I am an American currently living in Indonesia, on the opposite side of the globe from my home country. I sent my absentee ballot in weeks ago, and on November 9th I woke up as people in the United States were still going to the polls, and I spent my morning and afternoon watching the numbers come in until eventually the new president-elect of the United States was announced.
I am a farm girl from rural Central New York, who studied English Education at a liberal arts college, and who has lived in Indonesia since graduating with my undergraduate degree, teaching English and engaging in what most people call “soft diplomacy.”
I am a mixed bag of backgrounds and experiences and I have used all of them in whatever ways I thought I was qualified to do. I wrote blog posts and slam poems about how I hope my experience here in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation would shape how people considered this election. I tried to reason with family members and friends from home over Facebook and in person while I was in the U.S. this summer (though New York State may have gone to Hillary, my county voted 57% Trump), because I know from growing up in these areas that it is those personal connections that help people to listen to new ideas, and I thought that maybe because I from there, people might listen to me. I posted long-form think pieces to my Facebook wall and sent critical videos to friends from college who were seeing a one-sided view of the people who raised me and in many ways created the social-justice oriented person I am today (my college education shaped it as well, but it cannot claim it in full as it would like to), because someone once told me the people with college degrees are more likely to read and listen to long texts.
And through it all, I listened. Though I have a slightly more complex background, I knew I could not rely merely on that to take the pulse of the nation. And so I read all the articles Facebook friends posted no matter how biased those articles were (on both sides), so that I could see where the far right and far left seemed to be standing. I read political theories and commentaries from all sorts of sources. I fact-checked. I talked to people. I read. I listened.
I shared and discussed what I had learned. I thought that by listening, asking questions, and trying to use the voice of reason on both sides, I was doing the right thing.
I cast my vote, and then waited for the rest of my country (or at least those who would turn out on election day), to do the same. And then I was told that in January, Donald Trump would become the new president of my country.
I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed, sad, and angry: throughout the election I clung to my stubborn optimism and insisted that Americans would make the right choice, the kind choice. That is what I told my friends here, who were horrified at this new side of the U.S. they didn’t really know existed before now. And then America allowed Donald Trump to become the president-elect.
There are a lot of reasons people have given for why Donald Trump was able to win. Here is mine: we didn’t listen.
If you voted for Trump, because you actually believe in the racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic vitriol that defined his campaign, I don’t really know what to say to you. Did you listen to anyone at all, ever?
If you voted for Trump because you are tired of a broken system which seems to fail almost all ordinary Americans, okay, I hear you. But did you not listen to the voices of the folks who are black, Latino/a, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQA*, etc. who were scared to leave their homes even before he was actually elected, and who are even more scared now that he is the president-elect? Don’t tell me that he didn’t commit all these atrocities as an individual (though he has committed enough of his own): the language of his campaign has had a powerful effect on the language and attitudes of even schoolchildren. He has given so many (dare I say all) of the poisonous -isms that are still in the waters of America a platform to stand on. If you knew all of this, then when you voted for Donald Trump, you said with your ballot that that was okay. If you didn’t know this, it is because you didn’t listen.
If you did not vote for Trump and you are now blaming “racist, rural, poor whites” for the reason he won, you are not listening to the exit polls, who tell us that those whose income is less than 50,000 a year were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton or a third party. If you did not vote for Trump and refuse to recognize the broken system that may have led some in desperation to do so, and instead insist on referring to them as “the deplorables,” you are not listening to a group that feels ignored and disenfranchised, no matter who they voted for. Is there racism and xenophobia imbedded into this particular brand of disenfranchisement? Are the people they are voting for probably not interested in their well-being? Yes and yes. But this is part of a greater classist system that has existed for far longer than this election, and calling people names is not the way to fix this system. If you continue to respond to this highly problematic population by painting them in one color and refusing to see them complexly, you are not listening.
If you voted third party, I understand that you want to be part of a system that allows more than two options, but this was not the time or the way to try to make that system a reality. I know you didn’t want to be “responsible” for letting someone you could not agree with become president. But in the end that’s not how this system allows your vote to work. You were told this, and you too did not listen to the real fears of minority groups and therefore allowed this man into office.
If you critique the third-party voters without also recognizing that the two-party system is messed up and people should have been able to vote that way without sacrificing the respectability of our country, you are also not listening.
If you did not vote because you were protesting an election wherein no one seemed to care about you, or because you felt that you had not truly viable options available to you, I am so sorry that you feel as hurt as you do. But the stakes were too high, and people were saying this, and you did not listen.
If you are treating those who did not vote as though they are the end of all democracy, if you are in any way criticizing the effect of their non-vote without also acknowledging their pain and realizing that, if you did vote, you most definitely voted for one of the reasons they feel this level of pain, then you are not listening.
If you voted for Clinton, like myself, we don’t get a free pass. If you were “with her” and you feel fully confident that she was absolutely the best person to be the next president of the United States, you also were not listening. There is no denying that Hilary had a resume of experience that made her much more qualified than any of the candidates. There is also no denying that, in the Trump vs. Clinton dichotomy, she appeared to a huge number of people to be the “lesser of two evils.” If you voted for her and did not note the ways in which she also, though to a much lesser degree, dehumanized parts of the American population, then you did not listen. If you do not recognize that she stood to leave several minority groups behind if she was elected, then you did not listen. If you do not see Hilary Clinton, as all of the candidates this election, as some level of problematic, then you did not listen.
I voted for Hillary Clinton. I did not do so because she was all I sought for in a candidate: to be honest, I am still sad that Bernie Sanders was not an option on my ballot, as I felt he might be able to bring about real changes to a broken system. I did not vote for her solely because I recognized that she was the least dangerous (even if she wasn’t completely harmless), to the minority groups I might not belong to but value and support, though I could not claim to have listened at all in this campaign if this did not factor in to how I cast my vote.
I voted for Hilary because along the way I began to notice that in many ways, Hilary Clinton listened too. She was criticized for having gone back and forth on issues, but it seemed as though this was her responding to the pulse of America, in the same way I tried to respond, though on a much smaller scale. I did not agree with Hilary on a lot of issues, and I disapproved of many of the ways she ran her campaign. But I came to believe that she might be a leader who listened, and I put my hope, and my vote, in that.
There are some who say that Donald Trump’s acceptance speech shows that he too can listen. I see far less evidence of that, but I pray that I am wrong.
The tale is not entirely bleak, and there are results of this election that give me hope for the future, and remind me why I still do love the place where I am from. There are now four women of color in the senate. Our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, Ilhan Omar, will represent Minnesota Hose District 60B. Tulsi Gabbard became the first person to use the Bhagavad Gita to swear into her role as a congresswoman. These small morsels lead me believe that not all is lost.
I won’t be one of those people who says that everything is going to be okay. I will be one of those people who says that we shouldn’t give up. I will be one of those people who says that now, more than ever, is a time for movement. It is a time to create change which will create a more understanding United States, one that is less divided not because we have agreed to follow one extreme or the other because it is easy, but because we have changed ourselves to be more empathetic. And to become more empathetic, we need to listen.
Of course, listening is where we need to start, but not not where we can stay forever, if we want to create real, productive change. In many ways, I feel that I listened too much and spoke too little during this election season: recognizing that I am a small individual with little influence, there are still things I would have done differently.
There are many ideas out there for what individuals can do, especially if you were hoping for a Hillary win. I do not know yet what the right move is, nor what my own personal next move will be. I need to re-take the pulse of America, now that it’s diet and exercise regimen has changed so drastically. I must also consider my unique position in living abroad, and how that affects what I can do. (For now, it means I do not have the privilege to sit back and reflect to the same degree that many other white young people at home can do. As a representative of America in a foreign country, I have to explain what happened to our friends who live across the world. It also means I cannot physically offer protection on public transport to those who feel most threatened in this post-Trump America.) I must consider what my own capacities are, and what I am actually capable of doing, and doing well, both right now, and in less than a year, when I will most likely return to the United States.
I will do my part. I will take action, and raise my voice, in the way that is most appropriate to who I am and my situation.
But first, I have some listening to do.
Note: I have tried to link, when possible, to pieces I have read or videos I have watched which I think better illustrate some of these points. Please click on these links. Listen.