I know why I feel so gutted by a Trump win. Because I feel responsible.
I’m an educated, employed, agnostic, white female living in Brooklyn, New York, a radically diverse city within a blue state. And when my dad — who lives in my home(swing) state of Pennsylvania — said he was voting for Trump, I effectively chose to stop talking to him. Our last real conversation in August about the election revolved around Trump's business acumen. He wanted someone in office that had business experience; I simply couldn't understand how bankruptcies and fraud accusations didn't accentuate Trump's business ineptitude.
So what did I do to support Hillary? I bought a fashion-y Hillary T-shirt. I called my mom a lot. I got really angry and disgusted by the misogynistic vitriol and got "grl pwr" permanently inked on my arm. I trusted the polls that predicted a Hillary win. I tweeted my opinions during the political debates to the teeny tiny echo chamber of the like-minded. And ultimately, I voted for Hillary in my neighborhood precinct, which is a 10-minute walk from Hillary's campaign headquarters, surrounded by women in pantsuits wearing "nasty woman" t-shirts and pearls. I didn’t let anything pop my bubble of optimism.
I assumed this country would vote the first woman into office because of course it was time for a woman to lead. Because I couldn’t fathom anyone voting for a candidate who mocked the disabled, called Mexicans rapists, and boasted about sexual assault, or a vice-presidential candidate that has repeatedly voted against equal pay and sees the ability to discriminate against LGBT people as a protection of his freedom.
What did I not do? I didn't get on a bus and go to Pennsylvania to campaign. I didn't give money to Hillary. And I didn’t call my dad.
I didn't feel the need to have a conversation with him because I assumed his vote would simply be rendered innocuous. I didn’t want to face the possibility that my dad was racist or blind to the social consequences of a Trump victory. And I didn't want to hear his opinion. Which is utterly inexcusable considering how much of social progress depends on simple conversations. The fact that he — a man with three daughters and a gay son — was willing to cast a vote in favor of Trump should've been a dire signal.
My father is a mostly retired lawyer who spent three decades teaching law in Pittsburgh. He has said he previously voted for Obama, but he voted with the majority of his neighbors in northwestern Pennsylvania last week because he wants change.
In our post-election conversations, his version of change is mostly fiscal. He is terrified by the dire economic straits of the nation, and doesn't believe another Democratic president will be good for our $13 trillion debt. He doesn't think that open trade is economically positive. He doesn't want his federal tax dollars to go toward supporting post-secondary education.
He didn't want to cast a vote for another Bush or Clinton, full stop. He supports H-1B immigration in principle, but not illegal immigration. He believed in Trump's promise to "drain the swamp." He understood why I think it’s dangerous that the Roe v. Wade decision is even in play, but agrees with the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling (i.e. a private company doesn’t need to pay for insurance for contraception on the basis of religion). He doesn't think the most extreme promises of the campaign will come to bear. Which is why, when I told him how scared I am, he said, "It'll be ok."
The thing is, I love my dad. And when we talk, I think he hears me. But our single votes are swayed by polarizing considerations. To me, change means gay marriage is federally mandated, along with paid maternity leave of at least 12 weeks. I don’t believe government has any say in women’s right to choose, full stop. I desperately want my federal tax dollars to go to universal health care and community college. It means I simply and unequivocally reject a candidate who panders to a racist electorate.
Because of the world I live in, I thought most people agreed with me. While I grew up in Pennsylvania, my home county of Allegheny (where my mom still lives) went to Hillary by a 16% margin. I graduated from a public university in North Carolina, the same state where Klansmen were on parade last Friday, but my alma mater's campus is located in Orange County where Hillary won by more than 50%.
In fact, it seemed so obvious that Trump can't bring back steel to Pennsylvania, and that even trying to do so would plunge the state's economy further into instability, that I didn't give credence to the opinions and power of the millions of people that attended his rallies in places like Hershey and Scranton. But these are people who felt moved by Trump's message and voted out of self-interest.
I tricked myself into thinking that I could empathize with the majority of the people in those states, whose lives I have only driven through.
I cried watching Hillary give her concession speech, as her husband, whose personal transgressions were lobbed against her repeatedly and effectively, stood in the camera's frame. These were tears of anger. (How dare we as a nation allow the concession of the most qualified candidate, who may ultimately have earned more popular votes than any candidate in history?) They were tears of fear and self-pity. (Did she really lose because we are a racist and misogynistic republic?) But, overwhelmingly, they were tears of embarrassment. It's not that I didn't do enough, it's that I did next to nothing.
While it's nice to live in a time when the majority of my country votes for a candidate that stands for my ideals, it's not enough. It's not enough to wait until a disparity in my own family, and an unexpected outcome, forces me to confront the difference between voting for my ideals and advocating for them. I may not agree with my father’s vote, but I take responsibility for not listening and not taking the risk to challenge it.