If there was any doubt, there shouldn’t be anymore. The 2016 presidential election was not the anomaly or fluke that so many here thought it was.
The results of the 2020 contest have affirmed that nearly half of the country — 9 million more than in 2016 — supports the policies and persona of Donald Trump. In King County, 50,000 more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016. Yes, Biden won the election, but it was no landslide repudiation of the current occupant of the White House — and his vitriolic politics — that many expected it to be.
The hard truth is that this is, in fact, who we are as a country.
The Blue Wave that was supposed to sweep Biden into office, flip the Senate and increase the Democrats’ hold on the House was more like a gurgle.
In early exit-polling numbers, white people overall supported Trump at about the same rate as 2016, giving him 58% of their vote. And white women increased their support of Trump in 2020, despite 26 women accusing him of sexual misconduct spanning decades.
Most disheartening is that after everything we have experienced over the past four years from this president — policies and rhetoric that further marginalize and malign people of color — some people of color increased their support of Trump in 2020, according to CNN exit polls.
Trumpism has proved seductive, and we can no longer assume that just turning out more people of color will equate to victories for progressive values. All people are complicated, with sometimes competing motivations and interests.
In the coming months and years I am sure studies will be done and academic papers written to better interpret what happened in 2020. Someday we will understand why so many people chose to say “yes” to an administration that among so many other things, mishandled a pandemic that has now killed 230,000 Americans — and voted for him overwhelmingly in places where the virus was most rampant.
But the question I have now for our little blue, upper left corner of the U.S. is what are we going to do about the other half of the country that does not see the world the way we do? Are we going to wish them away, or curse them or berate them into acquiescence? Have any of those strategies worked in the past?
Many people I love and respect say they should not have to interact with people who do not see or understand their fundamental humanity. That support for a person like Trump is the equivalent to condoning homophobia, racism and xenophobia. I definitely understand and appreciate the sentiment. It should not fall to those who bear the greatest brunt of racism and homophobia to also have to do the work to get others to understand how they are being hurt.
People with the least privilege who are most in the crosshairs of policies that have undermined their civil and human rights, their health and their economic survival should not be the ones to have to engage with the 48% who support Trump. But what about the rest of us?
Those of us with privilege stemming from race, class, education or perceived proximity to whiteness have a greater responsibility to do the hard, uncomfortable work of finding a way to connect with those on the other side of the political divide. White people — particularly those with access to education and economic security — need to do this labor with their own networks and families. It requires us to resist the temptation to unfriend, to mock and drag and to say we will never associate ourselves with those backward thinking people again.
And no, I am not so naive as to believe that we can hold hands and kumbaya our way to progress and reconciliation. There are deep, structural changes needed — to our electoral system, to the control of the media and in many other arenas.
But I have learned from community organizers that making change and building power for those excluded from it requires broadening your coalitions and expanding your base. Organizers in Georgia and Arizona did that this year, harnessing the grassroots, bringing in more people and ultimately flipping reliably red states to blue. They did that by engaging with people who might be new to the political process, not as perfectly woke as they are and across differences. Not everyone can be reached, of course, but many can.
Black leaders, especially women, have been doing much of the heavy lifting to preserve the rights of all people for decades and it’s no different today. In addition to thanking Black women for their sacrifices, yet again, let’s all step up to do our part.