A President Departs and Two Worlds Move Further Away: Going Forward From Here

As Justice Brennan wrote in the famous New York Times v. Sullivan case, the first amendment reflects “a profound national commitment” to “debate on public issues which should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open.”  In these times of great tumult and disagreement, there is often a temptation for one side to grow so robust in their speech and become extremely defensive of their viewpoints. Throughout this election, it seems that both sides are holding steadfast to the point of stymieing burgeoning dissent.  The left– in particular, college-aged millennials–have erupted in a hasty display of disgust and disdain for the recent election of President-elect Donald Trump.

Twitter campaigns such as “#notmypresident” and “#nevertrump” have exceeded the point of mere criticism and have instead grown into a vow to oppose and disrupt the system in whatever way possible to prevent Trump’s rightful inauguration as president.  On the other side, there seems to be a callousness and a dismissal of the legitimate grievances the protesters are attempting to convey.   

In short, there is dissonance and misunderstanding on the parts of both sides. As James Madison explains in Federalist 10 , the best remedy for disagreement and contention in our pluralistic republic is, ironically, the fostering of further conversation.

“Forum on the Future of America”

So it is our duty as citizens and as members of the university community to lead the way and initiate that dialogue.  The Richmond Student College Association, in conjunction with the Westhampton College Government Association, will be leading a “Forum on the Future of America” on November 16, 2016, at 7pm  at the Pier next to Tyler’s, that will allow students to express their questions, concerns, reservations, and other assessments regarding what has been a remarkable election. Many distinguished professors will be attending, including the President, Dr. Ronald Crutcher.

The World According to Clinton Supporters

As aforementioned, there is a huge contingency of people who are reviled by President-elect Trump’s rise to power.  They attribute it to the pandering of racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic sentiments which were latent in the public’s fear prior to the fateful day the Trump candidacy was announced.  They accused him of exploiting already existing racial tensions as a political ploy to gain power.  While there are small disagreements regarding his sincerity, there is no doubt among this contingency that he incited and produced an environment conducive to more blatant and open demonstrations of such bigotry.  We have heard it anecdotally from instances at his rallies.  We here it now from people of color and immigrants who have been harassed.

Put candidly, people who are neither racial minorities nor members of the LGBTQ community need to understand that Donald Trump’s election represents a validation and a surge of support for the types of hatred that have plagued their everyday lives in ways both small and great.  When America elected Mr. Trump, they saw that half the country was okay with or painfully oblivious to all the things he said that served as dog whistles to aggrieved white males. These statements sought to soothe economic anxieties through the demagoguery of white identity politics.  As noted in a previous article about the 2016 election, this is exactly why Donald Trump and other conservatives have used language such as “taking the country back,” and “Make America Great Again.”

There is both an existential and cultural fear that society is no longer dominated by the sensibilities of white people.  What are referred to as traditional values are now seen to be choices rather than rigid social mores.  Going to church is not as prized to a growing population of people as sleeping in.  Homosexuality, or “gayness”, is no longer an iniquitous lifestyle as much as it is another proud symbol of America’s praiseworthy diversity.  Atheism is an offshoot of legitimate attitudes incident to free thought rather than the insidious sabotage of a godly America. A black man can be the President of United States and lead the country through the valleys of an economic crisis with enviable valor and dignity.  Put more simply, America 2016 is not the America of 1960.  This election, as much as it was about the distrust of the elite and the institutions they run, was just as much about the defense of an era long gone.  

The World According to Trump Supporters

Conservatives see this protest as a “temper tantrum.”  They see it as an inability for liberals, in particular millennials, to accept the democratic process.  The accuse these liberals of racializing the process and oversimplifying the groups to which Donald Trump appealed.  They are not all racist.  They contend that such accusations constitutes a similar type of generalization that they left says to adamantly oppose. Instead, they offer that Trump supporters are economic refugees left behind by globalization in a rapidly changing world. They are discontented with a federal government that seems cloistered from the struggles of the “middling man,” and contrived only for the benefit of the few.

Hillary Clinton, according the President-Elect’s supporters, represents the establishment which has supposedly gypped them. She ran speaking circuits hosted by Wall Street firms, and by virtue of her past support of policies like TPP and its precursor, NAFTA, she was perceived to be irreparably beholden to them. Her Washington experience, instead of being an asset that bolstered a list of qualifications, was a character deficit. The email scandal highlights, to individuals displeased with Clinton,  that well-connected power brokers are above the rule of law. The late developments involving a new FBI probe and, of all individuals, Anthony Weiner, seemed to serve as a well-timed stimulus, piquing a fit of retaliatory outrage, which was appropriately expressed through the ballot box. It served as yet another blemish on a public life marred by suspicious and alleged misconduct.

Via Media in Temporibus Perculosis

The Trump supporter and the Clinton supporter live in two different worlds and they see each other in two completely different lights.  To well-intentioned Americans of all stripes, it seems as though our country is falling apart.  There seems to be no reconciliation between the two camps.  They appear to be irreconcilably separate from each other until the day of reckoning for our country comes. As bleak as this paradoxical clashing of Americans appears to be, all hope is not lost. A solution is enshrined in our Constitution. It is the freedom of the individual to speak his conscious and to boldly proclaim his world view. Conversation is the only way by which both sides might come to understand each other.

Some on the left, however, seem more dedicated to softening language and staunching genuine speech for fear it might offend. However, the commitment this country this holds to protect free speech extends to even that which is hateful. As we respond to a swoon of intolerance stemming from this election, we must tow the line between condemning bigotry in all of its form while not condemning all those who voted for Mr. Trump. We must acknowledge the legitimate criticisms that Trump supporters levy against Washington and the financial system. Undoubtedly, not all Trump supporters were motivated by racial sentiments, yet we must also acknowledge the subject matter which surfaced so grotesquely during this election.

Race Matters

While it is certainly meritorious for these people to want to limit the injury of others, the evils of implicit bias will never be cured through social mandates.  The mandates seem to seek control over language. They exact a punishment in the form of shaming if a relatively mild word or phrase, which that they find offensive, is used. A person ought to be judged, instead, not just on the way he or she treats others but also for his or her propensity to stand up against injustice and unfairness. A rigorous penal code in the form of “PC” culture will only galvanize animus and further the divide of the country. Furthermore, the person who is baselessly called a bigot, will further feel alienated from the country he once thought to be his.  The minority groups it seeks to protect will be cajoled to feel constantly aggrieved at each and every slip of the tongue. What’s more, hypersensitivity to relatively neutral statements and actions can render people oblivious or indifferent to the glaring instances of racism and can thus be counterproductive.

The pain of racism is palpable, but it’s never been insuperable. This is to say that racism, as injurious as a hateful remark and as oppressive as systematic discrimination, can never strip persons of color of their fundamental sense of value without permission. I am a black male. I have heard the word “nigger” used offensively, and I have been the target of what some would call a microaggression.  While I have certainly been offended at a few of the instances, my refuge was never found in complaining about the words that were used.  Instead it was vowing to strive to do the best I can for my community, in spite of suggestions that I would not be capable of doing so. My refuge was in proving them wrong.

The narrative ought not be that the plight people of color is unsalvageable.  As suggested by noted civil rights attorney, Randall Kennedy, we ought to recognize the prevalence of institutional or “color-blind” racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, while encouraging the persons who are affected that they are irrevocably powerful beyond measure.  Most importantly, we must encourage them that they are loved and valued, despite the indisputable symbolism of this election. We must continue the conversation so that other predisposed to misapprehend or overlook the latent prejudice in our society can be more vigilant and apt to dismantle it.

Silver Lining

This week, in the “Forum on the Future of America” we hope to achieve this long awaited reconciliation.  We hope to facilitate a conversation in which minorities can express how a campaign of bigotry was both divisive and hurtful.  Hopefully, others will express how, for them, the Trump campaign reflected the people’s judgment for change in Washington. Through more conversation these two worlds, which seems leagues apart, can join together as one in the future.

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