We awoke this morning to a new world. Of course, whenever a new president is elected, one can anticipate changes, if not in substance then in appearance, style and nuanced differences. But the change we anticipate today requires us to consider the notion of “a new world” more literally.
Some anticipate that our new “normal” will be a country in which women are objectified, in which language of prejudice and hate is routinely heard, in which our notion of dignity and “presidential” behavior will be tinged with intemperate and unrestrained outbursts. I hope that we can attribute those expressions to Donald Trump’s entertainment persona and not the one which will be evident as our next president.
In the early months of the campaign, during the AIPAC Policy Conference, I left the main auditorium prior to Mr. Trump’s address, protesting his language, his arrogance and the hurtful, sweeping and denigrating statements he made about Muslims and Mexicans. I left the room because of an autocratic style reminiscent of the demagogues of history who have been our most virulent and demonic detractors. I do not regret leaving the room as I did at the AIPAC Conference. My former protest at the AIPAC Conference, however, is no longer an option.
Moving forward, I do not intend to become more “tolerant” of offensive language. I do hope, however, that in his new position, Mr. Trump will be more measured in the language and tone he employs. Yet, beyond matters of language or tone, there are important lessons to be learned from this campaign and election. I write today in order to offer a few of my “takeaways” for your consideration.
- As a country, we have been going in the wrong direction. This lesson began to emerge early in the campaign. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders based their candidacies not on continuity, but on changing the trajectory on which our country has been travelling. And that message resonated with voters. Of course, the new directions the candidates suggested were radically different from each other. Nevertheless, it was the promise of a new and different direction which the majority of American voters demanded and supported. We failed to take that message seriously.
- A very large segment of Americans feel that they have been let down by our government. After years of being told that things would get better, things have not improved. The vote yesterday was a vote to change, a vote to elect someone, anyone, who will commit to creating a government more responsive to their needs. Mr. Trump has made that promise to them.
- We have deluded ourselves into thinking that we know what is best for our country. As liberal, highly educated and prosperous citizens, we have looked at our lives and decided that our way of life is best. What we have learned, however, is that, for a large swath of people in this country, ours is not the way of life on which they are focused or toward which they aspire.
- We have not been listening. The voice of the American people comes from a very diverse and variegated population. It is a voice comprised of people from different backgrounds, from urban as well as rural areas, from immigrants, from young people and from a hundred other places. In the past, we thought that we heard that voice, but we did not.
We heard certain voices and assumed we knew what the other voices were saying. But we were wrong. We have not heard the voice of those on the fringes, the homeless, the unemployed, the disabled, the factory worker, the tradesman … the list goes on. We had no idea how many people considered themselves as disenfranchised and alienated. We did not know how many people have lost all faith in government.
Between congressional gridlock, patronage and the special treatment given to the wealthy and those on “the inside,” the voice we never heard spoke of profound distrust in government. They told us they felt alienated and marginalized by government. They feel ignored. I don’t know if Mr. Trump was listening, but he spoke the language and delivered the message which resonated with half of this country’s electorate, the half we failed to listen to.
There is much upon which we should reflect. Many are disappointed. But this country woke up to a world of new opportunities, to the prospect of a change in government and the hope that now their voice had been heard. Others received today’s news with fear, trepidation and bewilderment.
No matter who wins or loses, change fills us with anxiety. Many have expressed to me a fear of the unknown. The fact is that we don’t really know what a Trump government, its policies, priorities and programs will look like. My guess is that the changes will be smaller than Mr. Trump has predicted; the government will continue to work and it will take the world some time to figure out what this new reality will mean for them.