A Vote For Hope

Many of us feel this week that, in the words of Aaron Sorkin, “hate has been given hope.” Emerging from this post-election frenzy, I want to offer some thoughts that have made me feel more hopeful today than I did yesterday.

What remains as unequivocally true today as it was before November 8?

Although the results of this election may have shocked the conscience of our country’s founders, they are not inconsistent with the design of democracy. This vibrant, rowdy, sometimes unruly process of democracy envisions wins and losses, new ideas, and even candidates that we never expected to rise to the fore.

People will also keep fighting for progress today as hard, if not harder, than they did before. For HLS students who were not pleased with the results of this election, we should seek to use our legal reasoning as a tool. Where individuals in our lives attempt to proffer the explanation “you’re just upset because you lost,” we have the tools to distinguish the rise of Trump – to explain why the election of this candidate is different, and transcends the typical concerns associated with elections as a competitive sport.

Also true is that we’re in a better position than 99% of the country to stop mourning and get to work. Big league. Having the “H” shield for protection is a privilege no matter where we came from before arriving at HLS. Like the Sorkins, we as students are “fairly insulated from the effects of a Trump presidency,” and thus are uniquely primed for resilience.

What remains upsetting?  

Some conversations that I’ve had in the wake of the election results have literally been iterations of “my dignity feels violated” to which the responses were “let’s just agree to disagree.”

This is an incredibly frustrating point at which to arrive within a conversation, because it seems to represent the very disregard of another’s humanity that has reared its ugly head in this election cycle; and I am not too proud to admit that this disregard of others’ humanity has been present across the political spectrum.

We all need to come forward in defense of truth and dignity and affirmatively assert that there are issues about which we must refuse to be neutral. On issues of “isms” and “phobias” that affect our fellow human citizens, we must reject the narrative that these are areas for a difference of opinion.

President Obama made efforts to console many in the nation by explaining that we are Americans first before being on either side of the aisle. But I’m going to say something that really shouldn’t be so controversial – that we’re humans before we’re Americans, and that we’ve allowed ourselves to prioritize certain social interests over recognizing each other’s humanity. Trump’s presidential campaign allowed well-meaning people to compartmentalize the social consequences of their choice by validating the notion that economic concerns trump a concern about the humanity of our fellow citizens. Whittling away the repercussions of this narrative is going to mean standing up to people we respect and explaining how they’ve crossed this line.

To the Trump supporters who say, “Racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. are awful… But what does that have to do with me?”

Consider this: You can’t be neutral on a moving train. I used this analogy prior to law school when I served as a panelist for a high school colloquium on race. The colloquium, first and foremost, was geared towards getting high school students to understand how racism is not just an “ism” that is advanced individually.

Americans love to see culpability in the framework of individual acts, which is convenient for avoiding cognitive dissonance at the end of the day. However, concerning social forces, this is simply not how culpability works. Electing into office the candidate who is supported by bigotry and intolerance allows those forces to gain traction. For anyone who thinks that they are not implicated by such intolerance because of the reason for their individual vote, I beg you to ask whether the vulnerable peoples who are in fear of their safety and livelihoods as of Wednesday morning are affected by your vote any less than the vote of someone who believes in the phobias and -isms you purport to denounce?

So what’s next for those who are disappointed?

Be brave enough to have difficult conversations and don’t be discouraged by discord. Focus on the people you love. In the words of James Baldwin, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

Don’t just commit to unity, for unity without truth only has the effect of silencing. Commit, instead, to the pursuit of legitimate truth and reconciliation for this country. Recognize the fallacy of attempting to build something strong on a compromised foundation.

Partake in serious efforts to rethink the efficacy of the electoral college. Although the liberal media was certainly misguided with its predictions, it was hardly wrong in that Clinton won the popular vote. What does this mean for future politics? And is this the system that represents true demokratia –  literally “people power” – when the popular vote points otherwise?

We’re a divided country? I hadn’t noticed…

Barring the occurrence of any major atrocity that happens under his watch, many of us may one day thank Donald Trump if this election pushes individuals who were disillusioned about how much was at stake until this week to fight for the people who have been calling for help for decades. In a country where we have failed to recognize how divided we are under the guise of color-blindness and unity, a Trump presidency may just push the realities of these divisions back to the surface where we can see them.

I’m talking about so-called “progressive” northern cities, for example, who are living with segregated school systems writ large. Obviously included in this picture are southern states, but to see the South as exceptional is somewhat misguided. I think we’ve readily allowed ourselves to lose sight of just how segregated are the communities in which many of us have come to live. Perhaps this complacency is because we are afraid to grapple with the insufficiency of the civil rights movement in effectuating the true vision of desegregation its proponents sought.

Moreover, in the aftermath of Trump’s ascendancy we can no longer ignore the question at hand: Will we be an America united or an America divided?

Looking at exit polls, peoples of color irrespective of gender overwhelmingly cast their vote against the winning candidate of this election. This means that voters of color cannot fight this battle alone. We can redouble efforts, increase voter turnout, and preach to the choir the best sermon they’ve ever heard. But the choir has already sung with full force, and while this effort helped to win the popular vote, it still ultimately lost what mattered.

Thus two options remain: start finding common ground or start preparing for the traction of movements like Calexit and Texit.[1] And it only seems fair to give finding common ground a damned good try first.

In considering the most effective vehicle for finding this common ground, we must remember that the Constitution’s charge was never to form a perfect union – only a more perfect one. We must heed the Declaration signers’ caution that “[a]ll experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” (emphasis added). But we must also allow ourselves the space for critique: for instance, I can only imagine those whom the signers were ostensibly comfortable with allowing to bear the suffering of these evils.

I don’t purport to have answers for the road ahead. But if many of us saw before Tuesday what made America already great, then I’m inclined to be audacious enough to maintain hope. To those for which this audacity remains: nobody ever promised us that the path would be easy, so Wednesday shouldn’t give us more reason than any other day to be deterred.


[1] We need not look further than our own Declaration of Independence to make sense of these movements: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.”

Tyra J. Walker

Tyra J. Walker is a member of theHarvard Law School Class of 2018.

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