The morning of Wednesday, November 9, as the sun prepared to dawn, many Americans began to realize that the largest political upset in history had just taken place. As I watched CNN finally call the election for Trump at 2:48 a.m., I was feeling—among shock, anger, embarrassment, excitement, and resentment—a deep sense of confusion. What does this mean? What will this mean?
First, we must realize that this is democracy in action. Almost 60 million people had cast their ballots for Trump. It is easy to look down on them all as “deplorables”: racists, sexists, homophobes. Not only is this statistically untrue, but it ingrains the very lack of understanding that led to his victory. The truth is, millions of people are unsatisfied with the status quo. As per the “Real Clear Politics Average,” almost 62 percent of Americans feel that the country is on the wrong track, and struck gold when he first railed against trade.
Although almost every credited economic study shows the benefits of free trade and the economic harms of protectionism, our nation and ruling political class did a poor job with communication. The government failed people like the 55-year-old Michigan factory worker whose job was exported to China. First, the government failed people like him by driving business out of the country with too-high corporate taxes, swamps of red tape, a lack of job-retraining, and safety nets. The working class’ frustration is understandable. They are not racist for feeling abandoned. While ending free trade is not the solution, it is important we see why voters demanded a change.
That said, we also must realize this was unmistakably victory for those afraid of progress. We cannot forget how remarkable the 2008 election was, when the United States elected a black man as president. The shock and anger some of us are feeling now is what others felt eight years ago. The disbelief and determination to fight is what many on the right have felt during the entire tenure of Obama’s presidency. Whether or not Trump is a racist is yet to be determined, but he did stoke race-hate (perhaps his most egregious crime) and channel the anxiety that much of America had into votes. Make no mistake, what our country witnessed this election was a backlash against the tremendous progress we have made. The causes of social justice have always faced an uphill battle, but our 240-year history has demonstrated that indeed, the arc of history bends towards justice. It still does. Almost 60 million Americans voted for a candidate with strong populist views, but more voted for one who wanted to continue the progressive change our nation has been experiencing.
Looking at what this will mean is hard to tell. Trump has been on every side of every issue. He ruthlessly said anything to get elected and is undoubtedly in over his head, which means he will rely on council. There have been reports that claim there is a civil war in President-elect Trump’s inner circle. The alt-right Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway are fighting for influence against Trump’s fiercely intelligent daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Once assembled, Trump’s cabinet will reflect which side won—the moderate establishment he ran against or the more populist alt-right fringes he legitimized. Until then, the direction of our country—whether we continue to lead in trade, protect our allies, and embrace the values that make us strong—is up in the air.
However, despite the sadness, frustration, or anger permeating our nation, there is certainty in the fact that, as President Obama said, “The sun will rise—and it did.” The election is over, and my candidate lost. Every election has a loser. For the people protesting, understand their anger. I hope those who felt what the protesters are feeling eight years ago are able to empathize with the their despair in defeat. Step back and realize that Hillary Clinton will not be president. We do have a new president, though. His success is our nation’s success. Do not be disenfranchised by defeat; marvel at the magnificence of democracy. If you truly love the values to which Clinton, Barack Obama, and all the other admirable leaders have devoted their adult lives, wish Trump the best. Remember when your Republican grandmother would never give Obama a chance, regardless of whatever he said? Be better than that. You do not have to look at the man, but look at his policies and presidency objectively. And above all, stay engaged and get involved.