Coming to terms with the next four years

Trying to rationalize what happened on Tuesday night

Like many of my peers, I wept yesterday morning when I realized what exactly my country had done the day before.

I don’t consider myself an overly political person, and to be honest, I didn’t closely follow the election until I sat down to watch the first debate this past September. Once I did, though, I couldn’t remain idle.

I went to bed the night of Nov. 8 (or technically the really early morning of Nov. 9) once I saw on CBS that Donald Trump won Pennsylvania. I was exhausted in more ways than one and had to remove myself from the frenzied yet stagnant television coverage and go to sleep.

I stayed in bed as long as I could yesterday morning, and finally got up because I had class. As I started getting ready, that’s when the tears came. I heard my roommate’s door open as she quietly said “Ashlee?” and when I too opened my door, her reaction to my tears was instant: she hugged me and started sobbing as well. I commented on how ridiculous it was that we were crying at the results of a presidential election, but that what was more ridiculous was that the actions of half the country could illicit tears in the other half in what should be our most progressive year yet, 2016.

My temples pounded all day as I fought back tears witnessing on grounds the downtrodden faces equally still in shock. And all I could think to myself is how I personally I’m not the most justified in feeling so upset. I’m a white woman gaining higher education at the University of Virginia for which my parents pay. I’m so incredibly blessed. What about the people explicitly targeted in this election whose futures are now truly in question?

What drives this profound sadness is not the knowledge that someone with a history of indisputable discriminatory practices and beliefs is my president, but that tens of millions of people allowed him to get there.

I understand this country has a two-party system in which most people align with either the Democratic or Republican party; both sides have valid opinions with which each side should respectfully agree to disagree. What I don’t understand is how blind identification with a party justifies hate speech and bullying.

I’m sure a lot of Republicans, much of my family included, voted for Mr. Trump utilizing the mindset that they had to vote “with the party” or similarly “against the Democrats” or even specifically “against Hillary.” Falling into this rhetoric and groupthink without individual critical engagement is what damaged Republican credibility this election. Those who researched the party platform and compared it to the little Mr. Trump said on policies would have quickly learned his discrepancies from the party on some key issues. One of which should be obvious – Republicans don’t want to increase the national debt, but his tax plan is estimated to add several trillion dollars to the debt over the next ten years, while economic growth during that time is estimated to either be more affordable yet still expensive or slowed long-term.

In true fashion to Mr. Trump’s character of dismissing merit in any opposing view, the Trump campaign simply denied the validity of those claims. Just as I saw in the debates, instead of answering questions head-on, the norm became to blame the opposition for distorting reality. That’s hypocritical, illogical and does nothing to advance voters’ knowledge.

I don’t want to get into specific policy disagreements though. There will always be some comeback that will rely (unfortunately not often enough) on fact or (unfortunately too often) on emotion that quickly devolves to anger.

That’s where another issue comes to mind for how this could have happened. The counties that went red, especially rural areas distant from state capitals, clearly contain disenfranchised voters who again overlooked blatant holes in the character of a candidate to cast the protest vote. Being upset at Washington is okay. These results, more than any previous studies, have shown there are people overlooked by previous administrations who are fed up with career politicians. That’s a justified and valid position to hold. What is not, though, is furthering that personal agenda at the expense of fellow Americans being discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation or any other facet Mr. Trump has unapologetically and irrevocably marginalized.

That brings me back to my sadness. More than anything, I am ashamed at the selfishness of a group that is disregarding its neighbors in favor of attempting to rectify personal grievances. More than anything, it demonstrates the tendency that the now-understood majority of Americans have to ignore the implications of its actions. In a brilliantly-written “Last Week Tonight” segment, John Oliver discussed this moral gap as it pertains to racial segregation that still exists in northern schools. White parents who vehemently disagreed with the notion of switching up school populations to balance demographics, even if it was 100% due to the desire to keep class sizes down and give their kids the best education possible, had the racist result of keeping black students marginalized in schools with poorer learning conditions due to indifference. He said something so simple yet so profound and so frustratingly not realized: “You don’t have to be intentionally racist to do things that have racist effects.”

This isn’t an issue of Democrat vs. Republican. I don’t consider myself as fully belonging to either camp because that label is too easily used as a crutch to dismiss someone else’s views without listening to them. This comes down to fundamental human decency.

I get that people were attracted to Mr. Trump because to them, he represented a break from flawed politicians. But that self-serving desire proliferated – through hateful rhetoric, media conflict bias, and stubbornness – into a perfect storm that enabled people to act in a Brexit-like fashion without considering the consequences they would have on others. A flawed character won’t fix a flawed system.

I worry about the reactions that are to come. “I told you so” from either side is damaging. I worry about how as a woman I will reconcile being led by a man who has verbally and physically offended women on multiple accounts while the majority of voters didn’t care (especially when considering the heartbreaking juxtaposition that our other option for a leader would have been our first female president). I worry about how as a journalist I will be able to practice free speech when he openly hates the media and disagrees with the precedent of NY Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court case that assures the media’s watchdog function of the press upon which this country was founded.

More than anything, I worry about how I was so ignorant to think that the majority of people denounced the hate that I denounce. Watching the results come in that night, I felt dumb. I watched the election’s Snapchat story only to become aware that there were college campuses across the country full of millennials just like me, who passionately chanted “build the wall.” It’s okay to have differing opinions on immigration policies. What’s not okay is to maintain your opinion when you heard it from someone who based a campaign on incredibly incriminating claims that have no factual evidence whatsoever, but cause real fears and consequences for real people.

At this point, it’s time to move forward. Hopefully people can stop trying to be understood (myself included) and just start trying to understand. It’s going to take a collective effort to reconcile our shock and disappointment with our fight to promote successful progress. It’s times like these that I’m extra thankful for tolerant, knowledgeable faculty especially in the Media Studies department for offering support and knowledge without which I would still be upset but I wouldn’t know why. And I’m thankful for classmates who have been giving hugs, even to strangers in distress, as a friendly reminder that we will get through this together and that no one is alone. I just hope we can do that as a collective, tolerant American people willing to put pride aside to learn and listen.

When I woke up yesterday it was raining. Today, the sun shines.

University of Virginia