There have been many “not mys” this week. “Not my campus.” “Not my president.” “Not my country.” You’re all right — these things are not yours. They are ours. We should be concerned by how polarized things seem, and perhaps by how we may be complicit in amplifying that polarization. What we share and how we share it is increasingly contentious. This election and its aftermath illustrate as much.
This isn’t a call for unity. Unity is overrated. We won’t always agree on matters of politics. In fact, it’s important not to, because more often than not, what makes a policy “good” falls to normative judgment. Sharing and debating a wide swath of opinions is invaluable; such discourse broadens our collective worldview and creates the framework for compromise.
Now more than ever we need to (re)learn how to coexist, and to approach conflict with civility and respect, not judgment and violence. That much is true regardless of the candidate for whom you voted. We are all human beings with basic shared desires — these include security and wellbeing, with applications from physical to financial to psychological. Our individual pursuit of what we need varies infinitely, but at its core we can find common ground.
If you didn’t vote for Trump, consider why such a vast portion of the country did. Know that their frustration and anger might have paralleled what you feel now if Trump had lost. Many Trump voters feel they are being mischaracterized as racist, bigoted xenophobes — and yes, clearly, some of them are this way — but why might scores of people have voted for him in spite of concerns about his language?
Because they supported his economic policies? Because border definition and national security are reasonable concepts? Because Clinton epitomized dynastic politics and had so much baggage that she didn’t seem worth it? The list goes on. Trump’s following should not be ignored, and perhaps members of it have been, in one way or another, for quite some time.
If you did vote for Trump, consider why such a vast portion of the United States didn’t. Understand why, overwhelmingly, people of color, Latinx, Muslims, coalitions of women, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and more are so upset. Understand why they feel unsafe.
Trump’s diction throughout his campaign, intentionally or not, has seemingly made these contingencies even more subject to discrimination, hate and violence than they were before. We’ve seen it in our Ann Arbor bubble, and the reality is, many who have been and are being marginalized feel that having voted for our president-elect constitutes tacit approval of these consequences.
Ultimately, then, now is not the time for either disillusionment or reticence. These will exacerbate political stratification and othering — which we cannot afford.
If you signed the “#notmycampus” petition, I think you’re misguided. You don’t get to call “microagression” when it suits your agenda, but decry an overly sensitive, “politically correct” country when your status quo is challenged.
If you’re so upset by the election’s outcome that you declare Trump is “not my president” and the U.S. is “not my country,” I think you may be misguided, too. People of all backgrounds talk about being disenfranchised by the system in one way or another, and the reality is that in democracy, we are all part of the system in some capacity, even when we feel outcast. Accepting this isn’t easy, especially when the institutional odds are historically stacked against you.
Instead of retreating to our corners, let’s talk to each other. It’ll be hard. Emotional. At times, triggering. But it will be necessary if we have any hope for some semblance of reconciliation. I think it’s going to require adopting certain practices that common opponents of “political correctness” hate: creating safe spaces, dispersing trigger warnings and acknowledging microaggressions when applicable.
Before you write these concepts off, consider that labels tend to be more divisive than the concepts they define. Some say trigger warnings and safe spaces are soft excuses for avoiding conflict. But, if I suggested that we warn students before a screening of “A Clockwork Orange” (which contains graphic rape scenes) that its content could prove traumatic for victims of sexual assault, I doubt I’d be rebuked. If I suggested implementing a judgment-free zone for people to ask difficult questions about race for which they may feel apprehensive, ignorant or just plain stupid, my conjecture is that few would object.
Don’t recuse yourself from dialogue that makes you uncomfortable. Be open to ideas you may disagree with, or even those which may offend you, so that we may find the common ground underlying opposing positions. On matters of policy, know that it’s OK if we don’t resolve our differences, but on matters of humanity, know that doing so is imperative.
We should all be outraged by the crime alerts of the last few days. So, regardless of your political affiliation, be an ally to the marginalized. This is a term with which I wasn’t all that familiar until recently, and I turned to my Facebook friends to help me define it. They said “allying oneself” to the marginalized entails listening to them; protesting alongside them even when our experiences are not shared; advocating fairness, equality and equity; intervening when we come into contact with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike who push unjust rhetoric or ideology at the expense of others.
It’s about asking people how you can be helpful, even if you don’t relate to what they’re going through. Really, being an “ally” is just having basic human decency. We are all capable of that.
The result of this election is set in stone, and we need to work together to move forward from here. Facebook posts and catchy Twitter hashtags aren’t enough. Subversions of our democratic systems, like petitioning the Electoral College to change the outcome, aren’t the answer either. Conversations with homogenous groups who share our opinions will only further divide us.
Do you want change? Let’s be good to each other, even when we disagree. Let’s do our homework. Read newspapers, get civically involved, vote and start listening. We can do this.
Michael Sugerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.