Op-ed: Divided States of America
In perhaps one of the most memorable lines from the comical first presidential debate, candidate Hillary Clinton captured all of the qualms I have with Donald Trump: “Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts.”
If you didn’t watch the debate because of time constraints, I suggest finding an abridged version on YouTube and ramping up the speed to 1.5x (it actually helps Hillary’s incessant pausing). A word of advice: Try not to get frustrated by Trump’s repeated mansplaining. A PBS article cites 51 interruptions by Donald Trump, as opposed to 17 interruptions by Hillary Clinton.
Watching the debate, I tried to not get distracted by the constant interruptions, the incessant raising of voices and the unprofessional digs. As a junior in the Ford School, I focused my attention to all mentions of policy. But something about the way Donald Trump speaks occupied my brainpower. Trump’s speech is so unverifiable that he has complete liberty to say whatever he wants.
And that kind of explains his rhetoric, right? By using words such as “perhaps,” “probably,” “private,” “maybe,” etc., etc., Trump is able to say practically whatever fits the moment without anyone proving him wrong.
Take, for example, the moment when Clinton pointed out the architect in the audience who was stiffed by Trump after designing a clubhouse. Trump’s only response was, “Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work.” See that? It’s not that Donald Trump admits he was unsatisfied and didn’t pay the man, it’s that there’s a possibility he maybe wasn’t satisfied. In other words, he shifts the accountability from himself to no one. And that’s a dangerous trait for a presidential nominee.
Another example of Trump-talk occurs when he’s asked about birtherism and healing the racial divide. “I think I’ve developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community,” he said. “I think you can see that.” The content of this quote perfectly captures Donald Trump’s dismal engagement with African-American voters and communities “over the last little while.” But let’s look at his style of delivery of these so-called facts: “I think I’ve developed,” “I think you can see that.” Once again, we hear Trump abstractly state a pseudo-fact. It’s not that he’s saying, “I have developed X and Y relationships, as a matter of fact.” Rather, he’s playing with minds of voters with his unverifiable Trump-talk.
But why does this matter? I argue that speech and rhetoric forecast the nation we will live in for the next four or more years. So we, the American electorate, must ask ourselves: What kind of nation do we want to live in?
Do we want to live in fear for the next four years, forced to hide behind walls, scared of foreign ideas and enemies? Do we want to monopolize on freedom, liberty and equality while erecting borders and barriers? Or would we rather break down walls, lend a helping hand to our neighbors and work together toward a brighter, more tolerant future? Until we stop pointing fingers at the “Others,” and realize that we are the Others, we will continue to divide ourselves. A wall works both ways, and so does divisive rhetoric.
Let’s work as a nation to turn our pointed fingers into extended hands to help those around us. Secretary Clinton put it best in her Democratic National Convention speech when she said, “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up."
With job-searching in full swing, I look to the future with one particular goal in mind. My goal is to establish and strengthen empathy in governments at home and abroad. Empathy, once nourished and grown in the hearts of people, has the power to mitigate conflict, cast away hate and establish love. Empathy gives us the ability to see ourselves in the eyes of our opponents and realize that we’re all not so different. We stand on a common ground, albeit sometimes opposite sides of that ground. But we learn to walk from birth so we can meet in the middle and compromise with our fellow humans. Empathy helps us, as President Obama said at the DNC, conduct a “contest of ideas that pushes our country forward.” In fact, empathy is at the heart of democracy.
Now, empathy doesn’t call on people to hold hands, dance around the proverbial campfire and sing “Kumbaya.” Empathy helps us communicate our concerns in a productive manner so that the women and men we elect can find solutions. How can we expect our communities to stay safe, and our friends and families to be content in a supposed Union, if we can’t hear each other out long enough to come to a compromise?
To quote The Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need."
So what do we need, America? Well, as I examine the two nominees, I conclude that they’re not running for the same position. No, in fact we have two offices up for grabs. While Secretary Clinton is running for the traditional office of the president of the United States of America, I believe Donald Trump has his eyes set on a new position: president of the Divided States of America.
I call upon my fellow Americans to work toward union, not division. Exercise your right to vote and vote with empathy in mind. Remember, we are the Others. Come Nov. 8, I’ll be voting with my Muslim community’s slogan in mind: Love for All, Hatred for None.
Register to vote here.
Ibrahim Ijaz is a public policy junior.