Crawl Toward Wisdom
On Tuesday night, Adrian and I ate dinner in front of the television as we watched the votes roll in. It felt festive at first, as if we were watching an anticipated sports game. Then the hours passed, the night stretched on, and around eleven, Adrian looked up from his phone and said, disbelieving, "I think he's going to win this!"
I shook my head. "No. No way. It's not going to happen. It can't." But I had a heavy, sick feeling in my stomach and got up to pour another glass of wine.
We were watching PBS NewsHour for the coverage, and each time another state was called in Trump's favor, New York Times columnist David Brooks looked more rumpled and dazed. It could have been a Saturday Night Live skit: we joked that first he would loosen his tie. Then he'd pull out a flask. Then maybe they'd all start passing around a joint, just to dull the sharp edges of shock.
We went to bed around 1:30, shortly after Hillary's campaign began streaming from their headquarters, subdued and grim. A few minutes later, Adrian said, his face illuminated by his phone screen, "He won--Donald Trump won. He's the President of the United States."
We stared at each other in the dark bedroom, solemn, and my throat closed with emotion.
"Do you want to watch his speech?" he asked, already starting to live stream it on his phone.
"No," I said. "It's enough to know." But I reached for the TV remote and found it on the big screen.
And then there he was, Donald Trump, president-elect. "Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country," he said. "Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; [we] have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people." (Read the whole transcript here.)
Somehow, the affected respect of his speech infuriated me more than if he'd stood up there and talked about a wall again (a wall which, to his dubious credit, already feels firmly erected within our own country, forget about the border). "Crooked Hillary" was "Secretary Clinton," and instead of "locking her up," we owed her a debt of gratitude? He wanted to heal the wounds of division? Since when had division not worked in his favor? The flagrant hypocrisy made my heart pound. I read an article later that articulated my feelings more eloquently (and unfortunately I can't find it): Was the other stuff--the oft-quoted lines reflecting and inspiring racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc.--was that all fake? Exaggerated, swollen-to-bursting ugliness designed to capture a certain segment of the population, and soon to be discarded now that the job was done? Could there be anything more cynical?
In the last four days, I've been quiet on social media (namely Facebook; I don't use Twitter, though perhaps I should finally board that train). I've been reading article after article, newspapers, blogs, magazines. I've been reading comment threads. Having conversations. Absorbing the impact. Trying to work, to write. Trying not to ask myself why writing matters right now.
In a brilliant essay in The Nation, Toni Morrison says, ". . . And when the political discourse is shredded by an unreason and hatred so deep that vulgar abuse seems normal, disaffection rules. Our debates, for the most part, are examples unworthy of a playground: name-calling, verbal slaps, gossip, giggles, all while the swings and slides of governance remain empty.
". . . None of this bodes well for the future. Still . . . This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
"I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art."
In the last four days, I've been seeking information. Seeking knowledge. How did this come to pass? Why did people--not the extremists, but people I love and respect--vote for him? And what is the true scope of the impact?
My best friend--a Latina, a lawyer, a mother, an intelligent and wise and kind human being--voted for Trump. When I asked for her reasoning, she told me to prepare for some long responses (which she gave me permission to share here). She said that she'd voted for him with great reservation, and that he will most likely be controlled and held accountable by his party.
"By both parties," she said, "because he is not really either. True Conservatives don't like him and have been very vocal about that. National Review dedicated an entire magazine to why he shouldn't be our nominee and has had articles (like this and this) criticizing him the entire time. Hillary was never held accountable by her party or liberal media. It's amazing how little is publicized about her scandals, which they are now paying for dearly. And I think that would have been very dangerous in the White House, especially with the precedent set by Obama. Which hopefully doesn't come back to bite Democrats in the ass. Because if Trump starts legislating by executive fiat against the law, Democrats won't be able to say a thing because they let Obama do it so many times. Which set such a bad and truly terrifying precedent."
Then she added, "And also, I just don't believe he's a racist or a sexist. I think for the most part that's bullshit made up by the media."
I had to respond to that last comment first. "What do you make of the racist and sexist things that have come from his own mouth?" I asked. Then I told her that I'm worried for the Supreme Court. I'm worried for women's rights and marriage equality and how he's given people permission to say and act upon their darkest impulses of sexism and bigotry, impulses that were once at least shamed into silence or inaction. I told her that I worry for relationships with other world leaders, for foreign policy, for immigration law and religious freedom. I started compiling a list of articles that exemplify and validate these concerns.
First, this heartbreaking roundup on Twitter: shouted slurs, hijabs being pulled off, women being grabbed without permission, a virulent spewing parade of hatred. This one from The Week (some duplicates as the Twitter roundup, many new ones). There's this New York Times piece, which opens by describing fliers that have been spread around my grad school alma mater of Texas State University, featuring camouflage-wearing, gun-toting men saying, "Now that our man Trump is elected, time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off that diversity garbage." One of those university leaders, I learned through Facebook today, is one of my writing professors, Debra Monroe, who is quoted in this Washington Post article sharing yet more horror stories from universities across the country. And as to my friend's opinion that Trump's racism and sexism is largely inflated by the media, here's a Snopes review disputing the widely circulated meme that Donald Trump was never called racist before he ran for President. Here's another Snopes piece detailing the lawsuit filed by a woman known as "Katie Johnson," who alleges that Trump raped her when she was 13 years old.
In full disclosure, I've yet to send these links to my friend--mostly because they just keep coming. So the conversation, which took place over text yesterday, 11/11, continued.
"Supreme Court," she said. "We share the same worry, but for very different reasons. People have become so obsessed with getting what they want RIGHT NOW that they've damned the consequences. I strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage and am extremely concerned with the precedent set. It was self-admittedly made outside the rule of the law. The Supreme Court is not a legislative branch, yet that's how they acted. I would love it if every single state would get the votes to make gay marriage legal along with everything that comes with that. But the Supreme Court had no business forcing its will on the states. And everyone feels okay that they did because it achieved an outcome they wanted. But they will feel very differently the day it's for something they don't. I think that people need to read the dissents before agreeing with the ruling. Scalia's is my personal favorite, though Chief Justice Roberts' might be more palatable as he is a very moderate judge.
"To quote Roberts: '...this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be . . . The majority's decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court's precedent . . . Just who do we think we are? . . . Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law. The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer . . . Those who founded our country would not recognize the majority's conception of the judicial role . . . They would never have imagined yielding that right on a question of social policy to unaccountable and unelected judges.'
"Roe V. Wade was similar," my friend continued, "though in my opinion is not going anywhere (though if you've never heard the true story behind it you should look it up). What I do think is at stake is how broad the law will be allowed to go. I may be pro-choice but not outside what I consider the realm of moral judgment, which I believe to include late-term and partial birth abortions. I am also against tax dollars being used to fund abortions. Clinton openly supports both and I just can't get in line. Trump has gone back and forth on this so who knows where he actually stands.
"As to his giving people the permission to 'say and act upon their darker impulses,'" my friend went on, "I don't see any Trump voters acting that way." Here, I had to assume she might be referring to Trump voters she personally knew, or that she hadn't yet seen the trove of articles proving otherwise. "However," she said, "we have Hillary supporters rioting, burning American flags, claiming they are moving to Canada (though interestingly, rarely do they say Mexico), calling anyone who voted for Trump a sexist bigot. How is this rhetoric any better? Colleges are giving extensions on exams and counseling so people can 'mourn,' basically saying that everything they believe about Trump supporters is true. Widening the divide. Apparently it's 'uneducated sexist white males' at fault. Not taking responsibility for the fact that this is the language that made room for Trump in the first place.
"Hillary lost a huge amount of Obama's voters. Millions. She got fewer blacks and fewer Hispanics than he did. Democrats chose a criminal who has always been perceived as shrill and unlikable. Who has an amazing amount of political baggage. And to run an agenda based on identity politics, social shaming, political correctness, and anti-constitutional rhetoric. I think they literally thought that because she's been so untouchable in the past and because Obama has been so untouchable that she couldn't lose. It should be a humbling moment. They should have thrown their support on Martin O'Malley instead of trying to rig the Democratic primaries. A lot of people have written on this a lot better than I could. I think it was actually conservatives that started the #nevertrump movement. Conservatives that do not think Trump has the character to president, that his conduct in the past is unworthy. But it's on liberals for making the only alternative someone worse. For making people like me choose between a man with values contrary to mine and a woman who has none.
"Do I wish we held our presidents to a higher standard? Yes. I wish we held everyone to a higher standard. But apparently that ship has sailed. So quite frankly, even if I believed that Trump is a sexist and a racist (which I don't), it still doesn't make him worse than Hillary. Who used her position of power to make money illegally with favors through a charity. Lied and made really bad decisions regarding Benghazi. Put this country's security at risk, not to mention blatantly broke laws, with her private email server as Secretary of State. Literally while in charge of foreign policy for our country. They have found that her server has been hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies. The list goes on.
"As to why I don't believe him to be a sexist? I simply don't believe that he thinks women are less capable than men. Do I like the conversation he had with Billy or condone it? No (though I believe all men have at some time or another spoken that way). I've read that trump has women, blacks, and other minorities in high positions in his companies. And I also see the way he treats his daughter, which even his opponents have even said that he has raised great, hardworking kids. So I just find it hard to believe that he thinks women are lesser than men. And considering how much Democrats love Bill Clinton, whom even if you don't believe the tons of women who claimed harassment and rape and being silenced and bullied by Hillary, definitely screwed an intern while being the most powerful man in the world. That's the definition of sexual harassment. So I guess the whole thing is just a wash for me.
"'I don't know everything Donald Trump would do as president and that troubles me a bit,' said Hogan Gidley, who worked on presidential campaigns with Mike Huckabee that tapped into similar populist themes. 'But I know everything Hillary Clinton would do and it terrifies me.' A lot of Republicans had the same mentality."
So--other than never trying to hold a debate with a lawyer--what can be gleaned from this example of a Trump voter, if not supporter? First: those of us who voted for Hillary are many and diverse and voted for her for a multitude of reasons. I believe it's important to recognize the same for those who voted for Trump. To not let their vote be a shorthand for "racist, sexist bigot," despite the fact--the undeniable, sickening, infuriating fact--that Donald Trump created an atmosphere in which those very people, emboldened and unashamed, could rise. That's a hard thing to do. It's hard for me to do. But it's important, because if we make a blanket assumption about the half of voters who chose him to lead our country, we succumb to hate. Because how do you not feel hate for those who hate without cause? So we must, I believe, strive to discover why people we respect and admire and love voted for someone we find reprehensible. We must be curious and willing to listen. We must try to embody what we wish he embodies. And we should pay attention.
As a lawyer, my friend gave a perspective on the Supreme Court that was enlightening to me. She pointed me to conservative articles and sources that I found reasonable, even if I didn't agree with all of their arguments or principles. She also made points that I disagree with, and I know she will read the articles I send in rebuttal with an open mind, and our conversation will continue over the next many weeks and months. It's not always possible to engage this way with people of opposing viewpoints, whether they are strangers on a comment thread or our own best friends. Trust me, I know that. But if they are reasonable, then it is important--actually, it is crucial--that we try. That's how we will move through this, instead of break beneath it. And I don't mean that as blind optimism. Blind optimism would be disrespectful to those many people who are already suffering, in personal and intimate ways, from the outcome of this election. It would discount my own inherent vulnerability, as a minority and as a woman. I mean that in a practical way. A passionate one. As Toni Morrison said, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge--even wisdom. It is our duty as human beings, especially in times of crisis, to do the painful crawl toward wisdom.
If you haven't already, I encourage you to read the linked articles in this piece. And all of us who claim to care about this should spend some time familiarizing ourselves with Trump's action plan for his first 100 days in office, here fact-checked and annotated by NPR. The more we know, the more we can engage with others, and the more we can take action in the ways we need to and the ways we are able, individually and as a collective.
My own immediate, instinctual forms of activism are as they've always been, only intensified: reading. Listening. Learning. And writing.
As Allison K. Williams writes in a beautiful, stirring piece in Brevity: "We are awake in a new world, after the thing has come to pass. It is our quiet revolution, to show up to the page and insist our words still matter. Stories are not frivolous. They weave a slender thread of understanding and possibility, not only in reaction to tragedy, but in recognition of the stories still to tell and be told, the need for human connection that exists independent of our own grief. Stories are our valuable labor, reminding us we matter. The world matters. Reminding our readers they matter. Saying, I too chop wood. I too carry water."