Last week, I was walking to class when I scrolled past a picture of Hillary Clinton on Twitter. I suddenly remembered the period of hopefulness and confidence before the election that was so prevalent among my peers and on social media. The realization of how different things would be had she won the election hit me hard, and I was struck by the intense difference in pervading mood between then and now. 

Hopefulness tainted my every move, from my posts on Facebook to my interactions with students and discussions with friends. I was naively optimistic, making jokes about what life would be like in Donald Trump’s America. Got a C on an exam? Hey, it could be worse, we could have a divisive reality star in charge of the nuclear codes! And so on, and so forth.

Before the election, individual political concerns were purely personal, while after the election, many feel they have a moral obligation to speak or act politically. It certainly seems as though moral and personal priorities have shifted significantly since the new administration was inaugurated. Yet, how have fear and hope influenced the mood and emotions we experience now? How do we move forward using what little power we have to influence politics in the future and make change?

Interestingly, hope and fear were tied deeply into both campaigns of the most recent political season. Hillary undoubtedly played off the fear of Trump, and many who voted for her voted not out of hope for the change she would bring, but rather out of the fear of a Trump presidency.

After the election, an informal campaign began reminding people to keep in mind that this presidency is not normal. Many predicted that, as time went on, the bigotry and hate expressed by Trump would begin to feel like familiar rhetoric. The importance of remaining vigilant was stressed. It seems that the hatefulness of his rhetoric and policy has not been lost yet on people, and he’s not become a normal politician in their eyes.

Many have accepted that Trump is the president, as painful as it may be for some to say aloud. But instead of letting their guard down and relaxing, many have remained skeptical and vigilant. Fear is not a great motivator to act, though it does inspire values of personal safety and protection, of watchfulness and wariness.

Instead of accommodating their identities to his presidency, many have accommodated his presidency to their identities. Many identify themselves through his presidency, voluntarily or not. Instead of preparing themselves for the chaos of the next four years by ignoring the news and avoiding politics, they’ve chosen instead to hold the administration accountable, to remind each other that this is not normal.

It was widely discussed at the time of the election that Trump’s successful campaign ran on fear alone. The campaign fed off the worries and qualms of the people who felt themselves to be disenfranchised, forgotten. Yet I don’t believe their fear took them to their polling place last November; I believe it was their hope. They hoped for a country in which they felt they could prosper, and Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was appealingly hopeful.

Hope, unlike fear, motivates people greatly. In 2008, the “Hope” poster came to be a major aspect of former President Barack Obama’s campaign, which was ultimately successful. Since the 2016 election, new social justice student groups, like Progressives at University of Michigan, have popped up on campus, and others, like Students4Justice, have become more active. These groups seek to inspire and encourage greater individual political change. 

While for many the Trump presidency is far less than ideal, the sense of hope for change has not disappeared entirely. Fear may drive many to hold Trump accountable for his actions during his presidency, but hope will elect the future leaders of our country. If there’s anything we learned from this election, it’s of the slow and steady power of hope to lift a campaign and push individuals into positions of power.

If this tactic is recognized and utilized, the outcome of the next few elections will reflect this. The recent Women’s March (on Washington and around the globe) empirically exemplifies the power of collective hope. Yet hope doesn’t have to take its form in the gathering of hundreds of thousands of protesters. Hope can also be individualistic, familial, a partnership; hope takes infinitely many forms.

As clichéd and outdated as the hope and fear dichotomy may be, it is nonetheless evident that these themes permeate U.S. politics. Hopefulness in the wake of fear may seem unlikely, but while fear spreads, hope grows. Strip yourself of cynicism, but remain vigilant. Be hopeful, but take care not to cross into naivety. When left unchecked and unbalanced, fear controls. Yet, when fear is controlled, the passion and energy inspired by it can be channeled into something productive. Hope and fear may walk along different paths, but that’s not to say they can’t work in tandem.

Megan Burns can be reached at megburns@umich.edu.

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