When I saw that anger, hate and bigotry were going to win two nights ago, I had to unplug for a while. I needed to find the strength to apologize to my students, to tell them, to confess to them really, that we have collectively failed them, that their lives and safety are now at risk, that the forces of pent up anger and resentment, carefully and systematically cooked for decades by the conservative propaganda machine that has normalized making up paranoid and ignorant conspiracy theories, now control all branches of government, and that it's de-facto open season on people who don't look like them, who don't believe or worship like them, who don't have the same body parts they do, who don't love like them.
I didn't know how I could protect and comfort my students while simultaneously admitting I'm genuinely afraid for their well-being and their safety. Would it be fair to give them what I consider to be false hope? How could I reassure my female students that they will be safe in their bodily and sexual integrity from men who define their masculinity through domination and force, and who can conceive of women as nothing more than collections of body parts to use, abuse and discard? How could I tell them that, with a straight face, when we just elected a self-described sexual predator as Commander-in-Chief? How could I tell them that their reproductive rights won't be overturned and taken away from them when the Supreme Court vacancy is filled by a president who has publicly claimed women ought to be punished for trying to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed reproductive rights? How could I reassure my Muslim students that they won't be randomly harassed and attacked by angry mobs when they are simply trying to peacefully go about their day? How could I reassure my undocumented students that their families won't be suddenly broken up at some point when they least expect it? How could I reassure my gay or transgender students that they won't be beaten by angry men who can't understand their love, their identity or their sexuality, or that their right to marry the person they love will no longer be guaranteed and protected? How could I reassure my black students that they have nothing to fear, when I'm utterly terrified, actually shaking in my bones to the point where I can't even think the thought without crying, that... that there will be lynchings before too long?
Part of me wanted to hope against hope that I'm simply overreacting, that things won't be as bad as that. But on the morning after the election, one of my students' grandmother, an African-American Muslim woman who lives in the South, woke up to a burning cross in her yard, and to one of her eight dogs, noose around its lifeless neck, hanging from a tree. This is not an isolated incident. Hate crimes are already spiking throughout the country. This is the new America we must somehow manage to navigate our way across now.
We have just given the White House to a self-described sexual predator, to an ignorant, stupid, hateful, narcissistic, thin-skinned racist who sees the world as a zero-sum game in which one person's success necessarily requires another person's utter destruction, to someone who is constitutionally incapable of respecting views which he can't understand... and who seems incapable of understanding almost anything that requires to be explained in complex sentences made up with anything above a third-grade level vocabulary, to someone for whom success means domination, to someone who feels the visceral need to surround himself with sycophants who won't challenge his toxic and simplistically ignorant worldview, to someone who has confessed to fantasizing about revenge and the humiliation of others, and who will now have the full force of the American government to do that. The man who doesn't have the self-control not to go on hateful and misogynistic slut-shaming tweets at three o'clock in the morning will now have access to the nuclear codes.
I hope the systems of checks and balances—created precisely to prevent demagogues like Trump from exerting their uncontrolled will on the rest of the world—will hold. I hope that Congress and the Supreme Court will stand up to him if... no, when he tries to violate the very same Constitution he will facetiously swear to uphold a few months from now...
But I won't hold my breath. These will be the same people, after all, who already stood behind him when he vociferously accused Latino immigrants of being murderers, drug dealers and rapists; who stood behind him when he called for a complete shutdown on Muslims entering this country; who stood behind him as he has mocked people with disabilities; who stood behind him when he repeatedly and relentlessly objectified and body-shamed women; these will be the same people who said nothing about the fact that his vice-presidential running mate is someone who has attempted to legalize discrimination against the gay community; these will be the same people who stood behind a man who has been charged with housing discrimination against African-Americans, who has taken out full spreads in the media calling for the execution of black youths who were charged with a crime it was subsequently proved they did not commit, who has instigated and encouraged his followers to commit violence against black protesters at his rallies, who publicly questioned whether our first African-American president was actually an American; these are the same people who stood behind him when he viciously and mockingly called refugee children snakes and reptiles; these are the same people who have watched him reduce the value of women to nothing more substantial than their sex appeal; these are the same people who still supported him even after the tapes in which he boasted about being able to get away with sexual assault came out. "I'm voting for Trump, but I'm not endorsing him" is an endorsement! It's just an endorsement that makes you feel good about yourself without actually doing anything to stand up to him.
There is no real evidence that conservatives will suddenly stand up to him when he has even more power, not simply because they're cowards, but—and let's just be honest about this, shall we?—because Trump actually represents most of their core beliefs. Conservatives have been using coded language and policies to mask their racism, their sexism, their homophobia and xenophobia for decades. The party of 'personal responsibility' always manages to blame everyone else, especially people of color and immigrants, for anything that's wrong with this country. When it comes to their own faults, Republicans never take responsibility. Sarah Palin's son is arrested for domestic abuse? Blame President Obama. You lost your job because the corporation you work for outsourced your job to China? Blame Mexicans. Your local ecosystem was destroyed by toxic waste dumped by a factory? Blame too much regulation on American businesses. It doesn't have to make sense; it simply needs to be blamed on others. As anybody who has studied American history knows, the misdirection is nothing new. Ever since the "Southern Strategy" was thought up, Republicans have gotten better and better at masking their intolerance under the rhetoric of 'law & order,' 'family values,' 'traditional marriage,' 'religious liberty,' 'the war on drugs,' and countless other euphemisms that communicate and perpetuate their intolerance while giving them the protection of plausible deniability. Trump's political genius ultimately consisted in being too stupid to understand the subtleties of using coded language, and in doing so he provided a megaphone for all the pent up anger and racism that the Republican Party has been carefully cultivating for decades. Trump isn't an anomaly for the Republican Party: he's the ultimate and crystallized embodiment and expression of their core values.
As I walked and cried on the night of the election, wondering how I would face my students the next day and protect them, I thought about the millions of little boys and girls who went to sleep that night, hopeful that when they woke up the next morning, they would have proof that it is possible in America for a woman to be President, that they would know that adults stood up to hate, anger and bigotry, and I thought about the kind of strength that their parents would now have to muster up to share the bad news with those heartbroken children. How do you explain to your little girl that, in America, an incredibly qualified woman who has dedicated her entire adult life to public service can still lose to an unqualified and hateful ignoramus? What kind of message about the worth of women does that send little boys? In times like these, when hope is gone, it seems as if the hardest thing to do is to be strong enough to have enough strength to share with others, but that's precisely what we must do, isn't it? But how do we find that strength?
I don't have any answers. I don't really know how to make things better. All I can do at this point is recommend, and plead, that we become better and kinder people to each other. That we respectfully and compassionately listen to the voices of those who are different from us, even if... especially if we can't immediately understand their point of view, that we stand up with and for our brothers and sisters of other colors, other faiths, other orientations, other identities, other backgrounds. That we consider how our choices might ultimately affect others, that we think beyond our intentions and also consider the impact of our choices, especially on those who will eventually bear the brunt of the weight of those choices. That we lend our voices to the voiceless, and our strength to the powerless. I don't know that it will be enough, but I do know that we must try. The safety of the people who make up this wonderfully eclectic country, and the very values and principles on which this experiment in self-governance and democracy is based, depend upon it...