If you were able to go to sleep last night, you woke up this morning to the news that Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States, an outcome that ran contrary to the prognostications of virtually everyone who makes a living tracking the contours of the American electorate. Along with an overwhelming majority of them, I was off on calling this one by a long shot.
At present the popular vote looks evenly split between the two main candidates, who each received roughly 59 million votes, with Hillary Clinton inching ahead of her opponent by fewer than 200,000 votes. But as you must know by now, U.S. presidents aren’t chosen by popular vote, they are chosen in the Electoral College, which weights the winners of each state according to size of their respective populations.
Incidentally it’s funny how consistently people call for the elimination of this arcane electoral method only when they don’t approve of the results.
But let’s not get distracted by that debate right now. The votes haven’t yet all been counted, anyway, and either way enough states flipped from blue to red last night to move Secretary Clinton to call her opponent at 2:30am in order to concede the race.
Most of us going into Election Day expected Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to go to Clinton, assuring her the victory even if Trump won over every single toss-up state. But Trump won even those two “safe” Democratic states, nudging him just over the necessary 270 votes he needed to clinch the election, making him the first elected president never to have served in either public office or in the military since, well, since 1776.
As of this writing (I’ll update it after the results have been finalized), the electoral map looks like this, with the key battleground states notated by stripes:
Aligned as I am with the left-leaning agenda of Secretary Clinton, this unexpected turn felt like a punch in the gut for me, just as it did for a majority of the friends whose thoughts and feelings have been exploding all over my social media feeds for the last 16 hours or so.
Many of us are dumbfounded by the willingness of half of all voting Americans to choose as their leader a man who has openly boasted about sexually assaulting women, who openly encourages religious discrimination toward Muslims, who utters easily demonstrable lies at the rate of a dozen or more per rambling speech, and whose thin-skinned reactions toward anyone who criticizes him lead us to believe he would use his position of civic power to retaliate with whatever force is available to him for no other reason than for his own personal satisfaction. Quite frankly, the prospect of a Trump presidency is a global nightmare (unless you’re Vladimir Putin).
And yet here we are. Subject as our democracy is to the wills of our next-door neighbors, those of us who are upset by this turn of events will have to learn to deal with this outcome to the best of our abilities. We cannot be happy with the results, nor do I believe we should give up on our national ideals simply because a unscrupulous demagogue has managed to exploit the vulnerabilities within our system for his own personal gain. This is the price of democracy: Sometimes you have to put up with the decisions of people with whom you strongly disagree. That’s how this works.
I feel I owe an apology to the many disillusioned friends who have been trying to tell the rest of us for years that this is the way America is. This isn’t an aberration, it’s a revelation. It turns out as many as 59 million Americans are either unable to detect how unfit for office this man truly is, or else they know exactly what they are getting and they love him for it. Neither possibility brings me comfort. But today marks a hard lesson in how far we still have yet to go along the road toward enjoying a truly equitable progressive world.
As a friend messaged me this morning, “The glass ceiling appears intact.”
Breaking the News to My Students
This morning I had the unenviable responsibility of explaining this electoral outcome to my students, most of whom are African-American. They knew going into this election that Trump was an outspoken champion of older white people, and they knew that their own families and communities were overwhelmingly against him becoming president. I led them to believe that Secretary Clinton would probably take home the prize, and I was sorely mistaken.
As luck would have it, today was a testing day in my class, so we didn’t talk about it for long (my class is a Math class, anyway). But I had to say a few words about it since they have been looking to me to make sense of what they are seeing. This is essentially what I told each of my classes:
Obviously you’ve learned by now that we called this one wrong, and by a long shot. Several states went to Trump which we had come to believe would go to Clinton, and in the early morning hours this morning, Secretary Clinton conceded the race to Donald Trump. He will be our next president, and he will occupy the Oval Office at a time when his party already has control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Soon he will get to appoint one or more Supreme Court justices as well, guaranteeing that the Republican Party will probably implement a significant number of changes to the way things work in our government.
Since so many of you have been asking, and since I promised I would tell you how I voted after the election was over, I don’t mind telling you that I voted for Hillary Clinton. Speaking personally, I went into this election opposed to a Donald Trump presidency in the strongest of terms. I’m only telling you that now because it seemed important to you all to know my own feelings about all of this, and I figure you deserve to know them.As a public school teacher, I function as a representative of the state, so I have a responsibility to keep my political opinions to myself as much as possible. My job isn’t to teach you how to think; it’s to teach you to think for yourselves. I know my colleagues haven’t been as guarded as I’ve been, but it’s important to me personally that I not be seen as using my position as a teacher to try to influence your political views the same direction as my own. Having said that, I still wanted you to know that I was hoping the other person would win.
But this is the way democracy works. If you want to get to pick your leaders, you have to put up with the choices of the people around you as well. Sometimes you get what you want in an election, and sometimes you don’t. That’s just life, you know? Living in a democracy means that sometimes you have to live with the choices of other people with whom you disagree.
So that’s what comes next. If you don’t like the way this turned out, you can work to change things in the future. In the meantime, it falls to us to learn to live and work together with people who see the world differently from us. You have to deal with the world the way that it is, not only the way you want it to be. Make sense?
Okay, everybody get out pencils and scratch paper, it’s time for a test.
I know, what a sinister thing to do to my students, giving a test on a day like today. Almost like having to get up and go to work on a day you really just wanted to stay home in bed and break out the self-care.
Take Care of Yourself
Which reminds me, if you are one of those who became as emotionally invested in this election season as I was, you need to remember to make time to take care of yourself. Watching the public dialogue unfold during this election season was traumatic for many people. Racism, sexism, jingoism, and a host of other socially and politically regressive traits have been on full display of late, and they’ve been defended and excused by people in positions of power. This has really taken a toll on so many victims of mistreatment, sexual harassment, and cultural marginalization.
Now is a good time to deliberately choose to do the things you do to take care of yourself. Break out the blankets and binge watch something on Netflix. Invite friends over to hang out and do something fun together. Go watch Doctor Strange or curl up with a cup of your favorite drink and listen to some music, or read a good book, or maybe just get a little extra sleep. Do whatever it is you need to do to get through this trying time and find the support you need to regroup and collect your thoughts and emotions.
The world will go on. America isn’t going away tomorrow. The sky isn’t going to fall…at least not immediately. We have some significant difficulties ahead to deal with, and we’re going to need all of our strength. Climate change, rising poverty, and religiously-motivated violence aren’t getting any better, and we’re going to need all of us doing whatever we can to fight these things as best as we can.
The hill just got admittedly steeper. But this is what we do. We meet our challenges head on, leaning into them as hard as we can. That’s how we keep growing and evolving as a species. No sense in giving up now. So take a breather, maybe shut out the world for a bit, and get some rest. I think we all need it.
A Time to Form Alliances
One last word about our path forward from here is in order. Much has been said recently within the secularist community about the varying merits of confrontational vs. diplomatic-style activism, and I’ve made it known pretty clearly that my own preference heavily favors the diplomatic approach, particularly in settings where secularism is overwhelmingly opposed.
I still see much value in the “firebrand” approach, especially on a national level, provided it attempts to maintain some semblance of respect for people who don’t see the world the same way we do. But in a place like the Deep South, it just doesn’t go over well, and it’s more likely to produce a “backfire effect” wherein the people we are trying to reach only dig in harder, resisting any new perspective that challenges their own.
Given that Trump is inheriting a party in control of both houses of congress, and given that his choice of running mate is the ultra-conservative Mike Pence, I think it’s fair to expect a resurgence in theocratic policies which threaten to reverse a great deal of the social gains we’ve seen over the last couple of decades. In my darker moments, I think about going to the library to check out a copy of Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale to finally sit down and read it. That may be overshooting it by a good bit, but I figure it would still be an interesting thought experiment anyway.
In a way, the entire country may soon come to look a bit more like the Deep South, and I know a little something about how to deal with an environment like that.
What I want folks in the secular movement to consider is this: Now is probably not the time to break out the pitchforks and the torches, looking to turn the tide of public opinion in the direction of a more robust secularism. Yes, we want to fight for those things, but so do people from within a number of faiths which don’t fall immediately within the narrow confines of white evangelical Protestantism.
What I’m suggesting is that maybe now is a good time to seek out our natural allies among the devout in our quest for greater acceptance of Freethought in American life. The developments of this election upset a great many people inside the fold of evangelical Christianity, not to mention an even larger number within mainline Christian churches which have never supported conservative political policies. Now would be a great time to learn to reach out to them to draw strength from their greater numbers.
As much as we like to talk about the growing number of unaffiliated persons in the U.S., a majority of them remain relatively disinterested in collecting under the banner of atheism. It’s just not a thing they’re really into, and as such they won’t be interested in expending a great deal of energy to help us rid the world of religion altogether. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate religion entirely from the face of the planet, we would do better to look for our natural allies among the more progressive and moderate religious folks who care just as deeply as we do about pluralism and protecting religious liberty.
Something else to consider while you ponder what to do next.
[Image Source: RedNationRising]