It is time to do all the good you can. My reflection on a turning point in American politics.

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What else could I use other than a photo with Lady Liberty herself?

I need to preface this with clarifying that I am a cryer. If you have met my husband, you can only imagine how that would confound his analytical, rational brain. Whilst he confronts a problem head on and carefully weighs his response, I am far more likely to lose the plot, cry and occasionally throw a spoon… I cry when there is a cute ad on television, or a happy story about a puppy, I cry when I am angry, sad, or happy.

So with that noted, I do not think it takes much imagination to guess how election night played out in our house. Oh, did I rage, throw a spoon, make grandiose statements, and then cry. The next day, I cried a bit more and even today I got close to shedding a few more tears. On the flip side, Ashby represented a calmer reaction. I do not think he will mind me saying that he did not vote for either Trump or Clinton (on a policy basis rather than any personality aspects), and he is calmly waiting to see what happens before making judgement. I am less pragmatic.

The reaction in our house I think plays out some of the themes that are seen in the bigger picture of America’s reaction to the election. The divide between those who are (probably quite sensibly) waiting to see how this plays out, and those of us who are concerned about the sky falling tomorrow. This includes swing voters who have given Trump the benefit of the doubt. I live in a massive urban centre, that predominantly voted Democrat. For the most part, I engage with media outlets that see the world the same way, have interacted with people who share my views, and whilst I have tried to understand the other side, I have not been able to shake my anger enough to truly say I see where they are coming from. All of these aspects led into the tears I have shed for the future of this country and reflect the problems that have led to the split in American political discourse.

Honestly, my life here is pretty insular (a result of not being able to work while I wait for my immigration stuff to be sorted, and an introverted nature which sees me more likely to get lost in the fictional world than reality sometimes), and I have actually actively avoided political discussions with strangers. The reasons for this are multiple, but predominantly it is because I have very strong feelings but I do not feel it is my place to argue with Americans about how they feel regarding the state of the nation. I have struggled to separate rational discussion with a desire to shake people who I think are misguided. As a visitor, who has observed this country from some distance for many years, I still feel I need more time here to really get to the heart of the issues. To tell someone I think they are wrong, when I have yet to walk in their shoes, does not sit well with me and yet I cannot separate my contempt for what I hear with a rational appreciation for why it is being said. Perhaps this is a poor reflection on me, but I believe that in knowing one’s own weaknesses you gain strength over time. Try as I might, I cannot yet truly get into the headspace of someone who would vote Trump and as such I stand back. For me, this has been an ongoing internal battle, and thus I have removed myself from political debate for the time being.

However, while I choose not to debate I have been an active observer. My husband loves little more than a nitty gritty political discussion, and has a skill in getting to the heart of the issue. It is that rational, thoughtful brain of his. This has led to meeting some interesting characters as we crossed the US earlier this year. I have not argued, but I have listened to the views of people who I know will have voted for Trump. From a woman in Colorado Springs who was so angry about how easy it is to immigrate to America (she has clearly never seen the process first hand about how complicated it is, even when you are married to an American), to a man in Dallas who wanted a change from the horrors he believed the Obama administration had inflicted on his America. These were people on the ground, who would never have voted for a continuation of the status quo. In contrast, we chatted to a man when we visited the Arkansas State Capitol. He was a Republican who had worked with Mike Huckabee and was certain there was no chance that Trump would win. Even within a broader Republican base, the differences between those within the political system and those on the ground were stark.

That is where the pundits got it wrong ultimately. It is where I got it wrong. I have been convinced for many years that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. This was before she announced her run, and certainly before we saw who the Republicans would put up against her. I was confident on election night that I had called it correctly and the early data supported that. Her policies resonated with me, her fighting temperament and her commitment to doing good in the world meant a lot to me, and I believed that the time was right for a woman to take on the job. The polls were close, but the path for a Trump victory was so narrow I believed that the Clinton camp would succeed.

When the early results came in, I remained optimistic. From previous election nights, I knew the advantage usually went to the Republicans and then as urban centres came on board the Democrats came back into play. But the swing did not come. The anxiety started creeping up till I realised that it was done. This was not going to be our night.

Instead, it was the night of a large number of people in this country who feel overlooked. Their feelings are as real as mine. They are looking at a life where they feel they are worse off than their parents were. Where their country does not look like it used to. Politicians are easy to blame and in many cases it is a fair response. I believe Obama has been a great president, and I do think history will look at his administration as a good one. However, my beliefs are shaped as a left leaning New Zealander. We will see what future generations say, but maybe I am wrong.

Trump won for a host of reasons, he tapped into a part of America that feels they have been left behind. A vote for him was, for the most part, a vote against the status quo. I would argue that given his vagueness and sweeping statements, few could have truly voted for him. They are voting for their projections of what they hope an outsider can do (just as I am reacting based on my projections on what I fear he may do). It remains to be seen how his administration will play out. In most likelihood it will result in him either being impeached for something, or he will end up being a shadow of the man he was as he campaigned. His sweeping ideas are for the most part unrealistic and certainly unconstitutional. I suspect in two years the Democrats will take back congress and the government will stall again. It just remains to be seen what will happen in the next two years.

In the meantime I feel it is more prudent for me to take heart from the message of the Clinton campaign. This is not about conciliation, because I believe that what has happened is wrong and a move in a dangerous direction. I think that, whilst there is fairness in giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, the Democrats who are responsible for working as the opposition must now buckle down and fight harder than ever to make their voices heard. I often heard Clinton speak the words of her mother: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as you can.” So for me, that is my new guiding light. In a time where fear had a victory, I want to fight back on the side of hope.

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8 thoughts on “It is time to do all the good you can. My reflection on a turning point in American politics.

  1. I am shocked and horrified too, but I think it’s given us a big lesson about really caring for everyone – not just people “like us”. I think the piece from the Guardian that I shared on facebook this morning (Naomi Klein) expresses this. It happened with Brexit, now Trump, so what is the message for us in New Zealand? Apart from headlines about homelessness, housing crisis, vulnerable children etc, how far do we really understand the problems brought about by a global economic regime that we (those who “think the same way I do”) have benefitted from for so long? I don’t have any answers – yet – but I feel it’s time for those of us in the “left-leaning”, financially secure demographic to start looking at what we can do to bring about the changes we say we want for everyone.

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  2. Good article Anna. I hope you now follow your own advice and start your fight back. You may not be ‘an American’ but I think you are far more educated, well read and better observer than most Americans, so please don’t stay quiet anymore. I also want to add that although you think a majority of trump supporters were for him because they wanted change from the current system this is not how the rest of the world and American people of different races, gays, environmentalists and many women feel and a lot of the hate crimes going on towards these minorities prove, that ‘change’ was not the only reason people voted trump. Like NZ did a while ago ‘vote for change’ blindly without thinking about whether that change was positive or negative, if this is the case for a lot of Americans then please get out there and discuss what exactly their ‘change’ might now look like and whether that is something they want to be proud of… I know I wouldn’t be.

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    1. You are correct that there are people who voted for him because they were racist, misogynistic, homophobic and angry that America has moved beyond the 1950s. But to reduce all of his supporters to that, well it’s too easy. There was a sizeable Latino vote, women voted for him, the so-called educated voted for him. These people read widely too – they just read different publications, they think different ways. More than ever I feel that the first thing those on the left need to do, is to get out of our bubbles and actually begin to understand why there is such a split. Both sides need to get away from data and theorising on what drives the opposition, and begin to learn how to heal this country. Perhaps the horrors of a Trump presidency may be the catalyst for true change? Time will tell.

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  3. Great article Anna. I can see your passion shining through your words. It is a bizarre presidential choice. He seems more like a marketing character than an actual person to me. I can’t get my head around it either. In what soulless world would this man be a good choice of leader? Many of the Americans I work with were in tears when it was announced. It was like they were mourning their country… or maybe it was just their idea of their country.

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  4. hello Anna and Ashby, thanks for your blog post Anna, and for the reporting of Ashby’s reasoned approach. You and the USA are going through a similar period of incomprehension that came to us in the UK after the EU referendum vote – and you have identified the problem, that ‘we’ left-leaning, Guardian reading, kind hearted, well educated, fit and healthy, financially secure or able to be…do not understand the much greater number of people we have never met who are not in that bubble. Do all the good you can on a local level, light a candle, eat cake…

    lots of love Jillian

    >

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