In fear we trust

06bookwoodward1-articleLargeI’ve always held some skepticism about Bob Woodward—as much skepticism as an unaccomplished 20-some-year-old is permitted to hold about a journalistic icon who exposed one of the greatest criminal conspiracies of the 20th century. Plus, I love Robert Redford. These distinctions notwithstanding, I knew Woodward mostly from his appearances on cable news during the Obama years. I found his criticisms tired and naïve—he was one of the leading advocates of the contrived centrism—the “both-sides-ism”—that the media fetishized, providing cover for a Republican party whose partisanship escalated to almost unprecedented levels (Merrick Garland, anybody?). If it weren’t for these conventional wisdom peddlers (like Woodward) driving the political narrative, every electoral outcome after 2012 might have been different.

But Woodward taking on the most Nixonian president since Tricky Dick himself? It may just be my partisan glee talking, but sign me up.

“Fear: Trump in the White House” is bananas. I haven’t binge-read a book like this since the last Harry Potter novel. I wonder if there were midnight release parties. Those old Dementor cloaks could easily be repurposed into Steve Bannon costumes.

To be clear, this book doesn’t quite make news. The behind-the-scenes machinations of the campaign during the Access Hollywood scandal, the president’s singular fixation on trade deficits, the palace intrigue of Jared and Ivanka fighting Bannon and Priebus, Rex Tillerson calling Trump a moron, the hours and hours and hours of Fox & Friends—it’s all here, precisely as previously reported, almost exclusively based on anonymous sources. There’s less on Russia—we get a small look at the interactions between the respective legal teams of Trump and Mueller. The administration’s public war on the press is wisely omitted. As a conspicuous member of the press, Woodward likely knew that any comments on this would unnecessarily personalize the narrative, giving the White House something to fight against, and erode the book’s credibility. This means some of our favorite characters—Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Anthony (the Mooch!) Scaramucci, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders get a pass from the author; but their sins have been sufficiently catalogued in tapings from the White House Press Briefing Room.

Woodward sidesteps the clownshow to focus on the freakshow: the administration’s policy-making process, and it is through that process that we are allowed to see something of Trump’s mind. The most alarming examples of this are the sections on international alliances, particularly as they relate to North Korea, and on international trade. Through the eyes of his advisers, who ostensibly sourced much of this book, we see their feeble and deluded attempts to treat Trump as a normal President, to counter his mercuriality with the stuff of briefings—you know, logic, facts, and reason. We cringe as his staff bends over backwards to persuade him of the benefits of trade and military cooperation with South Korea, even raising the specter of thermonuclear war. And despite briefing after briefing, Trump remains fixated on trade deficits and costs. Little Rocket Man and his nuclear holocaust be damned. Trump is thoroughly incapable of accepting new information or alternate viewpoints. And, as the book shows us, the president’s advisers are not wearing him down—he is wearing them down. Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, James Mattis, John Kelly—each of these “adults in the room” who were supposed to rein the President in has either resigned, been forced out, or is expected to leave by the end of the year. The leash is off. The consequences are already clear—even now, Trump is escalating a needless trade war with China. And now there’s nobody left to stop him.

And this is perhaps the key point. It’s tempting to summarize this book as saying, “Trump is a fatuous idiot and a pathological liar.” This wouldn’t be wrong, but it wouldn’t be complete either. Trump is only half the story. The rest is about the people around him, the sources of Woodward’s reporting, who leak to the press regularly, who write op-eds for the New York Times, claiming to be part of an internal resistance. On one hand, we are indebted to them for revealing to us the insane man in the Oval Office. But is this really the best exercise of their civic duty? Hiding behind secrecy to keep their jobs, promising us that they’ll stop anything really bad from happening, operating with no authority or accountability? Woodward’s book gives examples of them literally stealing documents from the President’s desk so that he wouldn’t act on them. Say what you will about Trump, but he was elected—these people weren’t. They are actively subverting democracy, erecting some half-baked oligarchy in its absence. They tell us that they will protect us from the President.

Who’s going to protect us from them?


Hope’s Rebuke

“God gave Moses the rainbow sign/No more water, but fire next time.”—Negro spiritual

Racial amnesia

When Barack Obama first ran for the presidency, many counted his chances as slim. Here was a man with relatively little political experience and a foreign name that rhymed with the world’s most notorious terrorist. And he was black.

“America will never elect a black President.” So said 15-year old me. This was not born out of any knowledge of the history of the American Civil Rights movement or any lived experience of African-American life. No, this was a function of the consciously contrived cynicism and willful ambivalence—a necessary feature of my existence as an entitled American teenager.

Still, I can’t be too hard on my rounder, more acne-ridden previous self. Given the renaissance of cynicism and ignorance in American political life, I have to admire the prescience.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “My President Was Black” is essential reading. Coates is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking voices on the American racial experience, and he is the ideal writer to reflect on Obama’s legacy on matters of race because they appear to approach the subject in fundamentally different ways. Where Obama adeptly weaves a narrative of our society, Coates reports on its tragic realities. Where Obama sees a glass half full, Coates points out that to be half full is to necessarily be half empty. Where Obama praises the heroism of marchers venturing onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Coates remembers the violence on the other side. If Obama is King, Coates is Malcolm. King’s moral arc bends toward justice; Coates’ bends toward “chaos.”

Coates, then, is aptly positioned to question the all-too-easily embraced conclusions of the post-election analysis. The most egregious of this has been the minimization of racism as a factor in the Trump vote. Pundits, in an effort to align themselves with “middle America,” have broadly exonerated the electorate—saying they took him “seriously” but not “literally.” It’s unclear to me what exactly this empty soundbite means—or why it carries any modicum of virtue. Despite its vacuity—maybe because of it—it has taken root (like a fungus!) in the political-media landscape. Trump voters didn’t take him literally! Many of them voted for Obama! Racism can’t have been a factor, because it can’t quite be that simple!

Since when was racism simple?

Since the achievements of the Civil Rights movement, racism has been increasingly defined as a worldview based on explicit racial supremacy—a definition that fits our collective revisionist tendencies (more on that in a moment). In truth, racism hinges on at least three additional phenomena: 1) implicit and institutional biases; 2) racial indifference (read: color-blindness); and 3) political and economic systems erected on the traditions of exploitation and subjugation of people of color.

The myth of “simple racism” is either wishful thinking or willful denialism, and it’s easy to see the attraction. If you define racism as legally segregated lunch counters, widespread lynching, and Klansmen lighting crosses ablaze, then the triumph of tolerance over hate is virtually uncontestable. Define racism a little more comprehensively, and that verdict begins to dissolve.

Those other three pillars I mentioned are pervasive and omnipresent, which has made them virtually impossible to address in any sort of overt fashion. Moreover, they are enabled by a tradition of American revisionism that blinds us from accurately diagnosing social ills. We constantly recreate realities as narratives that are more palatable—stories that serve the interests of powerful institutions even at the expense of justice.

The downplaying of the role of race in 2016 voting behavior is a just one example of this revisionism. Consider any one of the countless police killings of unarmed African-Americans: Eric Garner was illegally selling cigarettes, Terrence Crutcher was a “big, bad dude” who was found with illicit drugs in his car, and Trayvon Martin was dressed like a “thug.” Before their bodies were cold, their characters were smeared. In each case, black life was devalued in order to justify its taking.

There is an obvious racial theme to these particular revisions. But as a general proposition, I don’t think revisionism is inherently racist—it’s inherently human, and it very frequently runs in parallel to the forces of hate.

One of the things the 2016 election unearthed was the degree of that revisionism among many on the left, and I include myself (me!—a reader of Alexander, Coates, Blackmon!) in that criticism. Whatever knowledge I had about the legacy of racism in American society, I genuinely believed that any misgivings about Hillary Clinton would pale in comparison to a rejection of the hatefulness upon which Donald Trump staked his political identity. I did not, as Dave Chapelle said, “know the whites.”

In retrospect, Trump succeeding Obama seems increasingly obvious, given the state of race relations, an almost necessary outcome. Those of us surprised by his victory clearly saw Obama’s presidency as a sign of racial progress but also forgot the unprecedented, coordinated obstruction he faced for eight years, including a line of conspiratorial racist lies enabled by party leadership, piped through living room television sets, and championed by his soon-to-be successor. As Coates notes, the story of the ascension of a black man to the presidency has an ugly underbelly—and those of us who have been blind to the African-American experience were found been similarly blind to that counter-narrative.

This notion of revisionism brings up one point of difference with Coates, and it has to do with the allegedly different prisms through which Obama and Coates view American racial life. Coates, as mentioned before, has a more pessimistic prognosis for race relations—progress is not inevitable, oppression is not only institutional but an institution in and of itself, and the moral arc of the universe bends towards chaos.

Coates argues that Obama’s optimism is a product of his biography. He was raised in a multicultural environment, with close white family members who embraced and celebrated his blackness. Coates points to these formative childhood experiences as the bedrock for Obama’s enduring trust in white Americans, the political skillset that facilitated his rise, and the Achilles heel that blinded him from the Congressional obstruction he faced throughout his administration. The implicit conclusion is that Obama was naïve on issues of race, a conclusion more vociferously made by one of the response articles to Coates’ piece.

I think this is conjecture. We may never truly understand what Obama truly thinks about race in America—his opportunities for candor are limited by the nature of his position. And, lest we forget—this is a politician who has carefully build a brand of hope and change, and politicians value their brands. I would argue that Obama’s optimism is born more from the execution of that brand and by the necessity of his office.

For one, it is (unfortunately) not clear what political benefit would be gained by taking a position of racial honesty. It would be perceived as hypocrisy for a black man to call out the racist origins of American government while simultaneously rising to its highest office; it would also be a self-defeating abdication of power. Moreover, Coates’ pessimism, though it hews more closely to racial realities, doesn’t offer much of a practical roadmap for governance. Indeed, Coates’ most well-known significant public policy recommendation is for reparations, and I think he would be the first to say that a) it’s never going to happen, and b) that proves his point.

On the margins, I think we can see evidence that Obama’s approach to race has been a carefully constructed public performance, and that he is more aware of the state of race relations than he publicly divulges. For instance, he told David Remnick of The New Yorker that he felt his presidency occurred two decades too early. David Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest advisers, has recounted one of Obama’s frequent jokes: “I’m a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama and I’m President of the United States—I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” To be sure, these are off the cuff remarks, but they reflect a sense that Obama’s political ascendancy is a reflection more of his qualities as an individual than of sweeping racial progress, and this is precisely the case that Coates makes. That so many Obama voters switched to Trump is not a rebuttal of racism but a proof of it:

Pointing to citizens who voted for both Obama and Trump does not disprove racism; it evinces it. To secure the White House, Obama needed to be a Harvard-trained lawyer with a decade of political experience and an incredible gift for speaking to cross sections of the country; Donald Trump needed only money and white bluster.

I think Obama’s public, more optimistic approach to race reflects the degree to which relentless pragmatism has characterized much of his presidency, albeit to the disappointment of liberal purists. In a recent interview, he commented on the importance of communicating a message “in a way that will be heard.” The unvarnished truth on race may well be intellectually, morally, and rhetorically compelling, but it is also defeatist in matters of practical political governance.

All the wrong lessons

Our political culture is overly deferential to the mythical ordinary American—the fallacious narrative that heartland residents are somehow more authentically American than residents of the “bubble,” a line of thought expertly dispatched by Richard Cohen.

To that end, it’s concerning that the Democratic Party seems poised to learn all the wrong lessons from its loss in 2016. The most troubling and misguided argument is the one advanced by Mark Lilla in the Times, in which the author downplays the role of race and advocates for the dismissal of the Party’s pro-diversity, multicultural messaging.

I think it is fair to say that an exclusively identity-based message is not be sufficient for Democratic success, but I do think it is necessary. First, from an electoral perspective, demographic changes continue to favor the left—racial and ethnic minorities, young people, and immigrants generally support Democrats, and signs of that tide were present even amidst defeat. Though former blue bulwarks in the Rust Belt flipped, they did so along single-digit margins. Meanwhile, Clinton outperformed Obama in eleven states, including the swing states Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia. These four states have an electoral count of 78, which is almost equivalent to the 80 points in Rust Belt states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa). If you include North Carolina, which has been generally trending more blue over the past 16 years, you can make the case for an emerging Democratic coalition in the South (93 points). Not only do these states collectively outweigh the Rust Belt in the electoral math, but also they are growing in population while the Rust Belt shrinks. In 2000, the Rust Belt accounted for 16.8% of the Electoral College; in 2016, it accounted for 14.9%. By contrast, the aforementioned southern states increased from 14.9% to 16.7%. They have essentially flipped in population, and, if demographics bear out, they will flip in political allegiance.

Second, to blame identity politics ignores other strategic errors and unprecedented obstacles. I’m loath to join the pile-on on Hillary Clinton, but reporting has increasingly revealed that her organization failed to recognize signs of weakness in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which are widely identified as the three states that determined the election. The campaign held few events in this states, where the margins of victory were 0.8%, 0.23%, and 0.73% respectively. (By the way, these margins were narrower than the Jill Stein vote). Further, Democrats were undercut by unprecedented Russian interference, voter suppression laws, and a press that created a moral equivalence between the foolish use of a private email server and the hateful spread of racist lies. And I haven’t even mentioned sexism.

Finally, Democrats won the popular vote. The identity liberalism message worked for 2.8 million more people. That may not count for much, but it ain’t nothing.

But who knows. I’m not, like, a smart person.

The more things change…

In Search of America

The great American road trip has always struck me as a deeply romantic idea. It is perhaps best captured by Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which was published just months before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Travels chronicles Steinbeck’s journey through the American countryside. We meet sleepy New England towns, sweeping Great Plains, majestic national parks, and the expansive deserts of the Southwest. Steinbeck’s conversations with ordinary Americans are depicted in his distinctly earnest and humanistic voice, a trademark of his writing. So when the opportunity arose to fashion a minor road trip out of the residency interview trail, I jumped. My route took me through the Midwest, with a plan of traversing the Badlands of South Dakota and ending in the Black Hills; blizzard conditions in that state cut my trip short after Minneapolis.

Travels‘ subtitle is “In Search of America,” and my road trip, brief though it was, had more resonance and urgency in the wake of the election. I would be driving through Trump terrain, formerly reliably Democratic voting areas that have gained renewed national attention in mainstream political and media circles. Our institutions have been labeled as out-of-touch with America’s heartland, overwhelmed by coastal urban elites. I’ve balked at the tenor of this talk–it grants undue deference to the heartland, feeding into tired and false narratives that this is the “real” America, that rural life is somehow more wholesome and virtuous than coastal urban life. While the political and media establishment may be physically located in cities, they advance a narrative that is carefully contrived to appeal to middle America.

The Midwest is not known for sprawling landscapes, but beauty abounds. Appalachia in autumn boasts hundreds of shades of auburn that rival a Monet painting. Towering factory spires reaching into the skies of Mansfield, Ohio. Desolate frostbitten farmlands in Indiana lie on either side of picturesque Hoffman Lake, where residents of a campground drink coffee under a flaming sunrise. Chicago’s skyline from the 31st Street Beach on Lake Michigan, without another human being in sight. Rolling hills and dairy farms awash in the pink Wisconsin sunset. The ruins of Minneapolis flour mills on the banks of the Mississippi.

Also dotting the Midwestern countryside are Trump signs, many of them homemade, by the dozens. In Berwick, Pennsylvania, a graphic design store advertises Trump merchandise–Trump lawn signs! Trump t-shirts! Trump flags! Life-sized cardboard cutouts of Trump! Above a hateful sign reading “Trump That Bitch!” another says “Closed Sundays.” At church, I suppose. Even in President Obama’s hometown, just blocks from Grant Park where he delivered his election night speech in 2008, a towering hotel emblazoned with the word “Trump” casts a nefarious shadow on the street below.

A Return to Normalcy

Following presidential elections, political and media institutions take a few predictable steps of realignment. They pile on the loser and circle around the victor–everything the winning campaign did is retroactively labeled as genius!, and a portrait of the loser depicts him/her as hopeless, hapless, or both. The nation is called upon to rally around the winner, kiss his (it has regrettably always been his) ring, and return to normalcy.

This is not normal.

This concept cannot be lost over the next four years, though I fear that it will be. The press is woefully unprepared to cover the incoming president, who has built his candidacy on demagoguery, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, and misogyny. He embraces conspiracies and trades in lies. These elements, long a part of our national political underbelly, have never been elevated to the Presidency.

This is not normal.

Politics and Policy

One narrative that has gained traction, most notably by President Obama himself, is that Trump is ultimately pragmatic and non-ideological. After all, the vast majority of his candidacy was driven by rhetoric, and we know very little about the policies a President Trump would actually be able to pursue.

This strikes me as weak sauce. Let’s set aside for a moment that such a policy-ignorant candidate was able to evade any meaningful press scrutiny. If Trump is truly policy-free, then ostensibly the policies of his circle take on added significance. I see little cause for comfort. Mike Pence has made his name in radical conservative politics, with extreme positions on abortion, LGBT rights, climate change, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship. Jeff Sessions has historically opposed civil rights. Tom Price doubts whether any woman in America has unmet health care needs. Mike Flynn has openly advanced homophobia. And lest we forget, Steve Bannon is a white nationalist. At a minimum, Trump will function as a very effective smokescreen for these figures to enact their agenda.

Trump’s extreme policies may be subject to Democratic opposition, but his politics will continue to reign free. The rhetorical significance of the Presidency and its role as a symbol of the country’s journey are vastly unappreciated; the Obama years are a testament to that effect. The legacy of our society’s traumatic racial history was by no means resolved during President Obama’s tenure, nor could it have been. But his very presence in the Oval Office was arguably the most powerful symbol of racial progress and the possibility of reconciliation since the 1960s. And, it has been widely reported that for the Obama camp, 2012 was a more critical election than 2008–not just because of the policy stakes, but because it was imperative that the first black president not be seen as a one-off or a fluke. Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy to the White House would have been a powerful symbol of feminist achievement. Never before, in recent memory, has the United States been so close to fulfilling an ideal and so dramatically and publicly fallen short.

…the more they stay the same

In observing conservative political activity over the past eight years, Trump’s rise seems retrospectively inevitable. This recent article in The Atlantic is instructive. Author Vann Newkirk II applies Newton’s Third Law, pointing out that the tide of racial progress in America has always been met by a strong reactionary opposition. Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets, and Trump is the necessary outcome of the decades of racialized politics in America. The “welfare queen” and “strapping young buck,” the fictionalized narrative of the black community as drug-addled, violent, and morally bankrupt, and the fundamental questioning of the legitimacy of the first African-American president–all tropes that have been actively advanced by conservative politicians and institutions. Buttressing the racialized politics is a regime of racialized policies–most notably the War on Drugs, a discriminatory criminal justice system, and the systematic erosion of voting rights.

The Democratic Party has now been called upon to abandon identity liberalism and refocus on the white working class voters who voted for Trump. The nature of these arguments should be cause for concern for anybody who values racial justice, and it draws the wrong lessons from the Democratic defeat in 2016.

Despite the newfound attention from reporters and public officials, the economic impacts of deindustrialization and globalization are nothing new. Over the last forty years, these forces, compounded by one of the thinnest social safety nets in the developed world, have led to an untenable level of income inequality in the United States.

Racial bias is nothing new either, and it has dictated public response to these economic trends. African-American communities were among the first to be affected by the dual forces of deindustrialization, yet our national response was not a call for empathy or political change. Again, black Americans were devalued–their problems were their own fault, the product of drug abuse, immorality, laziness. The prescription–personal responsibility, not government assistance. Now that the devastation has enveloped white America, economic reform is suddenly a priority. Moral and cultural arguments are nowhere to be found.

The double standard would be troubling enough if it weren’t for the pervasive pattern of scapegoating that has defined conservative politics for the last thirty years. Instead of supporting the white working class by bolstering the welfare state, conservatives have redirected white anger against African-Americans, women, Hispanics, Muslims, and LGBT Americans through the “culture wars.” This political narrative has proven so effective that it was embraced by Bill Clinton and the DLC movement in the 1990s. Combine this tradition with the unprecedented bigotry of the Trump campaign, and the increased emphasis on white working class priorities should worry all minorities.

Most of all, the dismissal of identity politics ignores the fundamental link between politics and policy. Words and symbols matter. They define culture. The hatred exploited by the Trump campaign has unearthed racists, xenophobes, sexists, and anti-Semites, and hate crimes are on the rise. A diverse society cannot sustain itself without a basic degree of mutual respect. Ignoring or otherwise downplaying this reality reflects the ambivalence–the indifference–that has obstructed social justice and enabled retrenchment at every juncture.

Set in Stone

I never made it to Mount Rushmore. Winter weather precluded that part of my trip. Just a few hours northeast of the Black Hills, where Lincoln’s chiseled visage enshrines the principles of dignity and respect for all persons, Standing Rock protesters have been subjected to water cannons, dogs, and brutality reminiscent of police reaction to the civil rights movement. It is a jarring juxtaposition.

The American story has been defined by contradictions such as this. Our society is predicated upon dual narratives of rugged individualism and E pluribus unum. It is codified not simply by the ideal of “a more perfect union,” but by a relentless and eternal pursuit of that ideal. It’s a road trip, measured by the distance between the American dream and the American reality.

We just need to be better drivers.

One step up and two steps back. At least two, anyway.

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”—Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias.

It pains me to focus this blog’s inaugural post on a note of melancholy, but the deeply distressing outcome of the presidential election seemed to demand some type of written response. I won’t pretend to proffer unique thoughts or sentiments—my reaction is akin to that of half the country in the wake of this bruising and traumatic campaign. There is no inherent virtue to novelty, and there is value in expressions of solidarity. I would argue that this is particularly important in light of a result that has so profoundly shaken our faith in one another as citizens. And, as Graham Greene observed, writing is itself a therapeutic exercise.

I came of age politically in the shadow of September 11th, in a household that would become increasingly critical of the Bush administration. By 2004, I was old enough to begin assembling those criticisms into my own worldview, limited though it might have been. I knew just three things: 1) I felt strongly about a woman’s right to choose; 2) Everybody should have guaranteed medical care; and 3) George W. Bush appeared to lack the intellect and gravitas that seemed to grace the other men in my book of U.S. Presidents, including Dubya’s own father. Not too shabby for the eighth grade.

I recall disappointment and some anger when John Kerry lost. Youth and age-related ignorance notwithstanding, I knew enough to be offended by the swiftboating of a decorated war hero. As the Bush administration and I aged over the next four years, the country would come to rue a war with increasing resemblance to Vietnam, a storm that exposed our national neglect, and a looming second depression.

Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama’s arrival on the national stage was welcome. Here was a candidate with a political philosophy and governing style that I would come to deeply admire, a president who was attuned to my generation’s concerns, and a man of character, thought, and dignity. I was moved by his biography. His cultural experience connected with my own identity as the child of immigrants whose stories span four continents. His work as a community organizer, though much maligned by right-wing critics, struck me as a noble follow-up to an Ivy League education. And, though I will never experience American life in the same way African-Americans do, the significance of a black man ascending to lead a nation fraught with racial history was not lost on me.

Evidently, it has been lost on half the voting public.

We have just now endured an election in which a presidential candidate endorsed authoritarianism, misogyny and sexual assault, and racial and ethnic discrimination. He endorsed war crimes, called for the jailing of political opponents, and conducted a campaign predicated on conspiracy theories, innuendo, and hate. His political identity was founded on the racist lie that our president couldn’t possibly have been born in America because he was black. That is unforgivable.

I mentioned above that 2004 made me angry. 2016 just makes me sad.

First, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In my view, she represented the true progressive choice—even in a head-to-head comparison with Bernie Sanders, who never had any realistic strategy for enacting his platform. The heart of liberalism is the pursuit of social justice and advocacy for the most vulnerable, and when the stakes are that high, there is no room for error. Presented with the choice, I will always choose the piecemeal progress that is guaranteed by incrementalism, the governing style that characterizes both Hillary and Obama. Moreover, here was a candidate eminently qualified, internationally respected, deeply knowledgeable, and tough-as-nails. Here was a lifelong advocate for children and an architect of the Children’s Health Insurance Program that has saved and improved the lives of millions. Here was a civil servant who favored substance over style, a prioritization that the public professes to want in its government. Here was a feminist icon and trailblazer, whose perceived insularity and cautiousness were a reflection not of her, but of our political system’s systematic bias against women. Hillary Clinton has committed her life to service to the vulnerable and endured repeated insult and injury, only to re-emerge for further abuse and humiliation. The oft-repeated refrain: ‘I don’t like Trump, but I could never vote for Hillary’ rings hollow. Really? Never vote for Hillary? Her campaign was imperfect and marred by the e-mail scandal, but there was never, never any legitimate comparison between her and Trump. This reeks of the sexism that has plagued Clinton for decades—women with ambition are bossy, shrill, not to be trusted. She was held culpable for her husband’s infidelity, an asinine and hateful argument that should have been strongly and forcefully rejected. Even during her concession speech, pundits fell over themselves to describe her as “emotional”…after months of calling her scripted and detached.

Second, the press. Journalism is, to be sure, in an unenviable position in the digital age. The decade-simmering tension between the profit motive and editorial responsibility seemed to finally explode during this campaign, to the benefit of a man who conjured his rebirth via reality television. Trump saturated television, manipulating the media with the promise of ratings. In return, he received wall-to-wall coverage of his sensational rhetoric and theatrics. Most attempts to hold him accountable for his extreme views and and vacuous policy proposals were too little and too late. When asked about his misogynistic comments, he wriggled away, dismissing them as statements made for “entertainment.” The logical follow-up—what is so entertaining about calling women pigs?—was never asked. On his proposed Muslim ban: should the government additionally restrict the rights of Muslims to worship? To assemble? To use public spaces? To my knowledge, only once during the campaign was persistent follow-up employed. When Chris Matthews interrogated him on his newfound position on abortion, Trump attempted again to evade scrutiny with his characteristic circular answers. Matthews was unrelenting. Trump finally revealed his view that women should be punished for abortions. It was clear that he was inventing his answer in real time; you could see the wheels turning. It exposed his thoughtlessness and how easy he could be manipulated. It was compelling television and an important moment of journalism. The dearth of accountability was coupled with a false equivalence of the candidates and a normalization of Trump’s extreme and hateful campaign.

Now things get really dark.

Congressional Republicans have made it their stated goal since 2009 to obstruct and undercut the Obama presidency. They are now in a position to make good on those threats. Most notably, this means the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as well as financial and student loan reform, all of which could be repealed by the Republican-controlled legislature and would be signed by the new President. Even if Democrats attempted to defend the legislation, use of the budget reconciliation mechanism would easily override a filibuster. The executive order regime spanning issues from immigration to climate change could be even more easily undone. The Obama administration’s hard-fought and lengthy list of accomplishments are at risk of been wholly wiped from existence, and with it, the Obama legacy. This erasure is troubling enough—until you put it in the context of the persistent campaign of delegitimization made most famous by Trump himself, but entertained by the entire Republican establishment. The racial dimensions cannot be overstated—this has been a concerted effort to erase the first African-American President from the history books. That Barack Obama, a symbol of racial progress and reconciliation, will pass on the office to the leader of the birther movement, is a gutwrenching reality. The photograph of the two shaking hands in the Oval Office will be framed by the press as evidence of the peaceful transition of power, but the racial message will be unmistakable.

Finally, this election has been framed as a rejection of Clinton, Obama, and the elites by a disenchanted public, but it must be seen as an indictment of the American public. Trump’s supporters have been allowed to distance themselves from his racist and sexist rhetoric under the guise of supporting his economic policy. ‘Sure, sure—we don’t approve of that kind of dialogue, but this election is really about [insert issue here].’ This is inexcusable. It normalizes hate and provides it a recognized space in our political discourse. Michelle Alexander’s essential book The New Jim Crow underscores that our society’s racial order is sustained by indifference to the welfare of oppressed minorities. Even if Trump lost, his rhetoric would have had a lingering effect on our political life, but in this election, over fifty million voters stated that they were willing to tolerate Trump’s bigotry. Lines must be drawn. Respect for all persons must be sacrosanct. Intolerance cannot be tolerated.

Candidly, I await the next four years with deep fear and apprehension. The seemingly inevitable repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the basic safety and security of the country are top of mind, as is the effect this will have on the psychology of American children. We have elected a President whose standards of personal conduct have been thoroughly incongruous with basic human decency.

The way forward seems less clear than ever. The lone bright spot is that among voters aged 18-25, Clinton won in a landslide. In an election among young Americans alone, she would have amassed over 500 electoral votes.

The Obama-Clinton legacy will be rolled back in some fashion. This will have real consequences and cannot—must not—be minimized. But what the above map shows is that our values—diversity, economic fairness, environmental protection, and respect for all persons—these principles will endure, but only if we sustain them. Cynicism, reticence, and disengagement must be defined as a dereliction of civic duty. We owe this to Barack Obama, we owe this to Hillary Clinton, and we owe this to each other. We owe ourselves a country in which love trumps hate.

“They killed us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.”—William Faulkner


Coming soon. In the interim, please visit my In-Training author page.

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
– Graham Greene

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
– Truman Capote