the left. Those of us on that side optimistically celebrated our unprecedented victory and what, by all appearances, it indicated for our future.
But as we enjoyed the momentum of our victory, the right -- especially the far right, those who felt stripped of power and their views were ignored, trampled even vilified by our movement -- waited. They waited and stewed and plotted and seethed. They steeped in fear, frustration and self-righteous indignation. They voiced disapproval and disdain, but they waited.
While the left, and society in general, took strides toward a new vision for America and the world at large, the vigilant, unabashed right sat impatiently, little more than repressed. Generations of increasing political correctness only masked what is and has been, in reality, alive and well just below their surface.
Civil rights advances for African-Americans forced their racism into silence. Moves toward LGBT equality made overt bigotry taboo. Latinos, because of their ever-increasing voting power, were tolerated. A woman — pretty but not terribly competent, so as always to be second fiddle — was a Vice Presidential nominee. Transphobia grew less socially acceptable. Even in the post-9/11 era, anti-Muslims sentiment was largely frowned upon.
Some were fooled, or at least hoped to believe, views not expressed meant they do not exist – that times were, indeed, changing -- but denial cannot make it so. For those who harbor these deep-seated beliefs, the waiting game only strengthened their fervor as they readied for the rise of a voice of their own.
Not-so-quiet anger grew and animosity blossomed as a black man spent eight years as the world's most powerful figure, as the LGBT community saw landmark legal advances, as Time Magazine named a transgender Woman of the Year, as outcry over racially-motivated gun violence and police brutality called into question their right to bear arms and, eventually, as a powerful, competent woman became the Democratic Party front runner.
And then came Donald Trump.
With no apparent filter either in person or on social media, Trump jarringly shoved aside the glossy-if-misleading veneer of “political correctness.” One tweet and absurd sound-byte at a time, he began to voice that which few others would, whether because of its audacity, insensitivity or sheer and unadulterated ignorance.
Whether deeming Latinos “rapists and criminals,” promising to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, calling for an immigration ban on those of certain religions, namely Muslims (supported by the same proclamations that created some of the greatest blemishes on modern U.S. history -- Japanese Internment Camps -- nonetheless), suggesting he will bomb any country which opposes the U.S. or his “locker room talk” about grabbing women “by the pussy,” Trump has, at best, single-handedly set decorum back decades. At worst, he pulled a thread which could unravel generations of social tolerance and acceptance, even if only superficial.
To millions, both in the U.S. and around the globe, Trump seemed too outrageous – almost a parody of his reality TV persona – to take seriously. His marital history, latest wife’s rather lurid past as a nude model, numerous and highly publicized business failings and repeated bankruptcies undercut his credibility as a leader on such grand scale. To some, his words and the frequency with which he altered or contradicted those, even called into question his mental stability.
But to the bigots, religious zealots, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes, silenced by societal pressures against their will, his message was exactly what they were waiting to hear. Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again!” hit a cord -- not necessarily in what it said but what it implied.
To those on the right, and those who have felt lost in the middle, it speaks not only to the country’s once unparalleled economic and technological strengths. To far too many Americans disenfranchised by societal changes, it also hearkens back to a different political and social climate for minorities of all sorts.
For those who have fought against or felt shackled into unwilling conformity and faux compliance by social advances in race, gender and sexuality which threaten their sense of personal power, the slogan brings to mind easier times. It recalls a generation who thought it acceptable to call military adversaries “Gooks” and “Japs.” It’s a throwback to when there was no “LGBTQ community,” only “faggots,” we couldn’t marry and it was OK to bash us both verbally and physically. It’s reminiscent of when abortion was illegal, women were secretaries – not Secretary of State -- and African-Americans were…well, you know…and it definitely wasn’t President.
To these, the “Great” in “Make America Great Again!” had one clear and easily-defined, if unspoken meaning: “White, Heterosexual Male.”
Trump would likely (and wisely) deny that was the intention, but its implication was clearly the slogan’s appeal. And the candidate supported the idea with his words throughout his campaign — as supporters lapped it up with fervor.
After being pushed so strongly to the left eight years ago, and watching with thinly-veiled horror as the country began its shift, these Americans pushed back. This is one of only very few reasonable explanations as to how Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed miserably in many key U.S. states. As left-leaning voters who rallied behind Obama’s historic bid for Presidency fell into complacency after his election – and Mrs. Clinton’s own muddied reputation did her no favors -- the spurned right pounced.
Impassioned by moves within the nation which do not reflect its values and compromise a sense of personal security, the right reacted with equal force. Not unlike ethnic minorities who felt a vested interest in Obama, turning out en masse to support his 2008 campaign, the people to whom Trump’s vitriol – whether implicit and overt – spoke so clearly did the same.
A dangerous new precedence has now been set. With a President-elect who gives no second thought to racist, insensitive outbursts and intolerance-laced hate speech, America’s populace will inevitably follow suit — both through speech and actions alike. It’s a troubling thought indeed.
More concerning though, as America embarks on this new journey, is realizing the risk to generations of social advances – not the least of which are those of the last eight years. Women’s reproductive rights locked in more than 40 years ago are just as much on the chopping block as LGBTQ rights, Marriage Equality and universal healthcare. Already gone, of course, is the simple sense of safety which comes with knowing our Commander-in-Chief will not fly off the handle, inciting global war with an ill-thought-out, late night tweet.
The one favor Trump might have inadvertently done society, however, is the very thing which started his ball rolling. By once again giving those who hate free reign to openly follow in his footsteps, the enemies of the left – those among us who are bigots of all calibers and qualifications – will be revealed.
It is far easier to fight the enemy we can see than that which is hidden from us. This stark reminder that, no matter how far we have come, there is so much farther to go will fuel us. They will test us. They will push us. They will challenge us. They will anger us.
So we wait — but we don’t wait idly or quietly. We prepare. We mobilize. We learn. And rest assured, we will grow in numbers. Then, when the time comes, that law of physics will work equally in our favor. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
And so we push again!