Since 2007, when I first put an Obama bumper sticker on my car, every time I’ve crossed the border into Texas and many other states, an offended motorist has given me the finger. Certainly there are Oklahomans who are upset by the Democrat sticker, but we tend to hold our negative emotions inside, and nobody here has ever expressed any resentment toward my outward support.
(OK, last week, a truckload of men started chanting “Trump!, Trump!, Trump!,” but they seemed antagonized by the Hillary sticker I put on the bumper after Bernie conceded.)
As the Trump campaign began its decisive unraveling during these last couple of weeks, I’ve been annoying my friends — and my wife — by proclaiming, “I told you so!” Even when the polls said otherwise, I contended that many Americans are agitated, but we will not elect such a disgrace as President of the United States.
It had sometimes been hard to maintain my optimism, to agree that we must pull out all stops to stop Trump while simultaneously insisting we shouldn’t judge his supporters. While an unknown but frightening percentage of Trump voters are deplorable, racist, sexist and xenophobic, the ones I meet are decent people who simply feel marginalized. My friends are tired of hearing from me that Trump voters are scared and just reacting to the decline of economic opportunity, in turn wrongly blaming immigrants for the destruction of their hopes for a better life. Besides, we shouldn’t judge others for their political beliefs any more than we should criticize their religions.
My gut has been saying that Trump supporters are blowing off steam, but Americans are not going to elect a modern-day Mussolini. It’s disproportionately men who echo Trump, and they are livid because male wages have dropped since 1969. Rather than challenge the One Percent — the corporate powers who control our government — they have rejected the Ten Percent, which is Tom Frank’s name for the affluent professional class that exemplifies the Hillary base. Populists, whether they support Bernie or Trump, feel like Hillary and the elite circles she runs with hold uneducated workers in contempt. She surrounds herself by the Ten Percent or the technocratic class of experts who have done just fine in the global marketplace. Comfortable white-collar liberals can be very energized in campaigning for justice in terms of social issues, but, too often, they forget about the damage done to blue-collar workers by de-industrialization.
That being said, we must not lower our guard and fail to show up at the polls. Bernie supporters, business Republicans and conservative Christians: I’m talking to you. Sadly, Oklahoma teachers, I’m talking to you, too. It’s painful to contemplate a poll that shows almost half of the state’s teachers support Trump while less than 30 percent support Clinton. Even if you have to hold your collective noses when voting for Mrs. Clinton, citizens of a democracy have a responsibility to overtly reject demagoguery. But, neither should we wait until Nov. 9 before taking the next essential step toward reconciliation.
On the eve of the Trump electoral defeat, of course, we have every right to savor the ways that his campaign is unraveling. As Trump’s supporters are irreconcilably turned off by his irrational and abusive campaign, however, Americans from all backgrounds should start to bring ourselves back together. We must start the conversation about how to make this election a “never again” moment.
I also hope that Republican operatives would put themselves in what their own shoes would have felt like if Trump had become the Commander in Chief. What would they have felt the day after the election when they looked into the mirror and saw a person who placed political victory over the need to reject a dangerous, would-be tyrant? Bernie supporters should now start to reach out to the Trump supporters who share our feelings about elites who brush off our economic travails. Similarly, Bernie supporters should work with the Ten Percent and President Hillary Clinton to push for egalitarianism.
Even if we have already cheered Michelle Obama’s wonderful speech that condemned Trump’s sexism, we should join with persons of the other sex, from different generations, with different national origins, who are members of different races and classes, and rewatch the First Lady’s gut-wrenching condemnation of Trumpism. Mrs. Obama revealed the way that Trump’s abusive sexism “has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.” Even though I’m a male who admits that he was slow to recognize the Trump campaign’s full danger, I feel the same way about his misogyny and the general hatred he has unleashed. Maybe Michelle Obama is pointing the way to the first step we should all take as she places “an outstretched hand over her heart as she made a key point. ‘It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It, it, it hurts.’”
Although I was slow to recognize the evil that Trump embraces is as deep and widespread as it is, I still believe that the vast majority of Americans who flirted with his campaign did so because they also hurt. Since the chances of a Trump victory now seem to have evaporated, let’s get a jump on the conversation we must have to bring ourselves together. We can start by sharing our pain with each other, but let’s not fight anger with anger. And let’s not feel sorry for ourselves.
America has overcome much worse, and we did so without the likes of Huey Long, George Wallace or Donald Trump exacerbating the pain.