Over the last week, many have commented that they no longer recognize America or they find themselves waking up in a different country. It's a sentiment that was expressed in these pages last week, but it's also one that we find troubling.
Plainly, this isn't a different America; it's just one that many among us have been choosing to ignore for far too long. This election has highlighted the existence of two Americas: The one that dominates urban areas and clusters around universities, and the other that occupies almost all the land between them. And Humboldt — like virtually every community in the country — is a microcosm of this. The problem this election has exposed is that most of us are surrounded — by choice, as well as socio-economic and geographical factors — by people who see the world through a similar lens to our own.
To those despondent over Trump becoming the nation's 45th president, there are some truths you need to accept. First, this election wasn't rigged. And while the margins were narrow — Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the presidency by several hundred thousand votes spread across three swing states — this is the system that has governed our nation for centuries. It's also a system that is no more corrupt now than when we elected Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
It's also imperative that you don't write off Trump's win solely as the work of racists, nationalists and misogynists. Those forces were certainly at play, but we refuse to believe 60 million Americans bought into that ideology alone. (To those who did, all we can say with a civil tongue is that your perceived victory will be brief and history will judge you harshly.) For most, this election was far more complex than that. The truth is there are a lot of single issue voters out there, people for whom a pro-life or pro-Second Amendment agenda ends any further conversation. And there are many more who rightly feel frustrated, disenfranchised and ignored, and — generally speaking — Trump did a better job of at least speaking to those voters than Clinton or her fellow Democrats did. There are still others who feel so angry and forgotten by Washington that they followed an urge to blow everything up and let it burn by electing the anti-candidate, a politically incorrect man who has systematically abused and taken advantage of our national framework for decades.
These people — and their frustrations — aren't likely to go away. If Democrats and anyone-but-Trumpers want to take this country back, they need to first reach out, much like Bernie Sanders did in the primaries. They need to understand the angst that is gripping the American middle and lower classes, and craft policies that speak to that.
To those who supported Trump's campaign, you need to understand that the fear and anxiety being expressed across the nation at his victory are genuine and visceral. To the victors go the responsibilities and, in this case, that doesn't simply mean crafting policies in the best interests of the nation that uphold our founding principles. It has to include undoing much of the damage this campaign has caused.
To recap, candidate Trump proposed mass deportations and banning an entire religion from immigrating to the United States. He repeatedly condoned or refused to condemn violence against protesters at his rallies, which were rife with racial and misogynistic slurs. He openly mocked a disabled reporter. And, in a leaked recording, he casually bragged about sexual assault, later dismissing it as simply "locker room talk." This is a man whose candidacy was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan's newspaper. That alone is enough to reasonably strike terror in the hearts of minorities throughout the country, as well as everyone who cares about them.
And with the Southern Poverty Law Center reporting that the rise in hate crimes and minority harassment — some invoking Trump's name — following Election Day is more severe than after Sept. 11, 2001, and the Klan openly celebrating a Trump victory, it is impossible to deny that unabashed racists are now newly emboldened.
So part of your responsibility, Trump supporter, is to do all you can — with deeds as well as words — to counteract this contingent that united behind your chosen candidate. That means reaching out to people and assuring them that — while you may disagree with them on gun control and/or abortion — you're not going to let anyone infringe on their rights or their safety. It means standing up to hate speech, whether or not a woman or a minority is in the room. And it means knowing that the same Constitution that protects your right to bear arms also contains a host of protections for everyone in this country, binding us together as one nation united under a rule of law.
And know that your candidate's actions — like appointing the enthusiastically outspoken bigot Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, which does nothing to ease the minds of people of color, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community or women — can make your work more difficult. You, Trump supporter, no longer have an either/or choice, but an obligation to help chart the course of Trump's presidency away from the most vile elements of his campaign.
We newspapers have our work cut out for us, too. There is no shortage of criticism of the media in the wake of the election from all directions and much of it is justified. As an institution, we built on a decades-long trend of focusing too much on the horse race and scandal, and too little on the policies that really matter, the kind of coverage that fosters an informed voting public. When the campaigns went ugly, we followed. And we yielded more time to the pundits who masquerade opinion as news, packaging it up to fit and reinforce the ideological bent of the consumer. Clearly, we need more substantive coverage of the issues that matter — every day, not just during election season — and we need to include more voices and diverse opinions in that coverage.
Of course, ratings and newspaper sales feed the beast, so it's also up to readers and viewers to demand more, to recognize that democracy isn't a spectator sport — that, hell, it's not even a sport. It's real life that requires real engagement, real curiosity and real knowledge.
There is much for us to do, Humboldt. But let's start right here. According to the final election night tally, about 19,500 of us voted for Clinton while nearly 11,000 of us voted for Trump. Almost 5,000 others voted for someone else or left the space blank.
Here in Humboldt, we're not going to be able to agree on exactly what the Second Amendment should mean or the morality of abortion, much less renegotiate NAFTA or reshape immigration. But what we can do is get to know each other and understand each other. We can get to a place where we can talk openly and honestly about our fears and our hopes, and understand what motivates our world views and beliefs. We can find places where we agree and work together on those. We can refuse to let our differences divide us by sitting down together, resisting the urge for a more comfortable silence and talking.
Then, maybe, we can start to address some of our many local problems — a surging homicide rate, chronic homelessness, a drug epidemic, failing roads and struggling schools. God knows, if we're going to change any of those things, we're going to have to do it together.