Democracy is a Choice We Make Everyday
Election day is an important day when we as Americans choose who we are as a nation. Yesterday, Americans chose Donald Trump to be our standard-bearer, and he will be our next President.
As it became more evident that Donald Trump would win last night — massively outperforming prior Republican tallies in White regions even as he lost Latinos by shocking margins — I didn’t quite have the reaction I thought I would. I wasn’t quite as panicked as I thought I’d be. I wasn’t quite as despondent as I thought I’d be.
This is not a softening on the Trump campaign one bit. I do not believe this election was about “economic anxiety”, and I do not believe it was about generic anger at the “establishment”. What drove the White majority in this nation was the realization that they didn’t have to pretend to care about others’ equality. And if they didn’t have to do it, they had no interest in it. If ever a hypothesis was falsified, it was the conceit that contemporary American bigotry was subconscious rather than simply in hiding.
Peter Beinart’s twitter feed yesterday — retweeting message after message gleefully promising to send him to the gas chambers — was an entirely unnecessary confirmation of the hell Trump has unleashed for Jews in this country; a hell that parallels the terrors he promises for Muslims, immigrants, people of color, and women. Indeed, the most terrible lesson we’ve learned this day is the degree to which White people in this nation thirst to return to an overt position of supremacy — advantaged not just implicitly but openly. What I was reminded of most was Bernard Henri-Levy’s commentary on the resurgence of European anti-Semitism. It came out of a yearning
for people to feel once again the desire and, above all, the right to burn all the synagogues they want, to attack boys wearing yarmulkes, to harass large numbers of rabbis, to kill not just one but many Ilan Halimis….
The want to do it, and they want to feel good about wanting to do it. This election was about White people wanting to no longer feel guilty about wanting to stand atop and astride people of color, about Christian people wanting to no longer feel guilty about dreaming of an America that only includes Christians, about men wanting to no longer feel guilty about their fantasies of assaulting women.
Another lesson we learned was the absolute, complete irrelevancy of the “intellectual” wing of contemporary conservatism — a faction which has always feared Trump. Let’s be clear, if even a quarter of Republicans actually bought into #NeverTrump, this election is a blowout. The GOP establishment, its elites, its thinkers — people who found Trump risible — they are trivial. They are nothing. There has probably never been a larger gap between public profile and actual influence in the history of this nation.
So what caused my zen-state earlier this evening? Maybe it was numbness. Maybe it hasn’t set in yet.
But Donald Trump is not interested in governing. I suppose thank goodness for that; heaven help us if he developed an interest. But if he’s not interested in governing, then he won’t be interested in following through on his more vicious policy proposals. They’ll require work, after all, and since when does Donald Trump wish to work?
Take the Supreme Court. Trump clearly couldn’t care less about it. Which means he’ll almost certainly nominate bog-standard conservative justices from the standard conservative lists. Under normal circumstances, that would be awful. But the silver lining is those justices tend to come from that “intellectual” wing of the Party I just dismissed as trivial. They are precisely the sorts of conservatives who may well recoil at any overtly authoritarian tendencies by a Trump administration.
Or perhaps not. The Republican establishment has been thoroughly cowed by Donald Trump, and that has a tendency to prompt one to reconcile oneself (maybe that’s what I — optimistic, establishment-oriented-I — am doing right now). And does anyone really trust Trump to abide by a hostile court decision? The fact that we’re asking these questions is scary in its own right. And there are other issues — global warming is perhaps the most striking — where it seems we are probably just doomed.
But what this boils down to is this. As awful as Donald Trump is, I’m less scared of him than I am of the people who elected him. They formed a national plurality that talks of throwing political opponents into jail, that revels in hurting others unlike them, that has unleashed a torrent of racist and sexist abuse the likes of which haven’t been seen in my lifetime. All that talk about how “you can’t say” certain things about Muslims or Jews or Blacks or women? We’ve discovered you absolutely can say it — and become President in the process! That genie won’t get bottled up again easily, regardless of how Trump comports himself from this day forward. Trump was just an opportunistic vessel for that sentiment; I no longer think it needs his express or implied support for it to survive. That said, better men than him have tried to purely translate raw populist sentiment into concrete policy. It’s no easy task even for skilled politicians.
So where do we find ourselves?
Election day is a day when we as American choose who we want to be as a nation. But that’s only because we make that choice every single day. We make it today, when we agree to a peaceful transition of power. We make it this weekend, when we stop making stupid jokes about moving to Canada and start thinking about our next steps here. We make it over the next two years, when we dig in our heels and renew the fight. We make it each and every moment that we put forward a vision and a dream that the choice America makes for itself tomorrow will be better than the choice we made today.
Today’s choice was a terrible choice. But it is not our last choice. It is not history that will vindicate us, or the arc of the universe that will bend our way. It is up to us, and our choices, to (if I can adopt a successful slogan) make America great again.