Watching the Start of a New American Era from the Edge of the World


On November 8 – the second Tuesday of November – I found myself in Anchorage, Alaska watching the poll counts climb state by state while the minutes passed. As polls closed and states on TV monitors lit up as either blue or red, ebullient celebration or quiet resignation crossed the faces of those around me at the public house. Having been at Shrivenham during the Brexit vote before embarking on a previously planned trip to Edinburgh the following Friday morning, I saw echoes of the same disbelief (both excited and disappointed in nature) that I had experienced during that train trip north as I caught flights home across the 4,900 miles separating me from my home after the presidential election.

I was asked if I’d be interested in writing this piece almost two weeks ago, and since I felt that I was still forming an opinion on how the election had played out, I hesitated to do so. However, just over two weeks later with the news settling in and finding myself back on the U.S.’s east coast for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve had some time to reflect on events that have transpired since the electoral college awarded the win to a president-elect who, as of earlier this week, had lost the popular nearly 2 million votes, but succeeded with 290 electoral votes to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s 232.

Throughout his campaign, President-elect Trump challenged the world order’s commitment to international trade, alliances, and collective defense, as well as core tenants of the American experience such as inclusion and diversity. While future policy decisions (and political appointments) will indicate how the incoming administration intends to address these issues, there are more pressing issues that the American electorate must focus on surrounding public discourse and behavior.

For instance, a friend of mine who works with immigrant youth in the Washington, DC area helped to translate a parent-teacher conference two days after the election. The second question asked about their son by the parents was, “Is he kind to all of his classmates?” – a question that, surely, they must hope all of their son’s classmates’ parents are asking as well. His schoolmate, an 8th grade white boy, was crying in the hallway the same week because he has two moms, and has witnessed the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric espoused by some of Trump’s supporters. Children’s behavior is often cued by their parents’, which might give us a bit of insight fears harbored by parents in a highly diverse, inner city school located in the nation’s capital.

One of the things that moved me most to write this piece, though, was seeing the gathering of Neo-Nazis – apparently rebranded as the “alt-right” – giving Nazi salutes in the Ronald Reagan Building of Washington, DC. Having heard that the gathering took place at the Reagan Building complex was quite surprising, given that it is situated neatly between the White House and the Capitol, is home to USAID (the USG Department of State’s Agency for International Development) and the Environmental Protection Agency, houses Customs and Border Patrol screening facilities, and plays hosts to diverse conferences whose topicality (and attendees) would be directly threatened by the views of those giving Nazi salutes to President-elect Trump. (Perhaps the only place that these activities would have had a more alarming host would have been across the street, where Trump properties recently reopened the Old Post Office Building – a longstanding DC landmark). While freedom of expression is an important basis of the American experience, that doesn’t mean that blatant xenophobic and anti-Semitic movements should not be called out for the acts of hate that they are.

Although a vote for Trump doesn’t necessarily mean that the voter is a racist, xenophobic, misogynist, or bigot, it is difficult to think that not holding any of these as a deal-breaker when voting for a President does admit a certain level of acceptance of these values. Diversity and pluralism are what make America strong, and they must have a place within the new administration if that administration is to truly represent Americans. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of each American to make their neighbors and their communities feel inclusive. As one email I recently received commented, “If a swastika is drawn on a sidewalk, there is a big difference between community members cleaning it up in two hours and the city cleaning it up in two days.”

The months ahead will show if Americans intend to use this outcome as an opportunity to draw together and support one another while demanding a government that represents our values, or if we will succumb to the vitriolic rhetoric that colored much of Trump’s campaign to divide the electorate into “us” and “them”. Misogyny, white nationalism, isolationism, and intolerance are not the values that America wants to show the world.

Image: Donald Trump on the campaign trail, via flickr.


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