Aftermath of U.S. election not just divisive, but traumatic


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FARGO, North Dakota — Many Americans love Justin Trudeau, though they don't necessarily know much about him. Some know that he once met Syrian refugees at the airport, so evidently that photo op travelled. That's how they picture him.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/11/2016 (2099 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

FARGO, North Dakota — Many Americans love Justin Trudeau, though they don’t necessarily know much about him. Some know that he once met Syrian refugees at the airport, so evidently that photo op travelled. That’s how they picture him.

On a doorstep in north Fargo on Tuesday, before she knew the results of America’s own election, one voter praised Canada’s “president.” She knows that he is comparatively young, and that he is handsome: “easy on the eyes,” is how she put it.

Canada has issues, you begin to reply, and Trudeau’s government does too. Then you realize: it doesn’t matter. The Fargo voter is content with her image of the prime minister, this distant view. Maybe, facing the same problems, you would be too.

Evan Vucci / The Associated Press President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday, in New York.

I am alone in a hotel room in Fargo. It’s a few hours before dawn. The sprawling highway outside my window is empty, Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States, and all I want is to come home. To be home. To rejoin the place that I know.

Instead, I am awake and on Twitter, and thinking about forgiveness. We are so quick to extend it to people who win.

For Trump, forgiveness started to roll in by 2:30 a.m., after he made his victory speech. He called for the country to come together in “unity.” Pundits declared the speech, which Trump almost certainly did not write, to be “classy” and hopeful.

Maybe, they mused, Trump was showing another side of himself. A gentler one, less abrasive, more inclusive and humane.

In the wee hours of the morning, former high-profile Trump foes began their predictable capitulations. Billionaire Mark Cuban, who once praised Trump before he condemned him, Tweeted that the nation “needs to give President-Elect Trump a chance.”

This came after a harrowing and sometimes explicitly violent campaign. It came on a day where a man with a handgun and sign that read “FAGGOTS VOTE DEMOCRAT” sat outside a polling station in Spring, Texas, until police led him away.

It came a week after someone lit an African-American church in Mississippi ablaze, and spraypainted VOTE TRUMP on the wall. It came barely a month after everyone heard Trump brag about grabbing women by the genitals without asking.

Above all, it came after Trump rode a surging tide of xenophobia, racist and anti-Semitic dogwhistles and outright white nationalism to the country’s top office. David Duke, white supremacist, declared it among the most exciting nights of his life.

“Make no mistake about it,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”

All night, journalist Peter Beinart shared anti-Semitic Tweets he received from some Trump supporters. They were graphic and violent. They called him a “parasite,” and ordered him to get out of their country. This has been happening for months.

There is no “other side” of a man who courted that kind of bigotry, at least not one that matters. White supremacists do not flock at random. They hear their whistle, and answer it; when Trump pledged to ban Muslims and build a wall, they came.

Maybe he will change. But offering an olive branch at the easiest possible time — in the glow after the win, when no power is yet vested and no responsibility has set in — is not a sign of magnanimity. It is just a sign about who is not in the firing line.

On Tuesday night, roughly half of America learned just how many of their compatriots either actively hate them, or tolerate a voting alliance with those that do. Suddenly, it is considered unfashionable to say that. It doesn’t make it any less true.

Over the course of three days in Fargo, voters here spoke of trauma. They were not all Clinton voters; some were in her camp only reluctantly. Others supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, or else left their preference unstated.

But one by one, they described the campaign the same way people speak about trauma. They spoke of “retreating” from the race. Several mentioned feeling an innate need to “protect” themselves from their country’s own exercise of democracy.

When that is the dominant feeling for a significant swath of the electorate — even those who did not support Clinton directly — there is a problem. Elections can be divisive, and exhausting. They should not yield pain, and they should never be scary.

How the U.S. will move forward, I don’t know. There will be months to agonize over that question, to decide how to heal a nation so irreparably divided and broken. It cannot start with asking targets of abuse to forgive the man that emboldened it.

Soon, the sun will rise over Fargo. The road between here and Winnipeg feels longer than it did on Sunday, when I drove in. At the border, the guard paused before returning my passport. “Do you write your articles with a political bias?” he asked.

There didn’t seem to be a good answer to that question. I was sent here to watch this moment pass, and describe what I see; but how to explain that my work is by nature an extension of me? “Man, I’m just coming to see what it looks like,” I said.

The guard shrugged. “Well, have fun,” he said.

This is the nation of my parents’ birth. As a child, I doodled American flags in the margins of my binder. I learned all the words to the Star Spangled Banner, and then to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless The U.S.A. I dreamed of moving here someday.

Now, I am awake at 6 a.m., mind drifting through all that happened. Thinking of the voter in north Fargo, who was happy to tell me she loved Canada’s president. My legs feel like stone. There is an invisible string tied to my guts, tugging me home.

Oh Canada, this is what I hope that we do: I hope we stay true on the path that we’ve chosen. It is far from perfect, but we have not been so fully consumed by the dark nationalism that marches all over the world. Right now, that feels like hope.

There is much more to say, but it will have to wait. Keep a light on. It’s time for me to come home.

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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