This article was originally published on Write Away and is republished with permission.
A rich white man just got what he wanted and people are surprised. Why? Perhaps you think he doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps you think he hasn’t earned it. So what? Taking is the foundation of America. This country was founded by taking. This country was built by taking. First we took land that wasn’t ours from Native Americans. Then we took bodies from Africa and cruelly compelled them to work for us. And when that economic boon was threatened, we fought to protect it. We went to war.
After the abolition of slavery, we were ever on the hunt for low wage workers (enter every wave of immigrant) so that we could see our profit margins increase and keep the rich on the right side of the American dream. Now we said that dream was open to everyone, but not everyone got a key. A lot of people (due to skin color, religion, nationality, gender, et cetera) were excluded for a lot of America’s history. And it’s still happening. This is not a land of opportunity for everyone equally.
A qualified woman was just passed over for the job of leading our nation in favor of a man with no political experience whatsoever and people are surprised. Why? Women have been overlooked, undervalued, and disrespected for years. We haven’t even had the right to vote for a century yet.
Sexism is everywhere. Take any career path and follow it to its apex of achievement. How many women versus men are up there? Do you think it’s due to a lack of qualified female candidates? It isn’t. Just like racism, sexism runs deep. Sometimes it’s explicit, but more often it’s embedded where few can see. But the results of trying to carve it out are enlightening. Studies have shown that when gender is removed from the equation (such as in gender-blind auditions or job applications) the percentage of women who get through increases.
Trump’s slogan promised us that he’s going to make America great again. Fantastic. Does anyone know exactly what that means? I’d love for this country to be great, but I’d like specifics about great for whom. Because the invocation of “great again” harkens back to a time when things were great, but just for an elite few. And it’s not just that things were great for the small percentage of Americans at the top and good for a lot of whites in the middle, it’s that they were really, really, really bad for those who were conversely pushed to the bottom. The poor and marginalized will always be with us. Why? Because not everyone has figured out how to get rich without taking advantage of others. Many choose to profit at someone else’s expense. As a country, we have not yet mastered the “win-win.”
Some of Trump’s supporters like the fact that he has no background in politics. It’s as if his inexperience qualifies him in their eyes. I can’t imagine they’d apply that logic to other professions. Would you trust an unpracticed surgeon, police officer, or pilot?
America, we’ve gotten shallow. This is a country where some of our most famous and celebrated citizens have no discernible talents. Look at who’s most popular on social media sites like Twitter. It doesn’t correlate with intelligence. We’ve given so much power to popularity that obscurity is more of a liability in some arenas than a lack of competence. Want to get published as a writer, you’ll need a certain number of followers first—not a mastery of the English language, interesting ideas, or strong creative muscles.
So I’m not surprised that Trump won. I understood it might be the price we’d pay for President Obama. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and while I knew that some of us saw electing a Black man president as a sign of our country’s progress, a part of me also knew that some of us weren’t ready and braced for the hit when the pendulum swung back. That’s the part of me that held my breath whenever he was out in a crowd. That’s the part of me that wondered if my generation would witness an assassination. That’s the part of me that saw racist roots in questioning his citizenship, criticizing his every move, blaming him for things he wasn’t responsible for, and refusing to admit he’d done anything good.
Remember when I said that in America you’re allowed to be racist? Did you think I was kidding? There are statistics of racial inequality everywhere you look: our schools, our law enforcement, our banks, our hospitals, our neighborhoods, our prisons. And with so many systems with racist roots in this country, does it surprise you how hard it is to catch and tag an actual racist? Do you wonder how so many people can say they’re not racist while racism is so pervasive? You shouldn’t. Racism is one of those words that everyone defines in a way as to exclude themselves. I don’t know anyone who professes to be racist, even as they condone racist acts and use racist language. But to explain away atrocities or pretend they’re not there is tantamount to doing them again.
I want to see America be great. But I am not aware of anything that makes America great being the sole result of a president. We the people make America great. So our country cannot be great if we the people accept anything less than greatness from each other. It is we the people who fought to end slavery. It is we the people who exposed corrupt politicians, pedophilic priests, and problematic policies. It is we the people who marched, sat in, and stood for racial justice. It is we the people who petitioned to get women and then blacks the right to vote. It is we the people who (albeit on a problematic foundation) founded this country of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is we the people who stood on the principles of religious freedom and human equality. It is we the people, not our president, who defy or define our country.
I wanted to wake up and be proud of America today. I wanted to wake up to a milestone instead of what feels like a millstone. I love this country, but I’m not always proud of it. America is unique and beautiful and great in many ways, but America is also fractured and flawed. In certain areas (important areas), America falls short. This is nothing new. There is a lot to love about America and a lot of reasons to have hope for our greatness, but we can’t pretend that we’re a country that’s always gotten it right. America has made some serious mistakes. “Never forget” is not just for 9/11; it’s for slavery, segregation, and internment camps. It is for the racist way we’ve historically (and recently) received immigrants. It’s also for our hurtful hesitation to embrace refugees, like during the Holocaust.
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I wanted to wake up and be proud of America, but I knew that my hope might remain unrequited. I’ve been disappointed before. I was disappointed when Obama was elected as president and I sensed in my heart that some would credit him with nothing and blame him for too much. I was disappointed when I kept hearing that unarmed black men and women were dying at the hands of white men and women and somehow no one was guilty—though some pointed the finger at the victims. I was disappointed to learn that my millennial younger brother and sister have both had racial slurs hurled at them. I was disappointed to see others channel their anger and disappointment into riots and counterproductive aggression.
So yes, I am disappointed that America elected a man whose actions and words have given me little confidence in his character or credentials. I am disappointed that America elected a man who demanded transparency from his opponent and criticized her for deleted emails while casually refusing to disclose his tax returns. I am disappointed that a billionaire living in a gold-gilded apartment somehow convinced enough people that he understands the “common man” while promising to do away with laws and loopholes that helped to increase his own wealth. I am disappointed that a candidate can win the popular vote (i.e., get more votes from individual people) and yet still loose the election. However, my disappointment is not the end.
Trump says he’s going to make America great again. I want to believe him, but I don’t. And this has nothing to do with my doubts about his capabilities as a leader. No single man or woman can make America anything. No single woman or man can save or destroy this country.
Whatever America becomes (for better or worse) it will become because of we the people. We made this country what it was. We make this country what it is. And we will make this country what it will become. The harsh truth is that even when we’re well-intentioned we’re also imperfect, as a country and as individuals. This is part of why checks and balances—why accountability—is so important. We are flawed, but we also have tremendous potential.
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If America is to be great, we the people must be great. We must be great in how we treat those who are different from us. We must be great in how we integrate our communities. We must be great in not looking the other way when we witness an injustice. We must be great in facing not just explicit but implicit biases—and first within ourselves before we point the finger at others. We must be great in making this a land of opportunity rather than inequality. We must be great in educating all of our children. And we must ask those we trust with our communities, companies, and country to be great as well.
This is America. This is our reality—right here and right now. Hilary Clinton lost. Donald Trump won. That is going to be harder to accept for some than for others. But the fact remains that we the people can still move forward. As president, Donald Trump is going to try to make America great. We the people must do the same.
I’m a freelance editor and writer living in New York City with my husband and two cats—but, for the record, I’m a dog person. Click here to view my professional portfolio.
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[Feature Image: A poster of Donald Trump’s face. Behind the poster is a beige house. Source: Tony Webster]