Yesterday our country got the first glimpse of a Trump presidency. He spoke about infrastructure spending, a conservative court and the need to come together as a nation. He named his energy and environmental policy transition teams, including a long-standing climate change denier.
We also saw the pain throughout campus and, on social media, of our generation. Many of us feel a deep, inescapable sense of loss. It’s not because our team (i.e., supporters of Clinton, progressives) lost just like the Cleveland Indians lost the World Series, as our new Regent Ron Weiser suggested yesterday at a Ford School of Public Policy panel.
Part of this pain is due to a feeling of uncertainty. Like many of my classmates at the Ford School of Public Policy, I’ve wondered if the election is a referendum on public policy. After all, Trump’s team offered almost no policy papers, yet he commandingly won. Other students, in the social and environmental sciences, are asking similar questions. What we study is a reflection of who we are: our values, background and aspirations.
Acknowledging this uncertainty, however, does little to lessen the pain. What’s grinding away at many of us is a loss of hope that inequalities would decrease, and injustices would become less common. This loss is seemingly unavoidable, both general and intimate.
Earlier this fall, I confided to a classmate in a policy course on values and ethics that I feel deeply uncomfortable with my own white male privilege. I benefit from things that I shouldn’t. Research shows I’m more likely to get a job because of my name. I’m less likely to be pulled over while driving. I get the benefit of the doubt — for example, when walking at night, returning a purchase or asking for feedback. And now, with an elitist white male in the White House who has repeatedly put down women, minorities, the disabled and the poor, this inequity, it seems, will become even more pervasive and damaging.
What is most distressing is knowing this unfairness affects aspirations, dreams and ambition. After Obama’s first election, we celebrated that children of color now had a marker of what’s truly possible for them. It seemed that an “aspiration gap” — a gap that hinders the disadvantaged from pursuing their hopes — would begin to close.
Many of us on campus have intimately heard, seen and felt this loss: of classmates of color trying to explain to younger siblings that the election isn’t a reflection of our country’s belief in them; of immigrants having lost a sense of home, now feeling unsafe and unwelcome; of daughters, classmates and friends seeing a leader of the free world who has repeatedly objectified, demeaned and assaulted women.
How can we begin to move forward, then?
It’s on all of us — young, old, progressive and conservative — to see those most affected through this. In my case, to assure every female classmate and friend that Trump does not reflect my gender values, and that I will do my best to stand up for them. To assure people of color that social justice will not become a “backburner” issue. To make every person feel welcome, valued and empowered, every day.
As the election neared, I spent hours canvassing Ann Arbor to get out the vote. On Sunday night, a resident approached me as I was walking in between houses. She offered a story and a reminder, one that may help all of us.
She pointed across the street, where neighboring houses each had a sign: one for Trump, one for Clinton. The Trump supporter is a 90-year-old man living by himself, she told me. It was his second sign. Weeks earlier, the first was torn apart at night and left on his lawn. In response, his neighbor — the Clinton supporter — immediately cleaned up the mess and purchased a new Trump sign for him.
She said the story was a reminder that Democrats and Republicans are on the same team, one that is greater than politics. Every four years, one party becomes the first string, the other the second string. This changes, in cycles, in response to events and in light of candidate popularity. Both, however, contribute to the team’s success. Both must support each other, she said.
We’re all on the same team — the privileged and the vulnerable, the wealthy and the indigent, progressives and conservatives, Trump, Bernie and Clinton supporters. Acknowledging this, now, is painful. But if we keep this in mind when standing up for others and engaging with opposing viewpoints, perhaps, we’ll grow out of this challenging campaign and election.
Anthony Cozart is a first-year graduate student in the Ford School of Public Policy.