What a cruise missile of a headline to wake up to on a fittingly cold, gray, and rainy day in London. Like many, I was more than surprised by his victory. I was floored, astonished, speechless. Surely, the most disliked presidential candidate in modern American history couldn’t have pulled it off. And yet, there Trump was on Thursday, meeting with President Obama at the White House to discuss the transition of power.
Though I knew I’d be surprised, even embarrassed for my country, if Trump prevailed, I must admit I did not anticipate three emotions in particular: sadness, fear, and shame.
I was never inspired or impressed by Secretary Clinton’s candidacy, and I have strongly disliked her convenient switching of policy positions, especially her about-face on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In fact, if she was defeated, I figured there’d be a poetic justice in the overthrow of an establishment dynasty by the inexperienced and almost comically temperamental Trump.
But then she lost.
Since then, I have felt sadness because the consequences of Trump’s victory are already making themselves manifest. Graffiti in Durham declaring that black lives don’t matter nor do their votes. A son of beloved members of my church family asking if slavery will be reinstituted in our country. Muslim women no longer wearing the hijab because they are terrified of being physically attacked.
I have felt fear because, prodigious character flaws aside, Trump’s stated policy proposals represent genuine threats to the global economy, international security, and domestic tranquility.
And I have felt ashamed because I expected to find some form of justice in Clinton’s loss—and to be sure, I’ve discovered none, poetic or otherwise. She has been gracious in defeat, which is much more than can be said for those who have and will continue to rake her over the coals in victory. All the while, of course, I have had the luxury of living through this election knowing my place in our country has never once been in danger. My failure to recognize this fact has been brought into stark relief.
Many of us may be wondering if there is anything to be done to bridge the divide between those that voted for Trump and those that voted for Clinton. While I am convinced that economic anxiety and a feeling of being ignored or forgotten played a substantial role in the election’s outcome, I know there is another, uglier side to the story. Trump’s complete lack of restraint on the campaign trail has given expansive cover to those who have needed it in order to espouse inexcusable hatred towards fellow Americans. This leads us to a critical question: how do we share a country with those whom we don’t merely disagree but also find morally repugnant?
As an individual of faith, the easy answer is to encourage everyone to act as a person of grace—to do more listening; to try and understand where others are coming from; to show restraint when one could demonstrate anger; to ask one’s self why other people believe the things they do rather than accuse them of ignorance or bigotry. I believe these are worthy aspirations. After all, for some, this election has been a matter of different, and valid, policy preferences, and seeking understanding may be the most productive means of attaining a semblance of common ground.
The harder answer, of course, is to be a person of action and resistance in the face of genuine evil. How this takes specific shape may depend on the trajectory of the first few months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, but we can all start with the little things. If you hear people making sexually inappropriate jokes about women, say something; remind them that such behavior is unacceptable. If you see someone spray painting public property with derogatory messages about African Americans or members of the LGBTQ community, don’t stand by; intervene, or call the police. If you stumble upon people harassing Muslims or Latinos for their dress or ethnicity, tell them to stop; make sure those being targeted are safe.
Some may think this an unnecessarily hyperbolic alarm. As a friend reminded me, not all readers routinely see this kind of behavior in their communities, and encouraging a narrative of distrust and hatred in fellow Americans is toxic. But while assuming the worst in others may not be helpful, a clear-eyed assessment of reality undoubtedly is. As such, there are two points that I wish to convey. First, we must explicitly recognize that the future has become suddenly and deeply uncertain for many Americans. Second, we must acknowledge that it is the responsibility of each of us, especially those of us in more privileged positions, to stand with, and stand up for, our fellow citizens for whom the future is now a frightening prospect.
I, for one, will try my best to do my part. And I will continue to pray for an ever more perfect Union.