Today I’m writing a story that I never thought I’d need to write. Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States.

Obviously, I knew there was a possibility that he could be elected, but I never allowed myself to truly fathom the reality of a Trump presidency. I doubt that I’m alone when I say that I’ve treated his campaign as a bit of a joke over this past year. Perhaps I was part of the problem; perhaps we all were. Yes, many of us were horrified by what we saw in his candidacy, but we couldn’t manage to take our eyes off the spectacle of it all. It was as if we were driving by a car crash that we couldn’t help but stare at with a morbid curiosity.

We treated him as a joke, and as a result, we failed to confront reality. We failed to call bigotry what it was from the outset, and we allowed it to spread further than any of us could have possibly imagined. His claims were so ridiculous, his comments so full of hate, his policies nonexistent; I thought that this man could never be elected president.

On Tuesday night, I was ready for America to prove me right, to show me that the bigotry of the past was just that, a thing of the past. I was ready for us to show the world that we were better than racism and fear mongering. But we didn’t. America had a choice, not just a political choice, but a choice about what type of nation it wanted to be, and the harsh reality is that it chose to be a nation of hate. 

You can justify your vote for Trump in any way that you so please, but to deny that hatred and fear served as the basis of his campaign would be blissful ignorance.

White America’s pent-up anger, racism and fear of the changing demographics of this country manifested themselves as the “Make America Great Again” movement. The less-than-subtle racial undertones of both the slogan and the campaign were quite clear: America was meant to be run by whites, and every other group needed to fall by the wayside. To be anything other than white was to somehow be un-American, no matter where you were born.

This is why in recent months young children in schools across the country have been told by their classmates that they should be deported, or that they should be killed for being Muslim. This is the type of rhetoric that has been normalized by the Trump campaign. Threats and intolerance have become part of American discourse.

And you know what? It worked. Donald Trump is our next president.

Yes, Donald Trump. The same man who claimed that American soldiers captured during war shouldn’t be considered heroes, the same man who called for barring all Muslims from entering our country, the same man who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 10 women, is now the leader of the free world.

I understand that political differences are part of the American way of life, I really do. Over the years there have been plenty of candidates whom I’ve disagreed with, candidates whose values have differed from my own. Yet no matter what the circumstances were, I was always able to see the opposing point of view. Never once in my life have I questioned the fitness of a candidate from either party to be president.

But this year was different. This year was different because America wasn’t choosing between two presidential candidates, it was choosing between a public servant and a glorified man-child. Donald Trump may have labeled himself a Republican this year, but make no mistake, the proposals and values that Donald Trump was supposedly fighting for throughout the course of this election weren’t “conservative.” Despite what some would have you believe, conservatism doesn’t preach hatred, it doesn’t promote religious intolerance, and it sure as hell doesn’t encourage violence. Trumpism does all of these things, but conservatism does not.

Perhaps the vitriol and hatred of this campaign is so pronounced because of the social class that I’m accustomed to in our political sphere. When I was 11 years old, the American people elected President Barack Obama to be the first Black president in the history of our country. Putting politics aside, I grew up with the belief that everyone in America was equal, that anyone could become president no matter their background, family history or skin color, and that’s truly incredible. If I, a young Caucasian boy growing up in one of the whitest cities in America, felt this way, I cannot even begin to imagine the pride and joy felt by minority communities throughout our country the night he was elected.

I think that’s part of what makes this election so hard to swallow. It’s unbelievably painful to see how large of a step we’ve taken backward. America went from having its first Black president to a president who can’t seem to form a distinction between the words “Black” and “inner-cities” overnight.

Obama often speaks of the presidency as a relay race; a president runs their portion, tries to make some progress from the position they started in and then hands it off to the president-elect. The fact that our nation’s first Black president has to hand the baton to a man whose slogan was plastered on the front of the Ku Klux Klan’s newspaper infuriates me in ways that I can’t even begin to explain.

I could express my disapproval for Trump in a million different ways, and in the end, this story may be nothing more than my catharsis. But no matter what I write here, the most frustrating part of all of this is that we allowed it to happen. The attention we provided him only served as fuel for his campaign, and as a nation, we failed to confront bigotry when we should have. This year, for the first time in our 45-man race, the American people botched the relay.

Jeff Brooks can be reached at brooksjs@umich.edu. 

 

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