In the wake of this week’s election results (and it really does seem like a literal wake), the American people experience at this moment an unprecedented and unsettling division. There are calls for revolution and for resolution, for peaceful protest and property damage, for faithless electors and for faith in the decision made by the citizens of our great nation. These are indeed trying times, when no one knows the truth from lies. This Tuesday, I too was shocked and uncomprehending, but it is important that as we move forward we create a compelling narrative to explain all that has happened since the cycle began in 2015. This means addressing all of the arguments circulating on social media, and that is what I will do here.
One of the most common things I’ve been seeing on Facebook is something along these lines: “I am a Muslim/Woman of color/LGBT+ community member, and I no longer feel safe in my own country. If you voted for Donald Trump, please unfriend/unfollow me right now so I don’t have to deal with your hate in my life.” The other side of the argument is: “I voted for Trump, but I am not a racist and I do not endorse racism. Don’t associate me with the people who voted for Trump and are racists and terrible people, because I do not associate with them. It is wrong to vilify someone for their political opinion, no matter how much you may disagree with it, and I request we agree to disagree and do our best to be accepting of President Trump.”
That argument is like saying “I support racism, but I’m not a racist.” Trump represents racism. His policies openly discriminate against specific races, religions, and creeds, which is the literal definition of racism, and if you support him you support his policies. If you voted for him, you believe his policies are better than Hillary’s. Since these policies are clearly racist, you’ve supported racism over something that is not racist. I don’t think it takes a huge leap to infer that you are a racist, or at the very least apathetic toward racism. You definitely can’t claim to be strongly against it, because if you unequivocally condemned racism you wouldn’t have voted for Trump, and the fact that minorities live in a country that is not strongly against racism is rightly terrifying for them.
You also can’t say you’re not associated with the hateful people that support Trump. By voting for him, you have associated yourself with them. Your tacit approval of everything Trump stands for coincides with their explicit approval of Trump. You can’t say you only approve of half of his policies, because he stands for all of them, and if he did have to implement only half how would you know which half he would choose? Moreover, you cannot say you’re uninvolved. The KKK would not be holding celebratory marches in North Carolina if Hillary Clinton had won this election, and you are part of the reason she lost.
Which brings me to my next point: Hillary did win this election; not in the electoral college, which is what counts, but she won the popular vote. Because of this, people are going around saying that the electoral college should use its power to elect Hillary instead of Trump.
This is not a wholly unrealistic outcome. If Trump fails to disavow hate and division, and if he does not retract the inflammatory statements he has made, America may by December be in such a total state of disarray that Republican electors (who are chosen by the party leaders that happen to not be very fond of Trump) may cast their votes instead for Hillary or Mike Pence. This is one of the reasons the electoral college was founded: to prevent a totally unacceptable candidate from being elected. It is well known that the Founding Fathers did not trust the American people completely, and installed such safeguards in case the citizens made a stupid decision. The question is, is it worth invoking this failsafe?
The answer is, it depends. Doing so would be at best an ex-post-facto reversion to the popular vote as a mandate and at worst a simple coup d’état. Generally, coups are considered to be bad things, but there are certain circumstances in which they are permissible. For example, if the Germans in the 1930s had organized a coup against the Nazi government, the world would be a much better place right now. Trump certainly has the potential to be as impactful as a second Hitler, or even worse if he does something foolish with nuclear weapons that Hitler thankfully never had access to, but we can’t tell until the time comes whether that will be the case. By then, it will likely be too late. Similarly, Trump’s positions on climate change have the potential to ruin the entire world in the future. Although he can’t back out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump can authorize a number of provisions that would accelerate global warming, and has already said he intends to deregulate the coal industry.
So the essential question here is, is it worth risking a coup d’état and civil war in order to prevent Trump from possibly annihilating the world? There is no simple answer to that question. It would not be subverting democracy, since a majority did not vote for Trump, but it would nevertheless set a very dangerous precedent unless the electoral college was immediately abolished afterwards. At the same time, if the electors can be convinced that Trump poses a large enough danger that they should deny him the presidency, then he probably does. In my opinion, if the electoral college does vote for Hillary, it should be regarded as legitimate, not only because the purpose of the electoral college was to remove influence from the people, but because without the electoral college Trump would have lost. Therefore, its decision must be wholeheartedly endorsed for Trump to have a claim to victory, regardless of what that decision may be.
The final point that I would like to address is the notion that Democrats should rally behind Trump and cooperate with Republicans for the next four years. Are Republicans so shameless to suggest that we should rally behind their policies, represented in a misogynist, racist, and xenophobe, when they would not even consider the slightest compromise with President Obama – who is none of those things – for eight years? If Republicans can’t see eye-to-eye with Obama, why should Democrats attempt to do the same with Trump, who not even Republicans think is a good choice? Do not expect Democrats to accept the man so readily. If he turns out to be a decent person and a good leader, then we’ll talk. In the meantime, don’t tell us to shut up. We’ve tolerated Republican discourse about Obama being a Muslim terrorist that was born in Kenya for years, and now you have to do the same. On the other hand, violent protests are clearly and unequivocally wrong. We won’t have much of a moral high ground in coming years if we start vandalizing property now.
However, we as a people must be prepared for the outcome. Above all, if Trump does prove to be an obvious and existential threat to the United States or to the world – for example, if he starts trying to register Muslims on some kind of religious registry as he has previously said he would do – we must be prepared to march on Washington. We must be prepared to defend ourselves from assault, whether that means changing our late-night destinations or carrying around pepper spray in a handbag. We must be willing to accept a good president, if Trump turns out to be one. But we must also be willing to fight for our rights, and for what is right, no matter the consequences.