“When they go low, we go high.”
The next four years are going to be a massive test of character for the people who see the world as I do. After some reflection, I ask one thing of those on my side of the political spectrum: we must not treat President Trump the way they treated President Obama.
I should emphasize here that I speak from the perspective of a straight, cis-gendered male with a stable job in a supposedly recession-proof city and with a secure family structure to fall back on. My day-to-day life probably won’t change much as a result of last night’s election.
I had less riding on this election than the same-sex couple I met last night, half of which is waiting to naturalize. They are concerned changes to marriage laws may hold up her citizenship process and threaten their custody of their adopted child. I had far less riding on this election than low-wage workers hoping for an increased minimum wage, undocumented immigrants working to make a better life for their families, the millions who the ACA saved from medical bankruptcy, and the millions at risk in the middle east if an unhinged state department “rips up the Iran deal on day one” and destabilizes the region.
I’m pretty privileged to be safe, and I think that safety gives me the luxury to react with a little more measure than those directly in the firing line, and I definitely don’t begrudge those who are reacting with far more anger. So with that out of the way, I do believe we must follow Michelle Obama’s advice and “go high.”
Taking the high road means being gracious in defeat. I don’t want four years of pure obstructionism. I do not want to hear that Chuck Schumer’s “number-one priority” is to make Trump a one-term president. I don’t want senate democrats to bastardize bills in the hopes that they lead to poor results and can later be repealed. I will not presume that President Trump’s every action is wrong just because he’s the one doing it.
Anti-Intellectualism got us into this position, and to treat Trump that way would only continue that. I recently watched some town-hall debates from previous elections, and now believe this was the most dumb-downed election at least in recent American history. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely disturbed by the deeply xenophobic and misogynistic views that the President Elect seems to hold, the alleged sexual assaults, and his shady business practices. But I think that the media’s fixation with those issues (and with constantly moving on to the next one) did him a favor.
The focus on scandals and shock-value statements was great for clicks and ratings, because people who already didn’t like Trump clicked on those articles (and people who did like him shared them as examples of media manipulation), but they served to marginalize the many people who are afraid of a changing world. A lot of people are terrified that the world today is viewed and discussed in very different terms than the world they grew up in, that careers that fed their families for generations are waning in the modern global economy, and Trump appeared as a safe-harbor for their concerns. Dismissing these people as racist, however apt the term may be when discussing some of their views, only pushed them further into the protest-vote camp.
At the same time, the obsession with shock-value statements and scandals crowded-out any real policy discussion. Baiting Trump into racism and sexism apparently didn’t expose him, and it looks like no one was really turned off by his unwillingness to make good on his debts. But maybe voters would have viewed him differently if he was pressed on specifics about how he would approach conflict in Yemen, or when it would be appropriate to raise interest rates, or when if ever the world needs to transition away from fossil fuels. Maybe voters would also have thought differently of Clinton if her answers to real policy questions came to mind instead of out-of-context banter in stolen emails. We grew numb to the scandals and ill-advised hyperboles, and in the end both candidates were so thoroughly covered in mud that we couldn’t see the huge gulf in policy-knowledge lying beneath.
So however abhorrent Trump’s general worldview and personality may appear to be, it’s time for us to accept that discussing it is completely unproductive. From now on, if I ever speak ill of the President Elect, it will be because I disagree with a specific policy proposal for objective reasons. If hateful words leave his mouth, I will denounce his words and stand up for those targeted, but I won’t waste time trying to use those words as ammunition against him. However appropriately an “-ism” word may describe his words or actions, I will withhold it and instead articulate exactly what I don’t like about them. If this means that we can no longer simply assume that racism is bad and must now explain why it is bad every time, so be it.
While I believe we should treat the President Elect with respect and fairness, I am not for a second suggesting total capitulation. Climate models are not up for referendum, and as the fate of the planet is at stake, we must continue to speak up in the name of basic science. I believe that regressive economic policies that will negatively affect minority communities will be unavoidable under 4 years of republican control, but we must refuse to accept any policies that directly compromise the basic civil rights that generations of Americans have fought for. If those rights are at stake, we must take to the streets alongside those affected.
So to the future President, even though you’ve implicitly questioned the right of millions of kind-hearted patriots to call themselves a part of “your America,” I will not question the goodness of your basic personhood any further. If you murder someone on 5th avenue, I will leave that to the courts and you won’t hear from me. But if you threaten the basic values of inclusiveness that define the “new America” that you’re so afraid of, know that we will fight you through every peaceful channel at our disposal.