by Samantha Guthrie
The University of Virginia was a Clinton stronghold. The state itself went blue, although the 5th district, which includes Charlottesville, elected republican Tom Garrett to fill the district's open seat in the House. Students at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, where the Third Rail and the Virginia Policy Review are based, were heavily, prominently, loudly against Trump, if not all-in for Clinton. Among my peers today, I surveyed the damage.
The cold, misty weather of November 9th seems fitting. It feels like a bomb went off. Students walk in a stunned silence, eyes wide with shock. When we greet each other, instead of answering "how are you?" with the reflexive "fine, thanks," we pause, and answer honestly. We are not fine. We are shaken and anxious and scared. We are bewildered and blind sided and trembling - either from the slow realization of what our nation has become, or from the extra cups of coffee we needed to drag ourselves to class after a sleepless night hugging the radio, pounding the "refresh" button on the keyboard.
The reaction from most of my classmates is shock - how could this have happened? How did we get it so wrong? How can there be 60 million Americans living in an alternate reality that has not touched us? What have we missed?
Then there is the fear. Fear from LGBT students, fear from Muslim and Jewish students, fear from ethnic and racial minorities, fear from immigrants, fear from all those belonging to groups insulted and belittled by Trump, anyone with a child who will grow up and think that being an American means being represented by a hateful, petty bully. Many people have reassured me that the US Presidency is not an all powerful office, that he will still have to push bills through Congress. While that is true, both the House and the Senate continue to be controlled by the GOP, smoothing the president-elect's path to policy making. The real, fear, though, is not of Trump himself, but of the normalization of discrimination, insults, callousness, and selfishness he has caused.
Some eyes are red-rimmed from crying. Tears of anger and frustration and loss. We were so close, those red eyes seemed to say...so close to Madam President, so close to a rejection of all Trump's hateful, decisive rhetoric, so close to sustaining something good and beautiful.
But we did sustain something good - though certainly not beautiful. Our democracy worked the way it was supposed to. Votes were counted, voices were heard. I do not question whether democracy will survive this election, or whether our system is broken. I question whether our people are broken. I question whether our values are lost. I question whether the American dream will survive. The American dream is about being able to create a different, better life for yourself and your family out of nothing, not maintaining the status quo for those who feel cheated out of some promise of a steady factory job and a pension on a high school education in suburban Pennsylvania or Ohio. The American Dream was built by and for immigrants.
My heart breaks for the nation I once knew. I mourn the nation of my youthful naiveté. This election has aged me, matured me, taught me some basic human truth that even America cannot escape. The truth that people are ignorant and self-serving. The truth that fear wins. My Facebook news feed is fully of elite university students grieving the same loss. I have seen only four of my 985 friends posting openly in favor of the election results. I have created an ivory tower echo chamber...
As one of my main rallying points against Trump is that his campaign and his rhetoric stirred up hate, and reshaped a societal norm against racism and bigotry, I struggle with my current emotions. I don't want to hate them. I don't want to fear them. I don't want to say "them" at all. I want to unite. I want to share a vision of inclusion and cooperation. I want to focus on policy, not politics. Unfortunately, Trump's policies remain vague and unclear. I, like many, hold onto hope that he will continue to go back on his word and that all his threatening campaign promises were just healthy "sarcasm" and "locker room talk." So far, the one plan I can get behind is infrastructure reform. Interestingly, this is also the one campaign promise he re-iterated in his acceptance speech.
In four years we will have another choice. Where will I be? How will I feel? Will my classmates and I be serving in the Trump administration? Will we be entrenched in small, cramped NGO offices frantically trying to support children whose parents were deported without warning or providing resources for young LGBT people who don't feel safe in their own identities?
Regardless of what a Trump presidency brings, we are all still Americans. Trump's campaign rhetoric does not have to speak for you. We can respect the democratic process yet still fight for our values. We are on the other side now - the sidelines that many Trump voters have felt relegated to over the past eight years. If America is no longer the shining city upon a hill, if our political rhetoric has descended into chaotic personality politics, if we are in a post-truth era of politics, if America is no longer an exceptional example of democracy and inclusion and acceptance...we are not alone. There are much worse governments in the world, much more fear and hate and repression and violence, and we are still lucky to be Americans. The old system is dying, if not already dead. This is our chance to reshape it, to be the movement we have called for for so long. So don't try to immigrate to Canada, don't boycott politics, don't run away. Decisions are made by those who show up. Although one choice has been made, many others lie ahead.
Continue to fight for what you believe.
Continue to arm yourself with information and campaign and vote.
Continue to criticize and scrutinize and watchdog our politicians.
So today, I say goodbye to the American dream.
And I am preparing to say goodbye to inclusivity, to healthy trade patterns, to a strong labor supply, to reproductive rights for women, to birthright citizenship, to deferred action on child arrivals, to love is love, to the thriving beauty of diverse communities, to nuclear non-proliferation, to our NATO allies, to foreigners telling me they love America and that they dream of living here one day, and to America as the great superpower and world role model I have known it to be for my entire life.
I am putting these things in a box. Over the next four years, I will peak in when things feel particularly dark and be greeted by feeble rays of hope. I sincerely hope one day it will once again be safe to open it again and return these ideas to their rightful place at the heart of this nation. But today, I say goodbye.
**This opinion article solely represents the views of the author and not of the Third Rail, the Virginia Policy Review, the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the University of Virginia, or any other organization.**