America, I am sick to my stomach. I am distraught. I am heartbroken.
I am worried.
An emotional reaction is not always a useful indicator of things, so let’s step back. I am reminded of the people in 2008 who genuinely believed that an Obama presidency would have apocalyptic consequences for the country’s values.
Honestly, my main concern with the result of the election is about what it says about the current state of America, not even necessarily what the future holds. The next four years could be the most prosperous era the country has ever seen, and I would still remember this election as one of the grimmest moments of American history. There is no end which would justify the means here.
America — what job would Trump not have been fired from for the things he has said and done? Surely you cannot think that basic human decency is an “elite” or “politically correct’ value. No, unlike many of my friends, I do not believe that this result shows the secretly racist, sexist and xenophobic nature of half the country. Many Trump voters were probably disillusioned precisely by the very depiction of them as such. More than anything, the election result shows the very genuine fear and anger people are feeling as the country faces new challenges and changes.
But make no mistake — while Trump supporters may not have actively endorsed his actions or rhetoric by voting for him, it showed that they at least tolerated it, that they accepted it. They made a calculation in their heads that prioritized other factors as more important. They decided that a man of such clearly disturbing temperament was at least bearable considering his other redeeming qualities. It is difficult for me to imagine what these qualities might be. Certainly not mastery of policy or a wealth of relevant experience.
Now, more than ever, is the time for moral and intellectual courage. In this day and age, the allure of moral relativity is great. To assign equal worth to all opinions and viewpoints might seem a convenient way of avoiding conflict and accusations of elitism. We now know more about how Trump got his votes. That doesn’t mean all methods of voting are equally valid. If it is elitist to resist and mock the kind of actions Trump encourages, wear the label proudly.
Trump not only challenges American exceptionalism; he challenges American history. American history is a gradual realization of certain fundamental values. Despite setbacks, the thought is that the country’s history represents progress in a certain direction, that certain true ideas and practices would ultimately win out in a free marketplace of ideas. This election result didn’t just turn back a few pages. It tore the pages out and scribbled a middle finger on them.
I don’t claim to know, as some have, what needs to be done now. But I don’t accept the “Not my president” or “Calexit” movements which reject the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. How are they any different than Trump claiming the election is only rigged if he loses? Citizens have a legal and moral obligation to accept the results of a fairly conducted election. If you’re American, he will be your president come inauguration day.
That does not mean you have to agree with all or any of his actions or values, but it does mean President Donald Trump will have legitimacy and access to all the powers of the executive office. This is how democracy works.
That is not to say there’s nothing you can do. Anything from signing a petition to protesting particular policies or actions is a real and legitimate way of expressing a view. Rejecting the results of a fair election is not. I am seeing a lot of people who are suddenly very passionate about the abolition of the Electoral College. Its relevance in the election process is very much debatable, but people shouldn’t use it as an excuse to justify the view that the country picked the “wrong” candidate.
President Obama released a video early on Election Day assuring voters that no matter what happens, “The sun will rise in the morning”. And indeed it has. I have always been fascinated with Hemingway’s similar statement in the title of “The Sun Also Rises”, because the “also” creates the effect of assuming the converse must be true, that the sun will set and darkness will fall upon us. It is miraculous and beautiful the sun rises again and again. Even now, I have faith that the light will return. It’s just tough to think that this time, we brought the darkness upon ourselves.
JAMES LEE is a College junior from Seoul, South Korea studying English and Philosophy, Politics and Economics. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Conversation” usually appears every other Monday.