Trump has been elected president.
This is a fact.
But it doesn’t mean that a significant portion of America hates Mexicans. It doesn’t mean that a significant portion of America hates women. And it certainly doesn’t mean that racism and xenophobia and sexism have triumphed.
It means – and it already has meant – that nearly half of all voters, the voters who chose Trump, are afraid. That they feel they aren’t represented. That there is indeed something wrong with the existing discourse in politics.
Like all voting blocs, the Trump vote is a non-monolithic coalition. I’m not entirely convinced by the hundreds of thinkpieces about “what Trump supporters really want” or by the numerous liberal speculations about class, but I do think that there is something there that matters and that is legitimate. I don’t know what Trump supporters “really want”, but I suspect that it would be easy to find out by asking them.
I don’t particularly want to think about Trump anymore or to debate about him, but I am happy for the people who feel validated by this.
I am happy that you all are represented by democracy. I am happy that you are able to vote for your interests and that you are finally represented on the national stage.
I am legitimately happy for you all.
And I would like for you to be graceful in victory.
But I am also sad and upset, and everyone already knows why. [Insert standard liberal rhetoric here about minorities.]
But there is one aspect of this that I don’t think anyone has addressed.
After the Revolution, the Articles of Confederation established a government, comprised completely of a legislature. There was no executive officer, no president, no single person in which authority was concentrated.
The Founding Fathers were afraid of tyranny. They knew to avoid power concentrated in a single person; they knew to check power and to avoid personality cults and to place their faith not in the ambiguity of men but in the solidity of law.
They knew not to trust those who held themselves as kings.
And it isn’t just tyranny and monarchy at stake here.
In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote of America as an “asylum for mankind”. James Madison wrote in favor of a separation of church and state because it meant that America could offer “asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion”. And for the first decades after independence, America was virtually free for (white) immigration.
No, the Founding Fathers weren’t by any means perfect.
But the aching truth in their ideas, the yearning-for-greatness and the commitment to freedom and democracy and a certain humanism, a theoretical care for the entire world-
I’d choose that over Trump any day.
Everyone I knew was upset by Trump’s election. They went around saying things like, “half of the country wants me to die” and “we can’t trust the media anymore; it lied to us” and “the country will be ruined”. The more moderate, rational people would go around saying things like, “come on, guys, there are good people as well as bad people!”. A few people burst into tears.
(These are not exaggerations. They are actual quotes.)
And their fear and their anger are real and valid. Trump is a bigot. He espouses policies that not only expand the reach of governmental violence, but which also materially hurt minorities on most axes. And I think that’s why my friends are afraid.
But we haven’t even lived a single day of his presidency. We haven’t seen how his policies will fare in the legislature; we haven’t seen what treaties he will make and break; and we haven’t seen which promises he will attempt to fulfill and which ones he will ignore.
Trump is a bigot, but he is also a liar. And extreme positions often cannot survive contact with the enemy of harsh reality. Yes, politicians often fulfill election promises, but since when has Trump been a politician? For these reasons, I predict that Trump’s policies will mostly fail in the establishment-dominated legislature and the establishment-dominated executive branch and the establishment-dominated government.
I suggest that we conserve our outrage for the real injustices that Trump will surely attempt to pass.
Most predictions about Trump’s failure have failed. So we should have a large prior against Trump failing.
But regression to the mean is a powerful force. I doubt that Trump will be too bad; he will be worse than is average for a president but not remarkably so.
Panicking is rarely a good idea. And demonstrating against the result of peaceful elections and chanting loudly in response to an election result is almost never a good idea. It erodes the culture of democracy and the legitimacy of our institutions. To oppose the results of an election is a coordination failure in extremes.
Instead, we should take this as an opportunity to oppose policies as they come, not to speculate in a fearful fashion or protest his election. Extreme, emotionally poignant speculations are rarely accurate.
Our democratic institutions are strong (and will be stronger if we refrain from protesting the electoral process). There are three hundred years of precedent and custom and limits. There are checks on power and protections on rights. There are laws and procedures and limits that Trump cannot subvert.
America will be fine. This is an anti-prediction, because it is completely unsurprising information that America will be fine. Things have been fine in the past and things will be fine in the future.
Taken as a whole, our people, our friends, the entirety of humanity- will mostly be fine. Not okay, not great- but fine.
[Edit: see also Scott Alexander’s article here]