The other half of America has always been there, and minimizing it has brought us to a perilous moment.
Well, now we can see and hear the America that many folks in the media, government and academia like to believe exists only in small numbers.
There are a lot of them — enough to win a presidential election — and now they are about to take over the very federal government they tend to hate. We have a different kind of change than what the country voted for eight years ago, and it, too, is thoroughly American.
Like many people, I’m still trying to understand what happened and why, and to see where it might lead us. I expect that questioning will go on for a long time, but what we do know is that we can see who we are as a nation more clearly.
Donald Trump is going to be president in part because he was bold enough to be the voice of people whose ideas get made fun of on TV shows and dismissed as marginal by journalists. He was not worried about offending women, minorities, people with disabilities. He was free to be himself, and there are people who feel freed by him.
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In America, periods of progressive change are followed by a cry of enough is enough. I heard a Republican official saying on the radio that a lot of people who were willing to accept a black president and marriage equality and more efforts to treat women fairly finally got to the point where it all felt like too much. They felt pushed aside and muzzled.
Consider books that have looked at the rise of the tea party, which preceded the Trump revolution. University of Washington political scientist Christopher Parker explored the history of reactionary movements in his book “Change They Can’t Believe In.” Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild got to know people in Louisiana for her book “Strangers in Their Own Land,” and described people who worried about their place in the world and feared their children might be at a disadvantage. And they found people they could blame for all of that.
People in media and government answered their fears with data and studies, or calls to progress toward the ideals we preach as a nation. But those messages don’t reach gut level.
Journalists assumed that putting the facts out there would be enough to allow people to see what seemed obvious to us. But election night showed the degree to which much of the media had a naive view of the country, seeing it as more like the cities where large media voices are concentrated than the many smaller places that put Trump over the top.
Every time Trump said something outrageous, or untrue, journalists thought voters would factor that into their judgment. Not many thought voters would ignore his rants or that they might actually agree with him. Besides, he was entertaining.
Pollsters and journalists, and even Republican political analysts, misjudged the number of people to whom he was appealing. Just about everyone who analyzed the race thought Hillary Clinton would win. Even after the FBI reopened, then closed, its email investigation of her in the days before the election, it seemed she might squeak by because the alternative seemed far from what a president should be.
Trump will be our president in January, and the voters who chose him also helped keep both houses of Congress in Republican hands. A lot of people are concerned.
I saw a letter Stanford University sent to its students Wednesday morning offering suggestions for dealing with the election outcome because many had “expressed uncertainty, anger, anxiety and/or fear …”
A private high school in Seattle sent out a similar note.
I’m worried that Social Security will be destroyed, that efforts to reduce the impact of climate change will end, that tax cuts will erode the government’s ability to help poor and middle-class Americans, that the economy will be damaged. Allies are worried about the role America will play in the world. I worry whether we will wind up in another war.
We know the U.S. Supreme Court is going to be altered for years, and progress toward greater equality is likely to suffer, even to slide backward.
But I also know that this is not the first time America has asserted this reactionary side of itself. Now that we can see clearly where the nation is, those of us who prefer a different direction should stay engaged with politics. It’s still our country, too.