I remember waking up for work one morning in November approximately sixteen years ago and feeling demoralized by the news. As ballets were still being re-counted in Florida and we were all introduced to the concept of a “hanging chad,” it was pretty clear that the country had made a decision to go in a new direction. After eight years of strong economic growth, shrinking unemployment, and historic budget surpluses, the country favored change over the status quo. Instead of selecting a supremely qualified, albeit slightly robotic candidate who promised to continue the policies of his predecessor, we had chosen the likeable, bumbling son of a former President whose personal failures far outshined his marginal success as the Governor of Texas.
After all of the lawsuits and protests were over, we had made our decision, and our new President proceeded to take our nation in a new direction. Afraid of an impending economic recession, President Bush pushed through income tax cuts for everyone and enacted new tax rules that overwhelmingly favored wealthy individuals and large corporations. After the tragedy of 9/11, our foreign policy failures were many, putting our fellow citizens on the battlefield for political purposes, and changing the face of the Middle East forever. The construction business was put back to work, not to re-build the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, not to revitalize our railways, not to modernize our communication and power infrastructure, but to build houses. Big houses, little houses, enough houses to support an enormous “ponzi” scheme that created scores of billionaires, brought the world economy to its knees and created the largest economic recession in my lifetime. The causes of our economic meltdown are varied and complex, and certainly are not limited to the decisions of the Bush administration. In 2008, our nation again felt it was time for a change, and change we did.
Eight years later, under the steady and admirable leadership of President Obama and in the face of unprecedented obstruction, we have clawed back to solid ground. The financial system was saved from total collapse, the American auto industry was rescued, and a government stimulus plan was rolled out. A few new regulations were put in place to reduce our risk of another financial meltdown, and the CFPB was created to protect citizens from unchecked corporate greed. After bottoming out in late 2009, our economy has produced a record 73 consecutive months of private sector job growth. The official unemployment rate (U-3 rate, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), which peaked at 10% in October 2009, is currently sitting at 4.9%. The budget deficit, calculated as a percentage of our total economy is 2.4%, after peaking at 9.8% in 2009. Meanwhile, 20 million people, who previously walked around without medical insurance, are now covered. Strong rules have been imposed on the health insurers, to combat those who were traditionally underinsured or in danger of losing their insurance under certain circumstances beyond their control. The number of illegal immigrants, which peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, has actually fallen by over a million under President Obama (http://www.pewhispanic.org/interactives/unauthorized-trends).
Despite improvements, not everyone was feeling hopeful about their own futures. We created lots of jobs, but they weren’t the same jobs that were lost. We opened some more factories, but they were staffed to a large extent by computer operators and robots. Small business growth, which both parties agree creates most of the new jobs in our country, increased, but mainly in large, urban areas of the country. The number of jobs available to those without high school and college degrees continued to shrink. Many of the new jobs were taken by (legal) immigrants from Europe, India, and elsewhere in Asia. Wages stagnated, as they always do in the years following a recession, but are now starting to rise slightly. Profitability returned, but most of the gains went to those who didn’t need the money. Healthcare costs for individuals continued to go up, and profits continued to go overwhelmingly to those on top.
Our brave men and women in uniform remained stationed around the world, lives were still lost, and unpopular decisions were still made in foreign policy. Gun violence continued to take more lives in our country than in any other developed nation on Earth. And what about re-building our crumbling roads, bridges, railways and power grid? Some of that happened, but only as part of the aforementioned stimulus package. When the money ran out, future infrastructure spending bills put forth by President Obama and some members of Congress were blocked as “unnecessary government spending,” depriving the working class of a much needed lifeline. In 2016, Americans once again voted for change. Instead of selecting a supremely qualified, slightly robotic candidate who promised to continue the policies of HER predecessor…WE CHOSE TRUMP.
Waking up on Wednesday morning, the sun was shining bright, and the last of the leaves were falling to the ground from the maple tree in my backyard. My daughter Paige, who was born just days after the historic election of 2008, was turning eight years old, and I had been excited for her to wake up, have breakfast in bed, and learn that America had just elected, for the first time ever, a supremely qualified woman as President. Instead, after our family finished singing “Happy Birthday,” after she had blown out the candle and eaten her birthday donut, my wife and I explained to her that…WE CHOSE TRUMP.
How do we explain to our children the things that we can’t explain to ourselves? Lacking any satisfactory explanation, we did what we could to make sure our own disappointments didn’t ruin her special day. I, for one, shoved my feelings deep down inside, went to work, did my job, and prepared for a wonderful family birthday dinner with Paige’s grandparents. Fortunately, the food, gifts, and most of all, the company helped make November 9th, 2016 a great success for our family. What it means for our country, and our future, depends on where we go from here.
We chose Trump. As President Obama predicted, the sun continues to rise and set each day, yet I cannot get these words out of my head. It is no secret that I am willing to share my thoughts and speak my mind. It should be clear by now where my loyalties lie. Hopefully, after years of comments, conversations and compositions, most people can see that my beliefs are guided by facts, education, and morality, rather than simply “politics”. When I say “facts,” I mean evidence, driven by an overwhelming desire to educate myself through available channels. When I say “morality,” I refer to the things that were taught to me at an early age, and those things that we try to instill in our own children. Politics are a necessary evil. They are messy, often dishonest, sometimes immoral, and yet they are how we get things done in a democracy. Politics requires compromise and understanding, and often disappointment. To reject “politics” is to reject democracy in favor of something easier, cleaner and nicer. Our nation is great because of what politics affords us, and in this instance…WE CHOSE TRUMP.
For someone like me, who fought until the end talking to voters, posting on social media, and even donating money to candidates, this loss is a tough one to swallow. If all of my facts, education and morality don’t point in the same direction as the result, then what is the point? I had thoughts of cancelling my Facebook account, or at least taking a much needed “break.” No more blog posts for me, even though it serves as an important kind of personal therapy. My emotions swung wildly from anger to apathy and back again. What’s next? Where do we go from here? I wanted to put my head down, wrap my arms around my family and friends, and focus on what’s best for me. Maybe Trump can’t do too much damage in two years. Maybe then the people will decide to elect those who can limit his influence. Perhaps, in 2020, we can make a better decision. Maybe I’ll just sit back and watch as this country burns to the ground, doing what I can to protect what is closest to me wrapped in a fireproof blanket.
I’ve spent 40 years trying to understand what type of person I want to be. I decided a long time ago that I’ll continue to learn and evolve every day of my life (even the really hard days). This is one of the gifts that I will pass onto my children, and I’ll spend every day trying to convince them that is the better way. I refuse to become a person who spends every day trying to figure out how to make things better for myself alone. I refuse to ignore the privileges that I have been afforded because of the hard work, sacrifices, and choices of my parents. I refuse to take for granted the sacrifices of those who came before me and helped to grant me the comfort that I enjoy today. I will not ignore the realities of an increasingly inter-connected world in which most people survive with so much less. I also cannot ignore that there are others who have so much more. I understand that the place that I was born, the place that I currently live, who my parents are, and the color of my skin have far more to do with my privilege than anything I can do on my own. As an American, I believe that if I work hard, make the right choices, and persevere though challenges, that I will live a good life and have an opportunity to pass on that good fortune to my children.
No, I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and reject my morality because 25% of our nation doesn’t believe the things I do. I will continue to believe that the promises of this great nation can be realized for all of us, not just for those as fortunate as I am. I will continue to learn every day so that I can better understand how to share that opportunity with all people in this great nation that we are lucky to call home.
Being an American doesn’t require me to simply accept the results of the election and move on with my life. It doesn’t require me to support the President just because he won the Electoral College. Being an American is about using our individual voices to speak up for what is right, building a movement of people who share our values, and pushing for the kind of change that works, regardless of who is in charge. That is how I choose to move forward today. That is how I will continue to fight for the kind of country I want my children to know.
You see, the truth is this. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both got about 25% of all eligible votes in this country. The other 50% of voters decided to sit this one out. So, the real winner was “I DON'T CARE,” with Clinton and Trump splitting the remaining votes. We need to take a hard look at those 50% of our citizens, and figure out what makes then so uninterested, unwilling, or unable to speak out for the future of their country.
If you voted for Clinton, or even if you just voted “against Trump,” your voice needs to be heard louder than ever before. I’m not talking about rejecting the results of the election or violently protesting in the streets. We are beyond that. But for all of us that voted against the horrific policies and proposals during the campaign, we must be more vigilant than ever in continuing to convince others that our dissent was justified. For those of us who rejected the hateful rhetoric directed at racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and refugees, we must be more inclusive than ever before, to let our neighbors and friends know we are with them. We need to continue to push for the kind of reforms proposed by Clinton and Bernie Sanders that 25% of our citizens favored. We need to respect the legacy and the values that we have been graced with for the past 8 years of the Obama administration. To the extent that we agree with our new President, we should support any changes that respect our morals and values, even if the politics aren’t popular.*
This is stated hypothetically, of course, since I honestly can’t name a policy or proposal of Trump’s that I even remotely agree with, based on his campaign.
And finally, if you cast your vote for the winning candidate, I expect you to own it. Whatever it was that he did or said that convinced you to fill in the oval next to his name, I expect you will fight just as hard to make sure he follows through on his promises. For most of the millions of people that voted for Trump, I hope you weren’t actually voting to kick out or keep out people because of their religion, or because he promised to implement a database to track "certain people". I hope you don’t sincerely root for government officials to round up peaceful families and rip them away from their homes and their children. I sincerely hope that those people represent the minority of Trump supporters, and that something else convinced you to choose Trump.
Maybe you had a need to feel safe, the kind of safety that only a giant border wall can provide. I can only assume, however, that you will express your disapproval when you are asked to pay more taxes to build this wall, or when the wall isn’t built at all. When the factories don’t move back to your towns and beg you to take your old job back, or when large corporations continue to game the system for the benefit of highly paid executives, I expect you will hold Trump accountable for his failure to protect working class Americans. If he is able to push though his economic agenda, I know you’ll remind him of his promise that our economy will grow at 4-5% per year, and that he’ll somehow manage to control our skyrocketing national debt. If he is able to “tear up NAFTA” and other free trade agreements, I’m sure you’ll be the first people to complain when prices go up and jobs disappear due to a trade war he created. The first time someone is killed in uniform, or a diplomat tragically loses their life in a war zone, I assume there will be an investigation (because we have a right to know what really happened). When Obamacare isn’t overturned, or even if it is, I expect you’ll complain just as vigorously over rising healthcare costs. When your neighbor is denied coverage and gets sick, I assume you’ll offer to pay their medical bills. When Trump takes away the freedom to marry from your fellow citizens, or the right to control one’s body, I really hope it makes your life happier. The next time a mass shooting occurs, or an officer is gunned down, I’m sure you’ll find a way to blame President Trump for his weak leadership.
75% of our country decided not to vote for one candidate or the other. That is more than enough to really take back our country, and demand the kind of change we can truly believe in.
THANKS OBAMA! (No really, thank you Mr. President, you will be missed.)