In preparation for a post-election essay celebrating the outcome, I had collected an assortment of unflattering snippets and thoughts about Donald Trump. I expected him to lose the election and these notions were going to help me to explain (and celebrate!) his defeat. Obviously, events on the ground eclipsed my plans.
At first, I was at a loss to explain the election outcome. As a political scientist who has been studying elections for the last 30 years, this was rather startling to me. Politics is something that always I understand. To be unsure of what had happened and especially why it had happened contributed to my anxiety about the outcome of the election. On Friday, in a frustrated response to the panic I was reading on-line, I pointed out on Twitter that we still have a Constitution that protects our rights and enshrines the notion of three branches of government obligated to check and balance one another. I was harassed by some folks who advised me to study the world and to understand constitutions. They feel that ours is under attack. Those accusations didn’t make me angry as much as they reminded me how fear fuels anger, resentment, and ignorance. It also reinforced my sense of how scared Donald Trump makes people.
I am concerned about Donald Trump. But I refuse to live in fear.
I do understand constitutions and their functions. I know them well, having spent a nearly thirty year career learning and teaching about constitutions. I know when constitutional democracies (real ones, not the pretend democracies set up by authoritarian states) are at risk.
We are not in that circumstance.
The United States has a robust constitution and a system built on rule of law. It’s neither perfect nor impenetrable. But it has endured for more than 200 years and in that time has always been used to expand rights. The 2016 election of Donald Trump is unsettling. But it is not evidence that the Constitution has unravelled. As Americans, we should always be careful and vigilant to ensure that constitutional protections of our individual liberty endure. That is the case no matter who wins elections. The 2016 election outcome finds me vigilant and active. But I am not in a panic. It is up to every one of us to ensure that a risk to our constitutionally-protected liberty never materializes.
In the 2016 election, I listened to Donald Trump and I heard racism, bigotry, misogyny, and hate wrapped in an alarming level of ignorance. I cast a ballot against those notions.
Many of my fellow voters (though not all or even most of them…..Hillary won the popular vote), heard the same Donald Trump that I heard. I expect that some Trump voters heard the same ideas I heard, embraced them, and voted for the racism and bigotry. But some of them heard the same Donald Trump that I heard and drew different conclusions. I disagree with both set of the Trump voters. But they are my fellow citizens and it is my obligation to understand them.
I do not expect Donald Trump, his policies, and his advisors to succeed in growing our economy or fixing our income inequality. I reject his approach to immigration, I am fearful of the damage his ideas would cause. New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb repeated a Mark Twain quote that seems timely right now, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” I was a patriot on Tuesday when I thought Hillary would win. I am a patriot today, though she lost the election.
Being a patriot means that I will remind myself of the privileges I have experienced in life and the obligations that they engender. As a patriot, I will stand for the constitutional protections that are dear to us all. I will be vigilant and stand up to racism, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and efforts to marginalize disabled people. I will be an ally and a safe place for those who are afraid. I will be brave in the face of ignorance, fear, and hate. I will continue to speak my mind. I will be careful and kind. I will love my fellow citizens despite their frailties. I will work tirelessly for the kind of policies I want our nation to adopt.
I refuse to live in fear.
I will live in hope.