Well, here we are. I woke up this morning in a world where Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America. I woke up in a world where 59,209,854 people (and counting) had decided that the most powerful position on the planet belongs to the man who least appreciates the American ethic, and who is least fit to carry on the American tradition. The news media is referring to the event as “historic,” and as a “seismic shift in American politics,” and perhaps those deceivingly opaque phrases do muster a modicum of truth– whatever unfolds over the next four years, yesterday will certainly be marked as a pivotal moment in the history of our nation and in the history of the modern world.
Trump’s victory is attributed, by most, to the widespread unrest and dissatisfaction that pervade the electorate. In the words of Paul Ryan, Trump “heard a voice” in the American populace, and while it is not mine to amplify I can assert this about its timbre: that voice is filled with a grumbling, cloudy-headed petulance that demands change without beginning to understand what kind of change it wants. People are upset, but the danger of politics in general is always that in a social and political vacuum, in this rumbling, roiling melange of malcontentedness, people might blindly empower any force onto which they can project their most meager hopes and dreams without adequate scrutiny. And that is what we have seen throughout this election cycle, first in the primaries and now in the general election.
Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, along with Trump himself and several other figures, stressed, as politicians often do, the importance of unity at this time. Trump declared that he will be the “President for all Americans,” and President Obama, in his remarks, said we should remember that “ultimately we’re all on the same team.” I think it is important that we remember that this is not the case. Trump and his supporters, along with the administration he will build, have very different ideas about what makes America great and about the direction that the country should take, and the differences are not ones to be taken lightly. Many people talk like unity for unity’s sake is a good thing, but I have always mistrusted the concept when it comes to politics, and especially when it comes to political leaders. If Trump’s presidency is anything like his campaign, division and opposition will be necessary and, depending on the way things go, essential.
Clinton said in her concession speech this morning that, “we owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” and to my mind this is an invitation to forget everything we have learned about the man in the last year and a half, as well as everything we learned about ourselves last night. Trump’s campaign was built on fear, flippancy, and aggressively puerile ideas, and the public rewarded him handsomely for it. He offered nothing concrete or novel in terms of policy, he demonstrated no sense whatsoever of decorum, and at every turn he further and further lowered the quality and scope of the discourse, and still he was elected. We owe him nothing, just as it is with any leader. What we owe over the next four uncertain years is owed to ourselves and to each other: candor, fortitude, and vigilance.
There are 10 weeks left before the transition of power. After that we’ll all have to see what happens.