Op-Ed: Where do we go from here? | The American Word

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Op-Ed: Where do we go from here?

Why we didn’t see this coming

Maeve Allsup | 11/10/16 1:53pm
| Updated 11/10/16 2:21pm

Jaclyn Merica / American Word Magazine

In the wake of the election, the intensely emotional posts that fill my social media feed reflect my own personal struggle to come to terms with a reality that, until today, I have been naively unaware of. A reality in which a large portion of Americans feel so disillusioned with our nation that they voted for an agenda that discriminates against people based on their religion, skin tone, gender and sexual orientation, for an agenda that would create a physical barrier to keep out immigrants, and for a candidate who has been given the public support of the KKK.

How do we grapple with this realization? The realization that our vision of America may not line up with reality? As college students who pride ourselves on being highly informed and aware, how were we so blind to the voices of middle America? Do we sit so high on our horses here in Washington, working for the very media outlets and polling organizations that failed to predict this upset, that we forgot about the opinions and realities of the rest of the country? Why didn’t we see this coming?

The radical statements of the president-elect hit home with people who feel they’ve been kept out of “the room,” and that their voices and issues have gone unheard. Here in the District of Columbia, AU students work and protest on the Hill, are pushed to closely examine the political process through courses taught by government officials and intern in both the public and private sector, making it easy to feel involved.

This extreme privilege, and the liberal, tolerant and highly educated bubble of the Capitol, blinded me to the extreme pain and anger felt by those who live and work in places like my rural, Colorado hometown. The fact that I assumed Hillary would win, and that many people decided not to vote at all, displays this privilege. Pollsters, political analysts, media outlets and voters across the country were shocked by last night’s results. While the entire campaign season has seen widespread complaints that mainstream media ignores certain candidates, campaigns and issues, Trump’s victory gives new meaning to the term “unheard voices.” Rural, white, middle class Americans turned out to vote in numbers that no one predicted, making their voices and concerns heard. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent, Hillary Clinton was ultimately unable to create the groundswell movement that is taking Trump to the White House.

Perhaps we were too complacent, too comfortable in our privileged belief that a Trump presidency wasn’t a possibility. Maybe we assumed that the support of Bernie Sanders and the Obamas would carry Clinton through to the White House, boosted by Trump’s crude statements expressing homophobia, racism and bigotry. However, starting with the unprecedented success of Senator Bernie Sanders in the primaries, this election has proven that change to the system is not only possible, but is something that much of America now demands from their representatives.

Directing blame to those who didn’t vote and those who voted third party, regardless of the impact their voices may have had, is fruitless. The fact remains that over 60 million Americans voted for a Donald Trump presidency. The groundswell turnout of a population that isn’t known for its voting habits (rural, white America) reveals the true depth of the disappointment and resentment that is swallowing huge swathes of our country.

Donald Trump campaigned on his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, and to make Mexico finance it. He pledged to keep Muslims out of America and to withdraw from NAFTA and the TPP. However, it will be difficult for Trump to move forward on many of these plans. It is highly unlikely that Mexico has the resources to pay for such a wall, or that they would agree to it, and the rest of the world’s leaders will not back him up in his demands. However, he can and likely will increase patrols at the border and prioritize the implementation of a more conservative immigration policy. This policy is likely to call for more intense screenings of Muslims, as an all out ban is unlikely, and could prevent the entry of Syrian refugees. When it comes to free trade deals, he is at odds with his fellow Republicans in Congress, who generally support free trade, and it would be nearly impossible for him to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA (which his financial advisors will surely remind him of when he takes office.) When and if any of these proposals come to the floor of Congress, we must all make our opposition known, loudly but peacefully.

Regardless of which policies are pursued and enacted, it is clear that there is tremendous work to be done to ensure that all Americans, including those in middle America, feel that their voices are heard and validated, and to bring the equality and acceptance that we apparently take for granted.

We were so focused on the people who always vote that we ignored those who finally felt inspired enough to exercise this fundamental right. To be a great nation, we must ensure that all citizens feel empowered and know that their opinions and ideals matter. Yesterday proved that we are not there yet.

Our future is dependent on tolerance, inclusivity and open mindedness. Those who voted for Trump do not represent all American voices. America is more than that. America is greater than that. America is women and Muslims and immigrants and members of LGBT communities, and each of us will have a hand in shaping the future of our country.

Use your voice and your privilege to stand up for friends, neighbors and strangers. Speak out against inequality, racism, homophobia and bigotry. Do not stand for derogatory speech against women. Break glass ceilings. Be compassionate, tolerant and understanding. Stand firm in your determination for change and do not let your voice be diminished. Despite the heartbreak and despair that many of us are feeling, the end of the election does not mean the end of your responsibility as an American citizen: now, more than ever we need to remember the ideals of a nation built by immigrants and revolutionaries, and to extend dignity and respect to our fellow Americans, and more importantly, to our fellow human beings.