Last night, I spent 7, maybe 8, hours watching coverage of the American presidential election.
To say the least, the outcome is not what I expected it to be. At all.
I had acknowledged the possibility of a Trump presidency but did not have to fully confront it. Sheltered by my liberal media bubble, I was fairly certain Clinton had this one in the bag.
And I have no idea what happens now.
As a Canadian, I know I won’t be directly affected by his extreme policies, but we are all affected by the bigotry he and his surrogates have advocated.
What I’m most afraid of, in all honesty, is nuclear annihilation. I know this sounds wildly hyperbolic and it’s likely that the same self-interested checks and balances of the Cold War play into Trump’s presidency, but I am genuinely worried about the omnipresence of nuclear weapons in the world as a whole. Nuclear war (and subsequent nuclear winter) was avoided in the past due to self-preservation; the same will most likely happen this time around. I am not sure, however, that Trump’s irrational nature, as seen throughout this campaign, will allow for a cool head in times of crisis.
Perhaps nuclear annihilation is a stretch. Even so, Trump’s foreign policy, his position as America’s top diplomat, and his status as commander-in-chief of the world’s biggest army do not make me feel at ease. An unstable and unpredictable head of the world’s hegemonic power makes for unstable and unpredictable geopolitics. Asides from the “ban all Muslims,” “build a wall, and “bomb the shit out of them” rhetoric of the campaign trail, some of Trump’s top governmental supporters are outspoken proponents of an increased surveillance state and the use of military power in instances where diplomacy could have (and ultimately did) achieve better outcomes (e.g. Iran). I fear for the unnecessary loss of life due to trigger-happy American intervention in the next four to eight years.
All of the progress of the Obama administration is going to be overturned. Not only did Donald Trump win the presidency, but he will also benefit from a Republican Senate and Congress. Trump may resurrect Antonin Scalia to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. If he doesn’t do that, he’ll find someone who is as right-wing and originalist to shut down decisions crucial to an inclusive America. Trump campaigned only open misogyny and racism. As we’ve all heard far too many times, he launched his campaign claiming he would build a wall and has, on the record, admitted to having committed sexual harassment. He has supported stop-and-frisk policing, which has been proven to be ineffective and has been deemed unconstitutional. His running mate, former Indiana governor Mike Pence, cut funding for Planned Parenthood (Indiana subsequently saw a drastic rise in HIV/AIDS) and supported conversion therapy (CONVERSION THERAPY!!! The Vice President-Elect of the United States literally thinks you can “pray the gay away”).
Even if Donald Trump himself does not hold these questionable opinions, he has empowered white supremacists across the United States to feel comfortable believing in them. For decades, it was not acceptable to be blatantly discriminatory; it had to be hidden under the veneer of “family values.” Trump has opened the floodgates of Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-black, anti-latino, and anti-immigrant racism. His normalization of sexual harassment will make it harder for victims of sexual assault to speak out; his gendered attacks on his opponent will likely create an even greater barrier to entry for women in politics.
I am so worried for all people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities. I’m worried about what the next four years mean for the rights and safety of peoples of all minority groups.
I’m worried about the environment; we don’t have time to continue unbridled pollution. Trump and his Republican government do not acknowledge that climate change is human-made or that it even exists at all. Trump plans to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and ditch the Paris Climate Conference. According to the Washington Post,
“At the center of the U.S.’s role in that agreement is its ambitious pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025. Presumably, under Trump, we’d no longer see such significant cuts. Indeed, given Trump’s campaign trail talk about firing up the domestic coal, oil, and gas industries, we might even see our emissions increase.”
There will be no progress on the environmentalist front in the next four years and no American cooperation on global climate change deals.
I’m worried about American democracy. Although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump won the electoral colleges. Electoral colleges are not necessarily the most democratic system whatsoever, but those are the rules that American society agreed to uphold and it was according to these rules that Donald Trump was elected president. However, Trump’s claims that the election would be rigged (presumably by the liberal establishment), threats to jail his opponent, and the apparently non-partisan re-opening (albeit the fact that Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s top political cronies knew about it two days in advance) of an investigation into emails that were not even to or from his opponent, make me question how well the president-elect’s administration would handle the lines between different branches of government.
Many argue that the American constitution is strong enough to soften Trump’s possible blows. Yes, in theory, the president only actually has the power to grant pardons, veto or sign legislation, and command the American military. However, it doesn’t seem likely that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, filled with Republicans too scared to come out against Trump even if they opposed him (or denounced him, only to backtrack a few days later), would be an effective check on the president’s power.
I’m concerned about a vital aspect of the democratic process: the fourth estate (i.e. journalism). Print and news media played a crucial role in yesterday’s outcome. More significantly, the platform given to the alt-right and points of view devoid of facts led to increasingly emotion-based, rather than policy-based, politics. Newt Gingrich, for example, told a reporter at the RNC that people feel as though things are getting worse even though things are statistically getting better. Without an objective, accepted arbiter or an acceptance of objective facts, people buy into the narrative of their echo-chambers. This time, the right-wing narrative seems to have won, but divisive narratives will not be conducive to cohesion, cooperation, or compromise – all necessary for democracy.
All of this begs the question: what now?
I don’t really know.
What’s done is done; the election cannot be recast or recalled. The U.S. was so close to having its first female president and the adoption of a remarkably progressive platform. Even though Clinton would have, of course, perpetuated much of the status quo, she was fighting for gradual improvement. It wasn’t perfect, but it was superior to rapid recession into white supremacy, nepotism, and authoritarian government.
Now, we must simply be vocal and critical. Acceptance of the status quo and complacency have produced the result we’re all grappling with.
We, as Canadians in particular, must make sure that this phenomenon does not spill across the border. Although positive politics were successful in our 2015 election, Canada is not the bastion of progressivism we like to think it is. Today, Kellie Leitch, Conservative Party leadership candidate, referred to Trump’s victory as an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.” We must stand up against similar undercurrents within our own political discourse.
We must keep an open mind, especially to things we do not want to accept. Among other things, this election taught me that I kept making the same mistakes: like many pundits, I kept underestimating Donald Trump’s potential for success and my liberal bubble allowed me to view the world as more progressive than it really is. I like to see myself as critical and able to engage with the other side, but I simply could not force myself to watch Fox News no matter how much I tried. And I’m still not sure I should try – Can I possibly justify Trump’s explicitly bigoted values? Is it wrong to attempt to? Engaging in (preferably non-confrontationally, although that remains pretty difficult with such a polarizing topic) conversation with people whose views differ from your own can allow for better critical thought and increased engagement in the political process.
I recognize the many forms of privilege I have. Fortunately, here in Canada, my gender, skin colour, and last name won’t affect my day-to-day life any more than they did before the election. At worst, I’ll stop travelling to the US in the coming years. But so many people south of the border will have to live with the consequences of President Donald Trump each and every day.
That being said, no matter how dark today seems, we can’t descend into cynicism. We have to stay optimistic and buy into democratic process to effectively push for change. To many of us, Trump’s election seems like an aggressive threat to the inclusive narrative we were brought up on. It’s important to keep in mind that progress isn’t linear; it ebbs and flows. This election is casting light on the visceral backlash against the progressive steps of the past few decades.
But we can’t let the backlash win.