Reconstruction in the Age of Trump

The United States of America voted, and the country’s 45th President will be Donald J. Trump.

Throughout the gory, gruesome, and seemingly never-ending primaries and general election, each side insulted the other. Various times. Aggressively and belligerently. In the days after the election, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, it seems incredibly difficult to follow through with our nation’s historic, respectable, and peaceful transition of power. How can the country reconstruct itself after the civil war that was the 2016 election cycle?

As a proper Millennial, I check my various social media accounts multiple times daily. I see what my “friends” are up to and read about current events. What I witnessed on November 9 during my routine scrolls was hate, ignorance, and false hope. The animus towards President-elect Trump and his supporters was unprecedented – worse than it seemed during the election. I found this ironic, given what Secretary Clinton gracefully espoused in her concession speech earlier that morning. She said that we, all Americans, owe Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead,” and that “our constitutional democracy demands our participation . . . all the time.”

The relentless hate I saw the day after the election was aimed at Trump supporters. People expressed “disgust”, a “lack of hope”, an unwillingness to engage in meaningful conversation with a group that consists of nearly half of American voters. How can we expect to move the nation forward without engaging (or worse, actively alienating) 47.5% of the electorate? How can we bridge the divide if we are ignorant as to the views of others? How can we reconstruct if we continue to promote the hate we are trying to overcome? In order to be “Stronger Together”, we need to first actually come together.

Millennials suffer from a generation-specific dilemma that comes from substantial dependence on social media. Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein described it best when he said Facebook encourages users to “choose and share stories containing messages they accept, and to neglect those they reject.” This leads to the formation of “homogeneous, polarized clusters,” as social scientist Michela Del Vicario explained in a 2015 study.

By editorializing their news feeds, young people refuse to accept, listen to, or even debate ideas or views that are unlike their own. And, as a consequence, they experience an extreme form of group-think, enclosing themselves in a vacuum of like-minded individuals.

This is not a purely academic or theoretical phenomenon – half of the posts I read on November 9 ended with a variation of “and if you disagree, feel free to block me from your feed. I probably blocked you already as well.”

I understand the need to block a certain few, specific people. But systematically blocking and avoiding people with whose views you disagree fosters the very hatred and ignorance we as the next generation of American leaders should be trying to avoid.

In school we are taught the importance of tolerance and diversity; we learn about the melting pot that is the United States. We teach our children that the reason we are a world power and one of the most innovative countries in the world is because of the heterogeneity of our populace, and the freedom for all Americans to believe in what they choose to believe and participate in progressive (little ‘p’) national discourse.

It is time to practice what we preach. It is time to experience, listen, debate, construct, and peacefully argue about substantive ideas that will bring the United States forward. It is time to reconstruct, show the world what our country can accomplish together, and come back stronger than ever.

Sometimes it takes a seemingly earth-shattering event, like the upset we witnessed on election night, to bring us to reflect and regroup as a nation. If we cast aside our hateful rhetoric, propagate knowledge and curiosity instead of ignorance, and actively attempt to engage with all Americans – no matter their political beliefs or voting record, skin color or sexual orientation, or religion or background – we will come out of this reconstruction period with fresh, enlightened, and innovative ideas, and as one united nation.

Izaak Lustgarten is a 1L.

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