At first reaction I’m left amazed at the gusto with which people penned their responses to the election results. Understandably, in today’s publish-or-perish environment, influencers are forced to put pen to paper and quickly fill the void, while the rest of the Internet waits anxiously for someone, anyone to tell them things will be okay. More surprisingly, it’s not just the speed at which these reflection articles appeared, it’s also the quality with which they are written. The articles I read this morning show a strong grasp of political reality and are framed in a way that’s quite different from the previous six months of reporting. Not a single poll result appears. No data. Instead, intuition bleeds through the copy, describing a future in which — like in the Trump campaign — analysis will be irrelevant.
But the deeper difference is that the opinions are genuine, and the authors are no longer hiding behind statistics when offering up their true feelings. In other words, they’re being human again.
Behind the flood of words, a few things ring true. First, there are two Americas. “As #NeverTrump opinion pieces in the best publications became more and more apocalyptic in recent weeks, I kept thinking: Well, I agree with everything they are saying, but is there a single Trump voter even reading these columns and editorials, let alone being swayed by any of them?” asks Frank Rich in New York Magazine. “Many of those voters subscribe to a whole separate culture, online and on the airwaves.” This idea isn’t new to anyone; I’ve been thinking it for weeks. However, it’s no longer an idea. The election changed this abstraction into a reality.
Second, no one is guiltless in creating these two Americas. It’s easy to look at conservatives and bemoan that they hide their heads in the sand. That they’ve convinced themselves they live in a world devoid of the realities of poverty, climate change and inequality. But this elitist approach — this approach in which we roll our eyes and exude snark toward “everyday Americans” — is what united this group around Trump. Rich writes in New York Magazine:
“Not every Trump voter is a racist. More than a few of them just despise elites, and elitists, regardless of race or creed. Against all odds, a guy who is famous mainly for being a wealthy autocrat persuaded those voters he could be their champion. How? Part of it, I think, is that he dissed his own party’s elites, not just liberals, and pounded the press and Wall Street. He has a knack for crude populist language even if he may not even know what populism is. (What does he know?) He was also fortunate to have Hillary Clinton as an opponent. The national-security threat represented by her emails may be close to nil, and her use of a private server was, as the FBI man said, careless rather than criminal. But she was too slow to speak about the issue with honest circumspection as opposed to circumlocution. The email brouhaha came to stand for a regal sense of entitlement that was reinforced by the Clintons’ obscene buckraking, however worthy their foundation’s charitable causes. To this day I do not understand why Hillary Clinton gave speeches at Goldman Sachs for eye-popping sums when she knew she was going to run for president. The speeches themselves, once revealed, were as innocuous as most of the emails. But that’s not the point. She had given Trump — a con artist who breaks rules and possibly laws routinely — an opening to deaccession some of his own, far vaster sins on to her candidacy. Her air of entitlement gave some key voters in the Democratic base a reason not to vote.”
Finally, we’ve begun to recognize the problem and sober up. Quickly. No one seems to be looking positively toward the future, but everyone is humming with anticipation at the changes to come. People everywhere online seem to know that things will change, and they seem to know that — despite whatever apocalypse occurs in the next four years — ultimately, we will be better for it. This is, undeniably, American.
Perhaps my favorite piece so far is titled “Forget Canada. Stay and Fight for American Democracy.” In it, New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait asks readers to stand and face reality, no matter how adverse it will be.
“Trump will shake the Republic to its foundations,” Chait writes. “And the Republicans will shake it with him. If there is a central point I tried to drive home, it is that Trumpism grows out of a decades-long trend toward authoritarianism as the dominant tendency of Republican politics. … The depths of a Trump presidency defy our imagination. It is safe to assume it will not be popular. Trump and his party will probably respond with vicious anti-democratic measures. But fighting for democracy is part of America’s heritage, from abolitionists to suffragettes to the progressive reformers. Maybe you thought that fight was confined to history. It will go on.”
Despite his grim forecast, Chait appeals to our greater sense of virtue, to a response that is admirable and free of cowardice. To stay. Like Rosa Parks, like Susan B. Anthony, like Martin Luther King, like Frederick Douglas, and like so many other Americans who threw caution to the wind and faced injustice head on.
“As the shock of a Trump presidency set in, I told my children Tuesday night that I did not want to hear anything about fleeing,” Chait writes. “We are not going anywhere. And the America I have raised them to believe in will one day prevail.”
As I think more about Chait’s article, and other similar articles, I’m left encouraged. The combination of idealism and pragmatism results in what I believe is the real version of American Optimism that so much of the world craves. We’re anxious, but we’re assured. Even the comments I read on Facebook — not usually a haven for understanding — seem to reflect a similar sentiment: We’re saddened, but we’re bonded by a sense that things will turn out okay.
Personally, I can’t ignore the hollowness I feel when I think about last night’s election, but equally, I can’t quash the hope I feel when reading American reaction. I’m surrounded by ambitions, virtuous people who are dedicated to improving the world, even if the world hates them for it. I count myself lucky to be among them.
“Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years, but all the time,” Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech this afternoon. “So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear…breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams. We spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone.”
Clinton is right. Going forward, that’s all I can do, and that’s all I intend to do.