I held out hope.
Hope that reason would prevail. Hope that a seasoned public servant would triumph over a reckless political amateur. Hope that a campaign with unifying messages would soar above the divisive rhetoric of its opponent. Hope that a woman would shatter the highest of high glass ceilings at long last, in a resounding triumph over the old boys’ club. I held tight, even when all signs pointed to a bitter outcome that, sadly, is as uniquely American as NASCAR or apple pie.
In a dimly lit Lakeview bar last Tuesday night, a friend and I embraced as she sobbed uncontrollably, fearing how the outcome of the election would affect her reproductive rights, access to health care, and struggles for racial justice. Not far from us, a queer woman in the bar clutched her chest. Next door, what started as a boisterous LGBT watch party morphed into a wake.
This time at the ballot box, hate trumped love. And the people I love—many of them members of groups Donald Trump’s campaign openly vilified and attacked—began grieving what felt like a stunning betrayal.
My denial and disbelief quickly turned to anger that night, and for the foreseeable future, that’s where I’ll stay. It’s also where tens of thousands of protesters across the country, including those here in Chicago, continue to dwell.
Acceptance is not an option. Nor is the kind of empty “unity” many politicians are calling for.
But in resistance, there’s another kind of unity.
It’s not the same brand of “unity” Trump encouraged in his victory speech, nor is it necessarily the coming together requested by other elected officials. It shouldn’t be. But everyday Americans of all stripes can unite to resist any impending harm against those who are most vulnerable.
The day after the election, President Obama spoke from the White House Rose Garden, sounding at times as if he were addressing the country after a national tragedy. “We have to remember that we’re all on the same team,” he said.
And moments before Obama’s remarks, Hillary Clinton addressed the country too, wearing purple to symbolize the unification of red and blue (as well as the dignity and purpose of the suffragists). She urged the public to accept the election results and to look to the future. “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” she said of Trump.
Clearly Clinton opted to “go high” after a campaign that was undeniably low. She was dignified in defeat.
But this was no ordinary loss. As much as I respect Clinton and the president, I must disagree with their calls for unity and forbearance. We may all inhabit the same country, but we should know by now that we can’t be on the same team as the people who deny our basic humanity and would deprive us of our rights.
How can we find unity when our president elect pledged to ban Muslims, incited violence against protesters at his rallies, repeatedly disparaged Mexicans, and chose a running mate who’s OK with directing tax dollars towards electroshock therapy to “cure” gay people?
How can we find unity when the president-elect opened the White House doors to a white nationalist, naming former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon as his senior adviser and chief strategist?
We can’t accept the normalizing of white supremacy, as some media outlets and everyday people ignore it or refuse to name it—instead sanitizing it with the “alt-right” label coined by its proponents, or depicting its leaders as benevolent or benign.
We can’t accept the hundreds of incidents of harassment and violence directed at marginalized people in Trump’s name. Like the one at a Minneapolis high school where students scribbled WHITES ONLY and the N-word on a bathroom door. Or the one in a suburban Detroit school where students yelled “Build the wall!” at their Hispanic classmates. Or the one in Utah, where a gay couple found FAGET and HOMO DIE spray-painted on their car.
We can’t accept that a Chicago man was allegedly beaten for supporting Trump either. It’s horrific. But it does appear to be a more isolated incident, as reported attacks on marginalized people far outnumber any reported attacks on Trump supporters.
Calls for unthinking, uncritical unity and acceptance won’t stop these attacks or quell the concerns of marginalized groups and their allies, who fear that our civil rights and liberties are now at risk.
What we need now is a unified front, not only to challenge the status quo, but also to resist the autocratic order likely ushered in by the election—one in which the victor lost the popular vote, let’s not forget. People who believe in justice, who believe in protecting and aiding society’s most vulnerable people, can’t regard a Trump administration as though it’s some kind of new normal.
We can’t just “get over it,” as we have with previous defeats at the ballot box. What Trump has wrought isn’t ordinary. And at every level, with the fullest force, there must be unity in resistance. v