My wife came down to breakfast Thursday morning still in a daze over the outcome of the election. She said, poignantly, “I feel just like I did after my father died. I used to wake up each day with a sense of dread saying ‘that really didn’t happen, did it?’ But it did happen, just like this election happened, and I’m having that same sense of dread”.
She’s not alone. Millions of Americans, myself included, are reeling and in shock. That Donald Trump is the president-elect is simply unbelievable. Some are telling us to get over it; to respect the democratic process and accept the will of the people; and to honor the integrity of the office to which Donald Trump has been elected. I understand why President Obama has been gracious, promising a peaceful transition of power. That is what he must do. But, with all due respect, I cannot.
Pundits are horrible at predicting, but great at dissecting, after the fact. And so despite being wrong for months, they have now discovered why Trump won. They are saying that he spoke to voter anger. He tapped into their fears. He connected with their alienation from and frustration with the establishments of both parties. Voters simply didn’t trust Hillary Clinton. She was inauthentic. She was an elitist who embodied the establishment. I get all that.
What I don’t get and what is disturbing and even traumatizing, is that the president-elect is a crude, corrupt, and contemptible charlatan. He is a self-proclaimed billionaire whose bankruptcies have cheated thousands of workers and small business owners out of their paychecks. His “university” robbed hundreds of their money and their dreams of advancement. And his dishonest dealings with dozens of charities cheated them out of promised support.
Feigning concern for the “forgotten middle class”, Trump did prey off the fear and anger of those who have felt betrayed by a system that was, in fact, rigged against them. But he provided no constructive solutions, offering instead the vague promise of a return of “lost glory”, all the while fueling their fear and stoking the embers of their anger with scapegoats to strike out against: Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, and the urban poor. He made fun of the disabled and displayed a deplorable lack of respect for women. And on a number of occasions, he brazenly encouraged his supporters to use violence against those who opposed him.
The pundit class never understood Trump’s appeal. During the primary season they repeatedly and mistakenly predicted his demise. As he insulted, in rapid-fire succession: women, his opponents, Senator John McCain, popular Fox TV host Megyn Kelly, Mexicans, Muslims, a disabled person–they announced that he had gone too far and would soon drop in the polls. What they failed to understand then, and only now see, was that Trump had tapped into a vein of raw anger in a portion of the electorate. He might be a crude bully—but he was their crude bully and he was lashing out for them and they loved it.
It is a wrong to argue that Trump’s values are un-American. They are, sadly, very much a part of our history that we must not ignore. We’ve seen it before—rage and violence against African Americans, Native Americans, successive waves immigrants from foreign lands, the “Red scare”, and gays, to name a few. As Trump unleashed his campaign of hate, the pundits, living in their rarefied elite world, never understood, until it was too late, that his message would resonate and he could win. Now that he has won, with a dismissive wave of the hand, they want us to put our concern and disgust aside and move on. I disagree because even if Trump surprises us by pursuing a moderate governing agenda, the hate he has unleashed and validated will not easily be contained.
The other reason I cannot so easily move on is because throughout this long election season Trump’s language has been so vulgar and his behavior toward women has been so disgusting that parents had difficulty explaining him to their children. It became so problematic that my own grown children agonized over whether or not to let my grandchildren watch news coverage of the election. The entire campaign was a nightmare, which we couldn’t wait to end.
It now appears that the nightmare is only beginning. What we are struggling with is how to explain to our children and grandchildren that the man who said what he said and did the things that he did will now be our president.
I, too, have done a postmortem of this election. Within the Democratic Party, I am arguing, as I have for decades, that we have slighted the white working class. Despite having been the backbone of the Democratic Party, we ignored the hardships they endured as they became victims of economic and social dislocation. We forgot to speak their language and failed to identify with their narratives and have even demonstrated disdain for their culture and values. I agree with the arguments advanced by Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden: it is precisely because we turned our back on this critically important constituency of Americans that we left them vulnerable to the hateful message of Donald Trump.
I accept this criticism and am committed to changing this sorry state of affairs. But what I can’t accept is that Donald Trump will be my President. His election is not a death in the family. Death is irreversible, elections happen every four years.
Now some might suggest that by saying I cannot accept Trump as President, I am being un-American. I profoundly disagree. By working with allies in Congress and civil society to defend the vulnerable—Mexicans, African Americans, Muslims, and gays—who have, in just the few days since this election, been targets of acts of hate and violence in schools and in their neighborhoods; by defending women from being degraded and assaulted; and by drawing, quite clearly, the line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable—I am being very American. Working for justice is also a proud part of our history. Our children need to learn this lesson. They need to know that we will protect them and others who are victims of injustice. And they need us to teach them right from wrong. They deserve this from us. And so, I respectfully dissent and proudly state that I will not accept Donald Trump as my president.