Thoughts on a Year
A year ago this morning, I voted for President for the first time. I was very proud to have voted for the former senator, former secretary of state, the doctor of jurisprudence, the extremely passionate and incredibly qualified Hillary Clinton. That night, she lost to Donald Trump.
Over the following weeks and months, many column inches and television hours were devoted to understanding how this could have happened, how a billionaire reality TV star sexual predator borderline-illiterate machismo wimp was elected by a group voting largely against their own interest. Nobody could quite agree.
Many people thought it had to do with race. Others thought it had to do with sex. Still other hypotheses included temperament, outsider status, the businessman facade. People liked that he told the truth unfiltered, that he made his fortune from the ground up, that he wasn’t beholden to special interests and that he would make America great again. Unfortunately, none of those things were true.
Even before the election, Mr. Trump showed us what kind of President he would be. In July of 2015 he mocked Senator John McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war and a year later he insulted the parents of a slain Muslim soldier. As president, he told a war widow that her husband was responsible for his own death.
In October of 2016, a tape was released that contained audio of Mr. Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. As President, he has made misogynistic remarks about women on television, signed legislation targeting women’s health organizations, and appointed an education secretary who has sought to decrease the number of sexual assault investigations instead of the number of sexual assaults.
Also in October of 2016, then candidate Trump said he might not accept the results of the election. After winning it, he spread destabilizing lies about voter fraud and made comments aimed at delegitimizing the judicial branch.
The actions of the Trump administration should not be shocking to anyone who was paying attention during the election, but they should be horrifying to everyone. The Trump candidacy and presidency alike have been characterized by racism, misogyny, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, toxic masculinity, inability or refusal to think critically, disregard for the well-being of Americans, incitement of violence and silence in the face of domestic terrorism, overcompensatory braggadocio, casual ignorance of the facts, casual apathy toward the truth, cowardly refusal to assume responsibility and cowardly refusal to lead, to name a few. And although his approval rating is near the lowest it’s been, several polls suggest that around 37 percent of Americans still support him. So, after everything this President has done and said, my question is: will anything change their minds?
I don’t think so. It’s been a year since Mr. Trump was elected, and several years since he began campaigning, and the number of what should have been career-ending statements, actions, and revelations has surely reached triple digits. And yet 37 percent of the electorate still support his presidency.
37 percent support a man who finds virtue in nazis but none in war heroes. 37 percent support a man who believes in bizarre conspiracy myths he sees on television but not in global warming. 37 percent support a man who uses the oval office for personal financial gain, who appoints his unqualified family and his unqualified friends to critical government positions, who can barely speak in complete sentences and who spews hate speech nearly every single day.
Using numbers from the 2016 election, 37 percent represents nearly 50 million voters, all of whom seem to be unfazed by the plethora of greediness, stupidity, and downright malice that have vented from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue like a nuclear plant headed toward a meltdown. 50 million people. Let that number sink in.
But still the question remains: How far will President Trump’s supporters allow him to go? Will they still support him if he bans interracial marriage? If he starts shutting down Jewish businesses? If he ends women’s suffrage? President Trump could erode a century of social progress and do so with the support of a plurality of Americans.
And for those of you who might think these hypotheticals would be a step too far, I would only remind you that he has already tried to ban muslims from entering the country, created a committee determined to disenfranchise voters, and repealed an executive order that shielded children from deportation. And 37 percent of Americans still support him.
Since last November, I have repeatedly stopped myself from writing essays like this one. Other voices, belonging to people who have traditionally had a lot harder time being heard, have spoken brilliantly, passionately, and articulately about the issues I’ve mentioned above and more. But it’s been a year of silence from me, so I thought I’d use the anniversary to make clear where I stand and what I’m most concerned about going forward. As long as Donald Trump is in office, he will have the full-throated support of tens of millions of Americans. As long as Donald Trump is in office, his unpredictability, foolhardy temper, and reckless indifference toward the state of our country will go unchecked. As long as Donald Trump is in office, none of us are safe.
But here’s a bit of good news: there are more of us than there are of them. And though it pains me to write in such polarizing terms, to do otherwise would be to imply that there exists some acceptable compromise. That, for the sake of unity, I would be willing to give away some people’s civil rights, accept some alternative version of the facts, abandon some fundamental tenets of democracy. What sham truce would be worth such a price?
And so I’ve divided America’s population into two halves: those for whom there exists no line which President Trump could possibly cross, and those for whom it is well behind him. Except it’s not quite two halves because there are more of us than there are of them. And while we could certainly use more converts, at this point I’m not convinced it’s still feasible. So now, one year on, we have to shift our focus, if we haven’t already. We have to win.
We have to win elections at every level of government. We have to win over our existing representatives by making them fear for their jobs. We have to win court battles over redistricting and voter suppression and human rights violations. The stakes are higher than they’ve been in a long, long time, and I no longer have the patience to debate policy nuances with a bloc that can’t distinguish true from false, let alone right from wrong.
I’m done hearing justifications, explanations, demographics — as if any set of personal or political circumstances could make supporting President Trump okay. It’s not okay. It’s just not. And if you’re reading this and feel personally attacked, know that I do, too.
It’s been a tough year. Here’s to love, justice, and progress in the next one.