What Now?

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by John Zielinski

The original version of this piece was written on November 9, 2016 – the day after Election Day. It’s now mid-December and the Electoral College meets today. Since I was given the opportunity make adjustments before going to press in light of all that’s occurred since then, I’ve reread my original words and decided to let them stand. I’ve added only this preamble to set the stage. Without creating a spoiler, though, I will say this. It looks like not holding my breath was a good idea.

Return with me now to the morning after.

——

I woke up this morning to learn that – if the current numbers hold – for the 5th time in history the presidential candidate who received the greatest number of popular votes will not win the electoral vote. That’s now happened twice in the last 16 years. The most recent previous occurrence was in 1888. I also learned a few other things that have left me wondering what happens next.

As you may remember, for months before Election Day Donald Trump had been extremely critical of Hillary Clinton. He often referred to her as “Crooked Hillary.” He said that if he were to become president she would be in jail. There were other, similar comments, but the important point was that he did not appear to have much respect for her. Imagine my surprise when I heard his actual voice say in his victory speech, “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely.” What? So does he still think that she’s crooked? Is he going to try to appoint a special prosecutor whose job would be to try to find something – anything – that hadn’t been found over 30 years and that could be used to prosecute her? Maybe he’s got a special place for her in his administration so that he can benefit from her experience to make up for his own lack of such.

In the same speech Mr. Trump said, “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.” How nice. Why am I having trouble believing the sincerity of that statement? Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and he’ll prove me wrong. That would be wonderful.

I learned that both the House and Senate will remain with Republican majorities. As you may remember, before the election I had mused about the possibility of this along with a Trump presidency. In addition to the 1 open position on the Supreme Court there’s the possibility of as many as 3 more between Inauguration Day 2017 and Inauguration Day 2021. Then there are the little matters of the federal budget and what happens to the taxes of the rich and the not at all rich. How will this play out and for the benefit of whom?

I learned that there were voters in battleground states who were hoping that Clinton would win but who voted for either Jill Stein or Gary Johnson due to “conscience.” Oddly enough, in some of those states if even half of the people who voted for Stein had voted for Clinton instead it could have been enough to sway the electoral votes. It appears, however, that the fault is not theirs. Rather, it’s the fault of the Democratic Party for nominating Clinton in the first place.

Many who are blaming the party were Sanders supporters who were unhappy that he had not gotten the Democratic nod and who preferred Bernie’s politics to Hillary’s. Strangely, when Bernie’s politics led him to admonish his supporters to vote for Hillary many were suddenly deaf to him. I hope that they’ll be happy with Trump’s politics backed by the politics of the Republican majorities in the Senate and the House. I hope that they’ll be happy with the politics of the people that end up on the Supreme Court. I hope that voting for a candidate who had no chance of winning assuages their consciences when they see the progressive values that they claim to embrace get kicked to the curb. Will these people, many of whom had never been active in the Democratic Party before, convince that party that it needs to change? Will this be the beginning of a different, more practical worldview of politics or will the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential be just more of the same?

I’ve learned that some are calling this “the darkest day in American history” and that others think that the best answer for them is to leave the country for Utopia. I love hyperbole as much as the next writer, but come on people! First, if you think that this is the worst day that this country has ever seen, then you either flunked history in elementary school or haven’t been paying attention much more recently. Hell, this isn’t even the worst day in this brief century. Second, there is no Utopia and even if there was, why do you think that you could just up and move there? I have friends and acquaintances from countries around the world. Many of them tell of wonderful, progressive social programs in the land of their birth. Many of them have moved from those places to here and traded those programs for ours. Apparently all is not chocolate cake and ice cream elsewhere. Besides, if you just walk away who’s going to fight the good fight?

Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that there are a lot of people out there who care about more than just themselves and their own little piece of reality. They care about the futures of the children. They care about social justice. They care about the poor, the sick, the elderly and all of those who need help. These people are not about to give up because of the results of 1 election. It’s easy to find cynics who will tell you that the system is broken beyond repair and needs to be tossed out, but few of those people have put forth any kind of viable alternative. It’s easy to gripe. It’s hard to spend your own time, energy and money to try to make a difference. Don’t kid yourself, though. The people that I described didn’t all vote for Clinton. There are many who voted for Trump because they believe that his way is the correct one to address their concerns. You may think that they’re misguided. They may well think the same of you. We’re unlikely to find common ground on everything, but can we manage to find common ground on anything?

Today has not given me what I expected. I suspect that the same is true for some, perhaps many, who have taken the time to read this far. This isn’t the first time the reality hasn’t lived up to expectations and it definitely won’t be the last. What matters now is how we move forward.

A few of my acquaintances have suggested that some of what was said in Mr. Trump’s victory speech last night was an indication that his campaign rhetoric was a sham and the content of the speech was the real deal. They’ve suggested that the real Donald Trump may be a much better president than anyone could have imagined. As much as I’d like to believe that I’m not about to hold my breath. I will continue to work for a better country for all of its citizens and a better world for everyone. As always, there will be those who see my idea of better as being worse and, as always, I’ll try to convince them otherwise. I’m too old to change my ways. May I ask you to join me?