How did we get here? Donald Trump and the New World Order
It has taken me 109 days to write my post-election narrative. It has taken me 109 days to reconcile the truth of our time with my own understanding of the world in which we now find ourselves. It’s been a long 109 days since the truth was sacrificed on the altar of liberty in service to a cause without coherence or a moral center.
In the nearly 1/3 of the calendar year since Donald John Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America, I haven’t come any closer to understanding why this happened. I’ve never considered myself a “conservative” in the traditional American political sense of the word. But I’ve always been for the conservation and protection of truth as the singularly most important pillar on which our democratic republic was founded.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working as a Republican political consultant. I’ve even received awards from both the party and from national publications in recognition for my efforts to elevate the branding, design, and advertising of my clients. I worked hard to deliver victories for candidates across this country, and to support grassroots campaigns that broaden the big tent I believed the party of Lincoln and George H.W. Bush to be. On November 8, 2016, I was proven wrong.
It has taken me 109 days to come to grips with this reality.
For the record, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I used to joke—years before 2016—that she was the best Republican candidate for president. I voted for truth. I voted for women’s rights. I voted for the smartest person in the room. I voted for LGBTIQ rights. I voted for a functioning understanding of how government actually works. Hillary was indeed a flawed candidate, but I’d much rather have a person who acknowledges her flaws and works to make the world a better place, rather than someone who just wants to see every institution destroyed, mostly because he doesn’t know how things actually work. I’d much rather have a president who understands the constitution, than someone who couldn’t recite the first sentence of it.
I am white privilege.
I grew up in a wealthy, mostly white, suburb of Washington D.C. My family was upper middle class, I went to Catholic school, and my family belonged to a country club. I lived the definition of white privilege. I never feared for my life from the cops, even when I was recklessly speeding, or being a drunk teenage asshole at a party. No one I knew growing up ever really had an experience altogether different from my own. When I left to attend college in New York City, that’s when things started to change.
While my family is from the American South—Alabama and Arkansas—I never really experienced anything culturally all that different from my life in Potomac, Maryland. I started my first business in high school, and I created my own universe of success and understanding. And, I only could have done that because I grew up rich and white.
“I have no first-person understanding of what it’s like to be a black man or a muslim in America.”
As my friend circle broadened to include a level of diversity of life experiences and cultural backgrounds, I began to see the world more for what it actually is than what I believed it to be. The white veil was coming undone.
In the 16-plus years since I first started college, I’ve worked to further understand the human experience and the human condition, as both an artist and a political consultant. I liberalized myself. I’ve lived in progressive cities in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve traveled four continents. I’ve never truly felt discriminated against in my own country, or by immigration officials. I am a “victim” of white privilege. I say victim here because I didn’t choose to be white. I didn’t choose to have the world automatically assume I’m not a terrorist or a criminal based on the color of skin or how I carry myself. As a result, I have no first-person understanding of what it’s like to be a black man or a Muslim in America. I’ve witnessed the silent discrimination brought upon people of color, but never really felt it directed towards me. This is white privilege.
This cultural ignorance is still a potent factor in America, especially in politics. Because, as we know well, white people vote. White people aren’t systematically discriminated against at the ballot box. White people still wield outsized power in all things involving government.
The perceived diminishing of white power is an undeniable driving force behind the success of Donald Trump both in the election, as well as in the actions of his government. A man so ill-informed and divorced from the actual factual reality of the vast majority of Americans is now wielding the levers of government. This, truly, is scary.
Every day of this administration I want to yell and scream.
Every. Damn. Day. Nothing about this is normal. Nothing about this is good. I had to go on a month-long news diet in December just so I could better function in my own life.
I’ve heard from the women in my family and my close friends who are utterly distraught at the very notion that a confessed serial rapist is now our president. I’ve experienced first hand how hate and discrimination have been empowered by the elevation of this man’s ideas to the highest elected office. Three days ago, I felt the sting of an anti-gay slur hurled towards me in fear, ignorance, and anger. I don’t know what prompted this individual to chime up with an unsolicited opinion. It’s not like I was rubbing my gayness on him — there’s a special rag for that.
“What are you looking at faggot?”
I hadn’t heard the word “faggot” thrown at me in anger since high school, so I was truly shocked when I heard it in the bathroom at the Birmingham, Alabama airport. Trust me, the last thing I want to do in a public bathroom is to interact with anyone, much less a portly middle-aged man in a camouflaged “Make America Great Again” hat. But, he scared me. I feared for my safety. He was projecting his own ignorance and fear when he saw a fit, well-dressed, well-groomed young man enter the bathroom. “What are you looking at faggot?” (Honestly, I was looking at my phone.)
I thought we were past this, better than that. But, I live in liberal San Francisco, California. Donald Trump proves that racism and hate have a new platform, and it’s spreading like a virus.
There may be hope yet for the GOP, but I’m not yet convinced.
On the day after election day, I had a conference call with a Republican client in preparation for a forthcoming campaign. On the call were consultants with whom I had not met, so I was moderately apprehensive about how the conversation would go.
I was exhausted from watching the election coverage the night before, and I just couldn’t hide my utter shock and displeasure at the decision the American people had made the day before. But, I was immediately heartened to hear from the people on the other side of the phone the same sense of disbelief and shame. Not all Republicans were with Trump before, and every day hence, fewer will be with him. There is hope, even if it's only a dim glimmer.
After election day, I wanted to write about how we as Americans can better learn from one another, not only about what motivated people to vote the way they did, but to gain a better cross-cultural understanding. With friends, I discussed an idea that’s been battering around in my head since November 9th. My idea was to create an organization that would act as a foreign exchange program, but designed to facilitate intra-American exchanges. Without a broad understanding of the full experience of American life, all of us — conservative, centrist and liberal — are left holding only part of the answer to our problems. For me, traveling the world has been the vehicle to a broader understanding of the human experience.
Empathy breeds understanding
Donald Trump lacks a fundamental ability to truly empathize. He may be operating with a room temperature IQ and an emotional intelligence (EQ) below zero. This is truly dangerous. I’ve been a never-Trumper since before that was a thing. I’ve watched a man hijack the party I’ve worked for, and I’ve seen people I once respected contort themselves in ways beyond understanding in order to hold on to their sliver of power. I’ve watched fact become fiction, and “alternative facts” become reality. This last one is the scariest to me.
To substantively delve into every insane or false utterance of our new president and his cohorts would require a book shelf’s worth of prose. It won’t simply be enough to “resist” this administration. An opposition without a vision or a coherent agenda will be relegated to the margins.
The Republican Party of 2017 has lost me in their willingness and fervent desire to compromise integrity for power. What is this faggot looking at, sir? Well, not a whole lot apparently. The “Make America Great Again” hat is the new Confederate flag, and this faggot is going to continue to make this country a better place.
What we who believe in the promise of a free and diverse America must do is to expand our own empathy. We must foster a truly productive understanding across political and cultural lines within our own country. We must share and tell stories. We must put down our phones and engage with our neighbors. We must travel more. We must be present. Empathy breeds understanding. Understanding how all of us together work to make our country great in our own way will prevent us from making the same mistake on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, as we did in 2016.