A Path Forward After the 2016 Election
It has taken me some time to get to a place where I can write about this election constructively. As the results were unfolding, I was in denial. I frantically updated states on 270to2win.com and tried to find some combination of states that would give Hillary Clinton a win. No, let me rephrase that--I looked for a combination of states that would keep Trump out of the White House. That's what hurt me the most. It wasn't that Hillary lost, but that we would soon have Donald Trump as our president. This was not a regular republican. It was a xenophobe who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and carried that campaign out by stoking the fires of white nationalists. From promising to ban Muslims from entering the country, to promising to deport all undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the Mexican border, this is a man who's more like Benito Mussolini than Ronald Reagan. Is trump going to be a fascist dictator who leads us into territorial conflict and war? Probably not (I hope not). But his potential victory filled me with fear and dread because of who TRUMP is, not because he's a republican.
As Clinton's chances grew more and more bleak, I stepped away from my computer. I couldn't process it anymore. All I could do was climb into my bed, hold my girlfriend, and shudder in fear. For the next few days, I couldn't function. I was grieving. I don't use that word lightly. I lost my only parent a few years ago, and I grieved for a long time. Her death and this election have been the only times in my life where a sadness just hung over me. Just thinking about a president Trump, sometimes, would be enough to make me cry. I cried walking through subway tunnels, walking my dog, at my desk at work. I never openly wept. I never cried for more than a minute or so. But I cried. Cry over who's president? It sounds absurd. It would take me a little while to realize why.
Is this my country?
The day after the election, I had a few open discussions about what it meant to me with some coworkers. The only way I could articulate why I felt so bad was that it made me question my world view. See, I was born in the 80's, which means that I grew up in the 90's. This was a generation after the civil rights movement in America. There was still racism (Rodney King, James Byrd, etc.) but there was also optimism (Reagan's amnesty, the end of Apartheid, etc.). Despite living in poor, minority communities, I always felt a sense of optimism. The first election of my adult life was 2004. Sure, I laughed at Bush's idiocy along with everyone on TV and I definitely hated his foreign policy, but at least he was a "compassionate conservative" who said he tried to work for poor people and opposed mass deportation of immigrants. Then, 2008 happened. We elected a BLACK president. Sure, there was some racial backlash against that, but we re-elected him. I believed that America was a country that had largely put aside overt racism. I'm not naive. I understood and fought to bring awareness to institutional racism and unconscious biases. In recent months, I donated to and tried to educate people about the sensible policy solutions to end (or at least drastically reduce) the killing of unarmed colored men by the police. But these were failures of our policies not changing or of the subconscious. I believed that, en masse, Americans still cared about each other. We were still in this together. It's why I work at a nonprofit. It's why I read about policies that can help the vulnerable people in our society. We're in this together. It's who I am.
Then, Trump happened. His message was overtly racist. He received the endorsement of David Duke and open current members of the KKK. The signs at his rallies! The shirts at his rallies! The KIDS at his rallies!! Clearly, this was a candidate for that small, racist minority in this country. But then SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE voted for him. SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE either saw past his racism, his misogyny, and his violent language, or (even scarier) they embraced. SIXTY MILLION people thought it was better to pick him over someone who had a private email server. SIXTY MILLION PEOPLE.
I was dumbstruck. This made me question how I looked at this country, even how I looked at my white friends. Am I not wanted here? Does my success threaten theirs? I was hurt. I was angry. I said things to people like, "they don't care about us," and "this country has told us it's not for us." The anger was only starting.
Elections have consequences
In the days after the election, #NotMyPresident became something I said on an almost hourly basis. Between melancholy phases, I refused to accept Trump as the president-elect. I wanted to go out and march but thought better of it--not because I didn't believe in the protests, but because for me personally, I had to focus on work/school/myself for a little while longer. One thing I did do, though, was talk about this. A lot. I talked to like-minded coworkers. I talked to my like-minded girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, though, the anger flowed when I talked to people who weren't scared.
"He just said that to get elected."
"Protesting about this is just as bad as the anti-Obama people in 2008."
"Give him a chance. You don't know he's going to do crazy things."
"Why are people acting so afraid?"
Why are we afraid? This is a great question because it's only posed by the insanely optimistic or the insanely blind. Not only is Trump all of the horrible things that I described, but this was going to affect people I know and care about. I have family, friends, and coworkers who have undocumented people in their immediate families. Are they going to be deported by Trump's task force? Is he going to round up my Muslim friends, classmates, and neighbors? I work at a nonprofit in a 'sanctuary city.' Is he really going to stop federal funding from coming in to NYC and maybe cost me my job? These aren't questions based on speculation. Trump PROMISED to do these things. It's why those sixty million people voted for him.
Because of what Trump promised people, I'm afraid my friends could be deported. I'm afraid this country will ban an entire religion from entering it. I'm afraid I could lose my job. I'm afraid that some of those sixty million people live near me and feel empowered to threaten me or do me harm. This isn't because I'm scared of change or different ideologies. It's because the changes in people's attitudes have already caused violence and world history has taught me to be scared of nationalist, anti-immigrant ideologies. I'm afraid because it's stupid not to be.
And he's done everything he can in these short days to back it up. His surrogates have doubled down on building the wall--even without help from Congress. Trump also appointed Kris Kobach, a man with open ties to white supremacists groups who is fiercely anti-immigrant, to his transition team. Is it really unlikely he'll keep his campaign promises? At this point, I'm waiting for leaks to come out saying Joe Arpaio is going to be the head of ICE.
Beyond that, this election also has practical, regular, every day consequences that cause me a different kind of fear.
With Republicans in control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency they have free reign to push their agenda. Worse yet, Trump gets to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, and likely another in this upcoming term. Forget checks and balances. This is as lopsided as it gets.
So, aside from Trump's crazy promises, what can I expect Republicans to do with this power? How about:
- Finally defunding Planned Parenthood after trying so many times
- Finally repealing the Affordable Care Act after trying even more times
- Cuting taxes for the wealthy and big businesses
- Getting rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Restricting voting access to the poor and minorities
So let's look at what would have happened if this was just a regular old republican candidate.
Well, when Texas stopped funding planned parenthood through medicaid, they got a 35% decrease in women claiming IUDs and 27% spike in births (likely due to decreased access to contraceptives).
The CBO says repealing the ACA would add trillions to our deficit. But at a more granular level, pulling back the medicaid expansion, ridding people of the opportunity to be insured with a pre-existing condition and stay on parents' plans until aged 26, would result in tens of millions of people losing their health insurance. How many of those people voted for Trump?
Tax cuts at the level Trump and Republicans propose would have largely negative effects on the US economy in the long-term. I mean it's not like the rich and businesses haven't been making money. They've seen tons of growth in the last 7-8 years. If they're not reinvesting that money now, what changes? The supply-side stuff doesn't work. It's been proven--with data.
The CFPB is new. It hasn't done a ton yet, but it has fined banks hundreds of millions of dollars for their unjust practices and issued rules to increase transparency and protect consumers from taking out loans they will not be able to afford.
And, finally, the most scary republican agenda item of them all--restricting voting access. In 2016 alone, FIFTEEN states enacted new voting restrictions. Take a look at the map below. Were any of those states important in this election?
In 2013, the Republican-dominated legislature in North Carolina passed a voting law that, among other things, eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced the period for early voting and instituted voter ID requirements. Just a few short months before the election, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that it could not stand. Can we trust a conservative court to do the same?
This drove me to further anger. The progress that people have spent decades fighting for can be erased in year—maybe less. I was angry at myself for not doing more. Angry that I live in my NYC bubble and I didn't do enough to prevent this from happening. I was furious. I hated myself.
Why was I scared?
But back to that question: why was I scared? I'm scared because Trump in control could mean devastation to families and an immoral turn against a religious group in our country. I'm scared because a republican-controlled government with no checks could mean that women, and the poor, and minorities lose the gains we've made over the last few decades.
But there's a difference between yesterday and today. Yesterday, I was scared—today I'm not. Today, is the culmination of the hours I've spent thinking, listening to smart people on podcasts, doing research, analyzing and assessing. Today, I thought and I got melancholy for a moment, but then I got inspired. I got home this afternoon with a two-part mission.
- Write this post and release the last of my poor feelings.
- Start to write down a plan for me and people like me to follow.
You see, this IS my country. Despite my denial, Trump will soon be my president. But I don't have to be scared because I won't let this stuff happen. I'm still angry. I'm just not scared. I'm channeling my anger and I'll show it. I may march down a street or two with a sign, but more importantly, I'm going to influence upcoming votes. I'm going to make people aware of important elections that can wrestle control away from those who believe the rights of women, the rights of the brown, the black, the muslims, the gay, the transgender, the vulnerable don't matter as much as those of the majority. I'm not scared anymore, but someone out there should be.