Winning and losing is the essence of politics, and losing badly is exactly what happened to Democrats across the country on Nov. 8. As Democrats, the losses we suffered all the way down the ballot on Election Day would have been disappointing at a minimum, even if some other run-of-the-mill Conservative was at the top of the Republican ticket. However, given the sexist, xenophobic, racist and bigoted rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign, the outcome was more than disappointing — it was devastating. In a few months, the incoming administration will begin to implement policies that will have extremely negative effects on many individuals and communities. But we are already seeing this election’s impact in the episodes of ethnic intimidation and violence on our campus, which is not only devastating; it’s horrifying.
By now, many — if not all — students are aware of the #NotMyCampus letter that has been circulated by Conservative students, including some members of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans. In that letter, there is one particular statement that epitomizes the disconnect between Conservatives on campus and the broader campus community. The author states: “This was an election, nothing more, nothing less.” We could not disagree more. Yes, this was an election. Yes, in every election there is a winner and a loser. But what we have seen take place in the last few days on our campus alone should indicate clearly and loudly that this was much more.
Hate speech is not politics. The dehumanization of women and underrepresented minorities is not politics. The harassment, intimidation and assault of members of our campus community based on their religion, race or other identities is not politics. Conservatives, from national elected officials to some of our family members to some of our classmates, have bent over backward to separate conventional Republican ideology from hateful rhetoric and small mindedness.
Perhaps, in an effort to see the best in people, we want to believe them, to trust that it was promises regarding trade or national security that motivated support for someone like Trump. As progressives, though, any effort to see things from this positive, rationalizing perspective is undermined by the inability of Conservatives to respect, or even try to understand, the processing of fear, grief and loss that many people on this campus have experienced since Election Day.
The fear is not of Republican policies, per se, but of walking down the street at night in a hijab or other religious attire. The grief is not over a defeat or a death, but grief nonetheless that a country we all love, and people some of us view as friends and neighbors, chose to endorse hatred. The loss is not merely in the electoral sense, but rather in the denial of humanity that many marginalized groups and individuals view this outcome as representing. The election of a Republican president is not what sparked protests, vigils and walkouts. The true root of this anger and sadness is more complex. It is the jarring realization that perhaps the ignorance and bigotry that many of us were taught to eschew as children is the path, not to societal reprimand and isolation on the backwaters of the internet, but to political power. It is the crushing understanding that many of our fellow Americans made the ultimately selfish choice to overlook threats to the humanity of so many and instead cast their votes on the basis of partisanship or a single issue.
We know, however, that this outbreak of hate is not the whole story. The outpouring of love and support for one another that the majority of students on this campus have displayed shows us that this cannot be the case. This country, this state and this University ought to be communities where everyone feels safe, and students have shown they are ready and willing to fight for that to be true. We have not lost faith in our ability to make change, and in the two years leading up to the enormously consequential election of 2018, we will be there working and fighting.
More important, however, is what happens right now. We all must stand in solidarity with one another. We must support those fighting for change and those seeking to have their voices heard within a system that has not always listened. We must stand up to those who would use conservatism as a shield for intolerance. We must hold elected officials, whether we are the ones who helped put them in office or not, accountable. We must use our immense power as people to organize against, mobilize against and ultimately remove from office those who do not represent us, our values or the community, communities we want to be a part of. We pledge to do that to the best of our ability and we challenge you to help us do that work in any way you can. Activism, advocacy and politics are difficult callings that come with inherent highs and lows. No matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum, fighting for what you believe in is a long and constant struggle. It won’t be easy. It may not be fun. But we pledge to listen openly and honestly. Standing together, we will do the work and we will succeed.