What will happen this Election Day — Tuesday, November 8th?
It’s an all consuming question, one holding millions of American minds hostage (even if the abundance of Tweet storms, news coverage, and polls have already given us compelling indication that Trump has only a minimal chance at victory).
But I’m not sure it’s the most important question we should be asking. Because, after months of this unprecedentedly divisive lead-up, what I’m really curious to know is: what happens on November 9th?
This election has brought out the ugly in a lot of us, and Mr. Trump’s direct quotes only compose a fraction of that nastiness. We are a nation obsessed. Hillary is a liar. Lock her up. Trump is a psychopath, a loser, a wart on our country’s bruised reputation. I wish I could say I’ve remained a peaceful, unruffled outlier in this madness, but truthfully, I am no better than the rest, and neither are my friends and family. We talk and post incessantly about the election, trying to land on absolutes and conclusions that will solidify our senses of self-righteousness, but really, we’re just caught up in the noise — trying hard to see through the fog of insanity that has cloaked our everyday lives and shaken our national identity.
We’re so lost, distracted, and generally upset that I have to wonder if there’s any degree of certainty as to how we’ll conduct ourselves in the weeks and months ahead. What will life look like in the post-election era? How will we reconcile all the confusing and maddening feelings this election has incited in us?
The culmination of all this political hysteria is likely to have only one of two conclusions. However, it’s worthwhile to step back and examine these potential outcomes before we arrive at that apex. A preemptive discussion of the consequences is helpful in readying ourselves not only for the presumptive winner, but for the resulting attitudes and reactions of the American people.
Let’s begin by unpacking the aftermath of the most likely outcome: Hillary wins.
If, on November 9th, Americans wake up to discover Hillary Clinton is the president-elect, how will they react? I imagine those who supported her campaign, or, at the very least, mustered the wherewithal to vote for her, will experience a hybrid of emotions, based largely in relief. They may be ready to step away from all the dramatic discourse of the past year, and begin a new conversation, one centered on solving real and meaningful problems in our country. They may feel as if justice has been served on multiple fronts — for the anti-diplomacy, openly bigoted, women shaming opponent she battled in Donald Trump, and for the arduous climb to the nation’s highest office she has spent her life tenaciously and unrelentingly pursuing. If Hillary wins, she’ll be the victor of an intensely real life version of Chutes & Ladders. Her win will be described as anything but effortless.
Clinton’s opponents, we can safely assume, will not share in this relief. In Trump, they have found a particular breed of leader — someone who will speak to (and capitalize on) their fears. They have found someone willing to participate in a passionate and thinly veiled conversation about race and gender, and, specifically, how these constructs impact the future of our country. He has affirmed persistent beliefs — suggesting however directly or indirectly, that women and minorities pose major threats to our American “tradition,” and in his spirited rhetoric, he has given permission to his supporters to publicly unleash their own unsavory feelings on these topics. If Trump were to suddenly disappear from the national stage, his supporters may be left wondering what to make of this newly revived conversation.
Without Donald’s giant haunches to hide under, will it be acceptable to engage in racist and sexist commentary? Or will these very real feelings and beliefs be swept back under a cloud of political correctness?
We have learned a lot about ourselves in this election. And even those of us who reject the misogynistic, bigoted viewpoints we’ve been exposed to in the past year must contend that these perspectives do reflect the real America — perhaps just not the America we prefer to live in. Trumpism, that gritty bedrock of intolerance from which he draws his strength, will not go away just because Trump the candidate does. This election has laid the groundwork for a very daunting reevaluation of our American identity and I predict it will leave us staring into a giant chasm, one that separates the American people less by their socioeconomics and more so by their fears. Who are we most scared of? Muslims, Hispanics, or perhaps our very own candidates for the presidency?
No matter who wins on November 8th, Trump has infiltrated and changed the tone of our national dialogue. We have only ourselves to blame, however, for handing him the microphone and allowing him to filibuster our living rooms. Our attention to his outrageous commentary has been grossly exploited by an opportunistic media, who have responded to our political voyeurism by handing him the world’s most prominent stage. In all fairness, they have only given the people exactly what they seem to want.
In the likely event that Trump should lose this election, we need to decide how to move forward. Will we continue to hand him the microphone? Will we remain as enraptured by his stream of consciousness as we have been since he first announced his candidacy? Worse yet, will we continue to legitimize his viewpoint in American politics by providing him with the kind of platform we offered to Sarah Palin after McCain’s lost bid at the presidency? With Palin, we took a minimally experienced politician and turned her into a reality television star. With Trump, we seem to be doing the opposite.
The American people are not only the voters in this election. We are the consumers. And as consumers, we must be thoughtful about what we drive up demand for. How much more Donald do we want to see when this thing is all over? Let’s decide now, because I’m willing to wager he’ll show up for every moment of publicity he is offered.
Come November 9th, Americans have more important issues to attend to than our continued subscriptions to Trump Central. Our next president is inheriting a fractured and deeply divided populous, one in need of some serious healing. For better or worse, Trump has opened a Pandora’s box of biases and hurt feelings and what’s inside is downright messy. I can only hope that our future leader will be capable of helping us bridge our differences with civility and kindness, two qualities sorely lacking in this election season.