Well, you can’t win ’em all.
If history proves anything, it’s that America is an ideological pendulum, swinging back and forth every four-to-eight years, rarely allowing the same political party to rule the executive branch for more than two presidential terms in a row. Indeed, only once since 1945 has the electorate diverged from this pattern—namely, when George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988 on the coattails of Ronald Reagan.
Considering how inherently divided our country is, there is a certain beauty to this arrangement, since it guarantees that no individual citizen will feel bitter toward—and underrepresented by—his or her government for more than eight years at a time. It means that by age 30—if not sooner—every American will have felt both the joy of victory and the sting of defeat—and, more crucially, the experience of living, day-to-day, as a member of both the political majority and the political minority.
At 29, I can now affirm this theory from personal experience, having endured eight awful years of George W. Bush only to be enraptured by Barack Obama for nearly the same amount of time. (If that isn’t the definition of “night and day,” I don’t know what is.)
Understanding that I can’t get everything I want every minute of every day—and that half my countrymen do not share many of my core values—I’ve had no illusions that I would always be as lucky in my commander-in-chief as I’ve been since January 2009. It just wouldn’t be fair to everyone else.
So I can accept—intellectually, at least—that my least-favorite candidate prevailed in the 2016 presidential election, and that even though I didn’t vote for him myself, he will nonetheless be the leader of all of us and we’re just gonna have to deal with it.
I say this, of course, as a way of dancing around the giant, orange elephant in the hall, which is that the next president of the United States is arguably the least-qualified and most temperamentally inappropriate person to have ever sought the presidency, let alone win it, and his victory does absolutely nothing to change that fact. From a cursory view of American political history, only Andrew Jackson comes to mind as someone whose violent temper and flamboyant flouting of basic social mores are equal to those of Donald Trump. (We could also add Richard Nixon to the mix, although he did a slightly better job of hiding it.)
And yet—after the longest and most surreal night of any of our lifetimes—I am somehow reluctant today to re-litigate, for the gazillionth time, all the ways that Trump is a Category 5 disaster for the United States and the world.
Not that we shouldn’t start right up again tomorrow—or, at any rate, on January 20, 2017. Of course we will continue to defend the principles of free expression, civil rights, diplomacy and all the rest against a vulgar demagogue who cares about nothing but himself. Of course we will fight tooth-and-nail for the America we believe in against a man who represents its absolute antithesis. Of course we will hold Trump to account for every appalling, stupid decision he makes over the next four years. And of course we will not be intimidated by any and all efforts to suppress our Constitutional right to dissent.
But today I just want to rest, and reflect that democracy—still the greatest political system on Earth—requires yielding the floor to people with whom you violently disagree when the election results say that it’s their turn to take charge.
Maybe that’s a recklessly sanguine attitude for a liberal like me to strike. Maybe I’m just so exhausted and relieved about the election being over that I can’t quite think straight. Maybe—no, definitely—the fact that I’m white and male has partially insulated me from the raging existential panic and sadness that have swept across the entirety of Blue America throughout the day. Maybe the magnitude of last night’s results, like a death in the family, hasn’t yet fully sunk in. Or maybe I’m just a much more optimistic person than I realized and have faith that a President Trump will somehow not bring ruin to America’s most cherished institutions and dial our culture back to an era when life was absolutely miserable for all but rich, heterosexual white men.
To be sure, I can’t say I’ve ever felt more ashamed of my Y chromosome or my pale complexion, and I don’t begrudge my fellow liberals for refusing to play nice for even a moment, and/or for feeling that this might be the worst day of their lives and that the next four years will be one horrible nightmare after another.
But this morning I re-read David Wong’s October 12 article on the website Cracked, titled, “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind,” and really understood—maybe for the first time—the perspective of, say, a struggling working-class man from the Midwest who has become so alienated by his government—indeed, by his very society—that he felt he had no choice but to roll the dice with a human Molotov cocktail, buying into Trump’s sales pitch, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
I think that perspective is misguided—that Trump represents everything that blue-collar worker should fear and detest about both government and human nature in general—but I cannot deny the logic of it from the eyes of those who really have been stiffed by their representatives in Washington, D.C., and are resentful that liberal bastions on America’s coasts are getting all the attention and having all the fun.
Trump’s silent majority (or whatever he’s calling it) represents a group of Americans who have felt let down for far more than the eight years that most of us are used to, and while Trump is most certainly not the answer to their problems, his victory demonstrates how very wrong we elitist city folk were about what kind of country this really is.
Trump has forced us to reconsider things that we thought we knew for sure, and while none of those revelations are good—indeed, only in time will their badness become fully apparent—at least they have humbled us into recognizing that there is more than one way to see the world and that nothing can be taken for granted.
We liberals had our moment in the sun for the last eight years, and now it’s time for conservatives to have theirs. Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum will swing back in our direction, and hopefully we’ll be there to seize it when it does.