I enjoy elections quite a bit. I usually have strong opinions on specific issues and favorite candidates, but the reason I enjoy elections is because they are a chance for conversation. Issues come to the forefront and we as citizens are forced to consider them, to put ourselves in our fellow American’s shoes, to contemplate what is best for our country and our fellow countrymen.
The 2016 Presidential Election took all the joy out of what elections are supposed to be about. The Republican Party tolerated and later endorsed a man who is inexperienced, ignorant of the law and selfish.
Candidate Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists (and then wished everyone a happy Cinco de Mayo while endorsing his buildings taco salads), referred to women’s gentalia as pussies, mocked and bullied a disabled reporter, spouted hate speech, endorsed violence against his fellow candidates and the press, encouraged violence against those that opposed him, was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, and endorsed violence against those that opposed him at rallies. Trump, who no doubt has little understanding of the intricacies of the first amendment, embodied a complete attack on the rights we supposedly hold dear as Americans. Even more tragic was the claim that the attack was being done to, “make America great again.” It quickly became apparent that those who supported Trump believed that minorities and women should be considered less than. Of course there were those that considered themselves Independents and insisted the only reason they supported Trump was because of the economy or because they simply did not want “her.” To those voters that match this description, I call B.S. on that excuse and reasoning, I am also suspicious that these voters do actually share some of the opinions regarding minorities and women that Trump touted on his campaign.
On Election Day I woke up excited. I threw on a blue dress and red cardigan, sparkly red earrings and USA red lipstick. Before work I stood in line with my fellow citizens sharing the excitement of Election Day. My husband and I voted, and made sure to get our “I voted” sticker. At work I immediately opened CNN on my web browser so I could check the updates as the day progressed. It became clear this wasn’t going to be the landside I had expected. Feeling a little surprised but still confident the election would turn out the way I expected I went to class. After class I rushed home and turned on my TV, still the news was not what I expected. I watched all night holding onto hope that this wasn’t happening. My husband finally told me we had to go to bed, I took my computer with me so I could continue checking the results. At one point I fell asleep, when I woke up my computer had died. I jumped out of bed rushed to the living room, turned on the TV and at that very moment that were calling the results of the election. Surprising myself I burst into tears. My reaction surprised me. I couldn’t believe that so many people hated “her,” I couldn’t believe that so many people hated us. I sat there staring at my TV thinking somehow something would change. After a few minutes I went back to bed and told my husband what had happened.
When I woke to get ready for the day, I was still in tears. I couldn’t bring myself to put on makeup, I put on whatever was easiest. When I arrived at work I immediately went to my desk. I was avoiding my boss. My boss is a brilliant black lesbian and I couldn’t face the fact that our country had failed her. After an hour had passed I went into her office. As soon as she saw me she got up and hugged me and we both started crying. She told me that when she came in that morning she saw the janitors (all of Latin decent, all kind and hardworking people) and she said they looked so sad and scared. She said she could barely face them.
At class that night as my white classmates began to fill the classroom I could see they were upset about the election and that brought me comfort. That we shared common interest, that we most likely had shared experiences, and that they were on our side. One of my classmates had been particularly vocal about supporting Trump he came to class with a cocky smile and arrogant attitude and of course I was his target. As a minority woman I’ve gotten used to being the target. He began his taunting and I told him to please stop. Of course he didn’t so again I asked him to please knock it off. Again I was ignored. Then I got angry and told him if he didn’t stop he would regret it. At that point another white male classmate intervened and told the Trump supporter to stop because “she looks serious” and finally he stopped.
As the day progressed I heard my white classmates say, “It’s because she didn’t spend enough time in the beltway states.” There it was, the difference between me and white America, even if it was liberal white America, was obvious. I sat there listening to my white classmates discuss the election results in an analytical way as if this election was typical. Typical! I sat in my seat wanting to scream, “Was that really necessary? Shouldn’t this election have been a shoe-in? With a candidate like him couldn’t she have just stayed home and still won?” It became clear that though we were all disappointed, I was one of the few who were angry and afraid.
Between the news and school I heard people justifying their votes. Some said they voted for him because he was the Republican candidate, so they voted with their party. To me that said you chose your party over your country, you chose your party over your fellow countrymen, and yeah, I have a problem with that. Others said they voted with him because of the economy, this was particularly hurtful because what it said to me was that the economy took precedent over the safety and wellbeing of Americas most oppressed groups. That civil liberties could be put on hold until we boosted our economy. Then there were those who said that when it came down to choosing between him and her, they chose him because they vehemently did not like her. When pressed for reasons why these people did not like her, they could never clearly articulate why. Though this was unjust, as a professional woman, I was not surprised by such incomprehensible attitudes towards women.
In the weeks following the election my law school began holding events to discuss the results of the election. For some reason the faculty adopted this very kumbaya attitude towards the election and was insistent that we use this experience to “come together and understand one another.” Again, I was dumbfounded. I decided to attend law school because I thought it was where you picked a side and stood firm in your conviction, and it seemed like the leaders of my university disagreed. I agreed that now was the time for unity but not just for unity sake. It was time to unite to mobilize against this very real threat to our country and centuries’ worth of progress.
I attended one of the events to discuss the results. Faculty and staff members opened the event by sharing their thoughts after which they invited students to voice their thoughts. I had no intention of speaking. I knew what I wanted to say was unpopular. I knew what I wanted to say was in stark contrast to the kumbaya attitude my professors were promoting.
A few students shared their thoughts and then a young white man delivered his prepared remarks. This young man stood before everyone and discussed how difficult it is to be Republican at a liberal school (forgive me for not shedding tears for the difficulties you face as a white male, I thought). He continued to explain to us why he voted for Trump. While I disagreed with most everything he said, I didn’t have an issue with any of it until he said, “be critical of him when he fails but I encourage you to praise him when he succeeds.” A fellow student, was asking me to praise a man who called my father a rapist, viewed women as objects and encouraged violence against men that look like my bosses son. This young man wanted us to forgive and forget the hateful speech and actions against us and simply move forward as if it wasn’t about to get worse.
My white classmates and the Trump supporters did not see the writing on the wall, they did not see the path the country was about to go down. The election wasn’t personal for them as it was for us. I got up after him and began saying everything I had wanted to say from the beginning. I do not remember what I said but I remember that wide-eyed expressions of shock and others avoiding me by looking down.
A few weeks after the election, my classmate who supported Trump was talking to another white male that was sitting next to me. The man sitting next to me explained that he spent his weekend cleaning his house. The Trump supporter inquired why he cleaned his own house, when the man sitting next to me asked who cleaned his house and he said “we just get a Mexican to do it.” This perfectly embodied what Trump’s election meant to minorities and to white people. Trump’s election has given white people, primarily white men, a strong and violent sense of authority. Suddenly there are no limits to what they’re willing to say no matter where they are or who they are near. Right there in front of me my classmate belittled my heritage, belittled the woman he hires who works hard to support herself and no doubt her family, he belittled her efforts to make an honest living and her attempts to coexist in this country with him. He did all of this never questioning his authority to do so. This is the entitlement that Trump promotes in white America. This election told white men they were superior and rightfully entitled. That they could treat others as they pleased. That minorities should walk in fear of them.