My feelings are strong, and mixed, and I’ve yet to fully process the significance of a Trump presidency and the impact it’ll have on me, my friends, my family, and my kids.
But no matter how long my mind whirs and spits out warnings and error messages, it doesn’t change the fact that tomorrow the 45th President of the United States will take office–and whether we love him, hate him, or ignore him, that fact cannot be changed.
I was browsing Facebook a moment ago, bragging about an awesome Pokemon math problem I’m assigning my students, when I saw a post by my first political science teacher, Professor Matthew DeSantis of Guilford Technical Community College. In many ways, my interest and passion for US politics was inspired inside the walls of his classroom. I may have entered as an activist eager to learn how the system works so I could work to change the system, but I left his class with a hunger for deeper understanding of our political processes and how we really can change the world. This hunger led me to new levels of activism, community service, and advocacy. I’ll still never forget when I met with my senators and representatives on Capitol Hill to lobby for five billion dollars of funding for the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Malaria, and Tuberculosis.
After asking for that, I felt I could ask anybody for anything. That sense of power, that sense of purpose, that sense of potential to create political change has never left me.
But this election has left me speechless.
As I read Professor DeSantis’ words on Facebook, I knew even as I agreed with some points and disagreed with others, that his facts are informed, his opinions educated, and every word respectable and worthwhile for all Americans to hear: because, quite frankly, the message of unity he portrays is more honest than any the media has yet spoken.
So, with his permission, I would like to share his post with you.
I have been collecting my thoughts for the last few weeks regarding the events that will unfold tomorrow and over the next four years. During this time I have tried to seek perspective from my friends and colleagues who span the entire ideological spectrum in order to find a clearheaded and productive approach to the Trump presidency.
Let me first start by stating that tomorrow Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States of America. That is a fact. The more time I have spent consuming media and popular culture over the last month, I think stating a fact is the most important place to start. While I understand the motivations behind the #notmypresident movement, I find it deeply disturbing in that it ignores or tries to circumvent reality. Donald J. Trump is our president. Period. You may not like him and believe his election is the result of a statistical anomaly only made possible by an outdated electoral system, but it fails to recognize the basic truth that he won and will govern all of our citizens for the next four years. I was just as deeply disturbed last year with the #notmystate movement that took place in North Carolina after the passage of the H.B. 2 law restricting the access of transgendered people to public restrooms because it also ignored reality.
The reason these truth-denying hashtags bother me is that they discount the opposition as illegitimate. I remember after the 2008 election of President Obama, Bill O’Reilly appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. During the interview O’Reilly made the claim that the United States was a center-right country, meaning that politically we tend to be somewhere between moderate and conservative. Stewart immediately pushed back and was incredulous of how O’Reilly could say that after the election of Barack Hussein Obama, a black community activist from Chicago who campaigned on universal healthcare. However, watching at that moment, I knew O’Reilly to be right. From a public opinion standpoint, conservatives have vastly outnumbered liberals in every national poll since forever. We are a center-right country, no matter how badly some people may want to act as if we are something else. Therefore, the #notmypresident and #notmystate movements seem to ignore the reality that perhaps he IS our president and this IS our state. It should force us to look in the mirror at what we are, not what we wish to be.
However, there are other facts that are important to remember:
Barack Obama is leaving office as one of the most popular presidents in history – FACT
Donald J. Trump is entering office with the lowest approval rate in history – FACT
Why are these facts important? And are they facts at all, since they are derived from polls, which since November 9th everyone seems to enjoy beating up on? Two things, first, the national polls done leading up to the election were largely accurate. Their job was to measure to national popular vote and they did that relatively well. Many expected Hillary Clinton to win between 3-5% and the final results were well within the margin of error. So, the polls weren’t wrong as much as they simply didn’t tell the whole story. Second, while polls can be inaccurate, perception of public opinion is just as important as actual public opinion. Thus, we return to the question of whether these facts are important. They are important because eight years ago President Obama arrived at the White House with nearly an 80% approval rating and was greeted with stiff opposition to his signature legislation and continued attacks on whether or not he was not a legitimate president due to bogus claims about his birth certificate. In 2017, President Trump will arrive at the White House with a 40% approval rating and claims that he has been compromised by the Russian government. To think that President Trump, who has no experience dealing with the political machinations of Washington, DC, will be able to deliver on his promises to make anything great again are dubious at best. While congressional Republicans have started the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the American public has pushed by making the Affordable Care Act more popular than it has ever been. For a president who seeks to be loved and for a president who needs a +50% approval rating to enact his agenda, that’s not an ideal start to his administration.
From the standpoint of political discourse, one of the more concerning trends I have seen is the dismissal of criticism of one political party because the other political party took similar actions in the past. Indeed, there is a fair amount of hypocrisy in politics as the power used to create policies you applaud when your preferred candidate is in power become detestable when the opposition party is in power. However, someone being a hypocrite doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The excuse of “Well, Obama did that…” or “Well, Bush did that…” isn’t valid. Just because someone did something in the past doesn’t mean we should allow people to do the same thing in the future. In fact, one would hope that we would learn from our past mistakes and adopt smarter and less politically destructive behavior.
I will not discuss policies or cabinet selections right now, despite having very strong feelings on both, because that would easily triple the length of an already too long post, but I will wrap up with a few important ideas. First, tomorrow is an important day in our democratic republic because we will, once again, go through the peaceful transfer of political power. I choose to be optimistic and believe that it will not be for the last time. Second, to my conservative friends, remember how you felt eight years ago when you watched a supposed socialist Muslim Kenyan who you believed would take away your guns, socialize the means of production, and enforce death panels. None of those things turned out to be true and none of those fears were realized. However, remember those emotions you felt because half of the country will feel the same way tomorrow as you did eight years ago. Third, to my liberal friends, remember that eight years ago conservatives believed the country to be doomed in much the same way you do today. I would encourage you to take a lesson from their playbook and organize. Conservatives didn’t become despondent and withdrawn. They became engaged and mobilized and took back power in 2010.
Finally, as protests begin tomorrow and throughout the weekend, please remember that the 1st amendment is our most valued and is our first for a reason. Freedom of speech, assembly, and press are vital to a free and democratic country, even if you disagree with what is being said, protested, or printed. However, the 1st amendment should never exist within a vacuum. Engagement, dialogue, and finding common ground is a necessary step as we continue to move forward in the longest running experiment in the world.
So, tomorrow, whatever you do, just remember that there is someone doing the complete opposite and that Donald Trump is their president too.
Dr. Matthew DeSantis
In time, I will gather my thoughts and share them as well, but for now, for today, for tomorrow, even for the months that follow, these are words we all should remember.