Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2016 (1526 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The day after the United States elected Donald Trump president, my Facebook feed became inundated by people wondering how they were going to explain this to their children. Many of us were surprised by the win Tuesday, and many have spoken with concern about what will happen to those who are "different," who may be targeted by the new administration as he ascends to power, particularly with a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Here’s my take on what lessons can be learned from the Trump win.
First, democracy isn’t always fair, but it is the system we have. While electoral reform may be a topic of conversation in both countries, in both the United States and Canada democratic values are important. Trump was elected democratically. That’s sometimes a hard lesson to learn.
Now, there are those who pointed out Adolf Hitler was also elected democratically, which is true. It was only later that Germany fell into the hands of a dictatorship — after Hitler targeted communists and socialists to grab emergency powers.
That’s the second lesson we can learn from the Trump win. Democracy requires vigilance. It’s not something to be left up to government. It’s something we must take an active interest in safeguarding. While we take it for granted in both countries, there are still instances in which governments will attempt to encroach on the main tenets of democracy. Our job as citizens is to resist and protest these encroachments and to stand up for those who are targeted.
Another duty we have as citizens is to vote. The fact 50 per cent of Americans didn’t vote in the presidential election is appalling. Some would say neither candidate provided a reason to vote. That may be a fair assertion, but there were other third-party candidates on the presidential ballot. Not voting gives tacit approval to whoever won, in this case Trump.
What we also need to learn is misogyny still plays a major role in our society. Sure, the young women I have taught like to believe that they no longer need feminism; that they will be treated fairly in the workplace and that they aren’t disadvantaged in any way. Clinton’s loss tells us that isn’t true, particularly as she was pilloried for being too wooden, too unlikable.
Clinton was still called a bitch by many people in the United States, too uppity and too full of herself. She rankled the status quo. For sure, women’s lives have improved. As New Orleans Democrat Felicia Khan said in a talk she provided to a bunch of Canadians visiting the U.S. prior to the election — myself included — of course things have got better for women. We can vote, for one thing — and there are women being elected to various levels of government in numbers greater than before.
But the bottom line is: sexism still remains. The glass ceiling is being cracked by women’s heads who are pushed up against it, while they are evaluated by how they look and not by what they do. Telling our kids this means preparing for them to be angry about it and then doing something to change it.
Many are saying they can’t understand why a woman would vote for Trump, given his public record of misogyny and the growing number of rape accusations.
Here’s another tough lesson to learn, once and for all. Women aren’t believed when they say they’ve been raped, particularly if they make the accusation against a powerful man.
Women themselves sometimes have a hard time believing that, because if they do, then they have to admit their own moments of sexual vulnerability, when they were hugged just a bit too long by their husband’s best friend; when their boss lingered too long with his hand on the shoulder; when they woke up from a night on the town in a strange room; when they were frightened late at night walking to their car. Admitting men rape means admitting their own moments of sexual assault.
We also need to learn racism isn’t going away any time soon. In New Orleans, Cleveland and elsewhere, African-American workers were present at polling stations ready to seek injunctions should a person of colour be denied their legal right to vote.
In Canada, many were outraged by the changes to the Election Act that took away First Nations people’s ability to vote during the last federal election. This is systemic racism, and it’s alive and well on both sides of the border. As citizens, we need to stop pretending it isn’t.
For all of those, joking or not, who say they now want to come to Canada to escape the Trump regime, there’s another lesson to be learned. This, quite simply, is white privilege. For Canadians who are telling people to come up north, remember how upset some people were when Syrian refugees started to arrive in Canada? We have no problem welcoming white people from the United States, but for someone who’s brown, the porch light doesn’t seem to shine as bright. As for Americans wanting to come to Canada, enjoy that privilege. Poor minorities aren’t able to pull up stakes and move north just because a racist president is about to take power.
On election night, I stood in a room full of privileged white Republicans in Cleveland, gleefully celebrating while their candidates won both at the presidential level and down-ticket. After a while, I had to leave. Their joy was hard to take. I then went to the Democrats’ party where the mood was very subdued, and the demographic shifted to black, young and less affluent. I thought it was funny that the vote against the Clinton presidency had much to do with her association with elites, while Trump was seen as the man of the people, the downtrodden and the unheard.
That’s perhaps the final lesson from this election. In American politics, nothing is what it seems.
Shannon Sampert is the Winnipeg Free Press perspectives and politics editor. She was a guest of the U.S. State Department for 10 days as part of the International Visitor’s Leadership Program.