St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community

St. Olaf College

Oles on the Election

Coming to Terms With Our Nation’s Divide

By Erik Berthelsen November 12, 2016

Originally published on the Star Tribune Blog.

It has been a tough week coming to terms with Tuesday’s election results. While there has been no shortage of outrageous and terrifying current events in my lifetime, none has been so personally devastating as this. Mass shootings and police brutality and terrorist attacks all represent the violence of a few, or a different group. The election of a man that has preached divide, resentment, and intolerance struck me harder not because Trump would be President, but because it meant that almost 50% of American voters thought this was a better course for our country than we are on. It is easy for me to distance myself from individuals with malicious intent, but far more difficult to come to terms with such deep-seeded mistrust from so many of our own people. I felt like I had been betrayed – that every progressive success and bit of social equality achieved in the past eight years had been overwritten in one night.

While I am surrounded by a generally left-leaning population, I did not consider myself oblivious to the general feelings of the nation. I had taken every legislation passed by the Obama administration as proof that our country was becoming more tolerant, more progressive, more unified on controversial issues. In my mind, the people were leading this movement and the government was simply following along, writing it into law. The results on Tuesday showed me otherwise. They show a deep divide in the country, that many people would rather see a return to the past than pressing onward. This was certainly a wake-up call for traditional politics. Trump was able to win because he appealed strongly to a crowd who felt their voices were not heard and they turned out in droves to ensure that his was the vision of America that would drive the next four years.

I read an article that referred to Trump as rural America’s brick through the window of our elites and city-dwellers. There is a feeling that our government targets only cities for growth and small towns feel neglected. In recent years there has been an even greater trend toward urbanization as factory jobs are outsourced, innovation and economies of scale drive out the small-time farmer, and low-price superstores like Walmart replace local business. Many towns have seen this type of decline and see the promise of jobs as their number one priority. Without jobs, their communities will not hold together. Trump appealed to these people in a way that Clinton, with her focus on the environment, social justice, and equality, could not.

For many Trump supporters, his promise to Make America Great Again struck a chord with their wish to reinvigorate their own communities and hark back to a time when unskilled labor was valued. This feeling, not Trump’s words of hate, was what appealed to the country on a large scale. What drew out voters en masse to elect a man with no clear experience was specifically that: he was outside of the political system that they saw as ignoring their needs, or even silencing them by dismissing their opinions as invalid. I personally have been guilty this election of believing that any Trump voter must be as bigoted as their candidate appears to be. While I disagree with their choice, this election, they made their voice heard loud and clear.

I am terrified that Trump will follow through on many of his claims, separating families of immigrants, taking away healthcare from those who are unable to afford it, and further alienating Muslims, refugees, and the LGBT community among the many “others” he laid out in his campaign. It is crucial that concerned citizens work in every way we can to ensure that these groups are taken care of. President Obama and Secretary Clinton stressed that we must stand behind President-Elect Trump and recognize the legitimacy of the election’s results. The people have spoken, and this election more than any in recent history has revealed a huge divide. As Hillary’s supporters fought to ensure that the voices and needs of less powerful groups were heard, they must now recognize that this issue extends to Trump’s supporters as well.

Certainly there is time for grieving this week, and by no means am I attempting to legitimize any wrongdoing on Trump’s part in this race or as our future leader; any speech or policy that is hateful should be criticized and fought. However, the key as we seek to move forward as a nation is to recognize that all people need to be heard. Including all voices in the democratic process by understanding every group’s unmet needs can help prevent such drastic resentment and division, and help start the healing that our country so greatly needs.