Post-election whiplash: 10 observations

Print More
President-elect Donald Trump, right, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence embrace at their election-night rally in New York City. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar

President-elect Donald Trump, right, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence embrace at their election-night rally in New York City. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar

(RNS) Here are 10 things I know or think I know, see or think I see, in the post-election whiplash. I am mainly trying to stay in the analytical mode in this piece as I try to make sense of what is going on around me.

  1. There is a certain kind of anti-Trump person who continues to be convinced that to have voted for Donald Trump, after everything he said and did in the campaign, was itself an incomprehensible act of moral evil that more or less places the voter beyond the pale of human decency. Many relationships have been strained or broken because of the implacability of this conviction or resistance to it. Thus we again see the extent of the political division in our country. It is acutely painful.
  2. Academics, especially in the humanities, tend to be liberal in their politics. They also tend to take words very seriously, to be especially committed to diversity and inclusion, and to center their politics on defending marginalized groups. Thus it is no surprise many academics have been especially appalled by the vote — because they found Trump’s words and policies repeatedly offensive and assumed most others would be similarly offended. The gap between their values and the apparent values of 60 million Americans leaves them deeply frustrated and dispirited, and is already leading to considerable anguished conversation at our academic professional meetings.
  3. Some anti-Trump people have about them a mood of teachability, while others are having difficulty getting past pure outrage and incomprehension. The former want to know what they didn’t understand, what they missed, about the American electorate. They may still be very deeply upset over the election results, but they are trying to listen, to break out of their echo chambers, to seek greater clarity. I noticed in the New York Times’ opinion section a considerable amount of this kind of reflection, which I appreciated, and am hearing it some from Democratic politicians and activists.
  4. The most poignant and compelling fear, grief and worry that I am hearing is from people who come from groups at least periodically targeted by Trump’s campaign rhetoric. This includes Latino (especially Mexican) immigrants, Muslims, those of Arab background and refugees from the Middle East, notably Syria. It also includes some (not all) women, but perhaps especially those who have experienced sexual assault; African-Americans deeply offended especially by Trump’s leadership role in the anti-Obama birther cause; some disabled people offended by Trump’s mockery of a disabled reporter; and some LGBT people, mainly because of the GOP platform. Members of these groups have special reason to feel abandoned by their fellow citizens, in some cases their fellow Christians who, even if they voted for Trump for other reasons, were, by definition, willing to overlook language, and sometimes policy proposals, that threatened or diminished them, and can thus be viewed as complicit in their harm.
  5. A certain percentage of Americans will remain defiantly unreconciled to a President Trump until, or unless, he apologizes for harms done during the campaign, as just described; definitively demands that attacks on racial, ethnic and other minorities on the part of any American cease; promises the resources of the federal government to protect all citizens; and backs away from policy proposals that would directly threaten vulnerable groups.
  6. Anti-Trump people of my acquaintance struggle to understand that anyone could have had anything approaching a serious moral or policy objection to Hillary Clinton. But this is to underestimate concerns held by many millions of Americans, especially Catholics and evangelicals, about the unresolved moral issue of abortion. And worries over the ethical baggage that over four decades has accrued to the Clinton account mattered to many. What people count as morally important varies. And morally important issues are not the only issues people vote on.
  7. Divisions in economic circumstances are very often invisible to those who are privileged. Most of us now live and move in economically homogeneous circumstances. For example, I am a knowledge worker who has done well economically, especially in the last decade when many other Americans have struggled desperately. It is hard for me, and those like me, to properly weigh the economic concerns of people whose jobs are disappearing and communities decaying. If desperate people found hope in one candidate and no hope in another, but I am not in the social class of those who chose the other candidate, perhaps I have some things to learn about the rest of America, rather than dismissing them as dupes and rubes.
  8. Anti-Trump evangelicals are absolutely pounding the 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump. The breach between the majority of politically conservative, loyally Republican evangelicals, and the minority of politically progressive, independent or Democratic evangelicals is beyond repair. I do wish the anti-Trump evangelicals would consider some of the complexity I have been outlining in the previous points. But I say this as one who generally shares their objections and their politics. It is not the first time I have been disappointed by the voting patterns and policy preferences of white American evangelicals.
  9. Christians remain endangered by the collapse of their identity into either a “red” or “blue” political identity. I call instead for resolutely independent moral witness and faithful practice, in personal life, in the local church and, when necessary, in the public square.
  10. The nature of the public moral witness required over the next season of our nation’s life will depend on Trump. Perhaps he will look with compassion upon the country that he fought so hard to win; perhaps he will broaden his gaze to encompass the whole of it; perhaps he will soften his heart as he hears the cries of those who fear him; perhaps a Republican Congress will set some boundaries. “Give the king your justice, O God.” Psalm 72.