I never thought I would be writing the words, Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States. I failed to envision it. And that’s what it comes down to. Those of us who opposed Trump and his brand of divisive demagoguery failed to envision the possibility that he might actually win, because in our minds, it wasn’t possible.
We failed to imagine that people would vote for him in significant numbers, nor could we understand why anyone with any intelligence might consider him fit for high office and support his candidacy, because these things, to us, were unimaginable.
And we failed to remember that people—people who feel (rightly or not) that their rightful place at the table has been stolen and the undeserving are eating their lunch, people who feel (rightly or not) the pain of diminishment and marginalization, and people who feel (rightly or not) that the only way to reclaim their place and restore their glory is to wrest it away, violently if necessary, from those they believe have usurped it—we failed to remember what history has taught us: that people like this are uniquely vulnerable to the most dangerous type of man—the man who believes his own lies. And in doing so, we became that man—lying to ourselves so skillfully and believing our reassuring fictions so thoroughly—that we failed to see, much less address, the urgency of the threat.
We thought that we had finally driven a stake through the heart of the monster, but instead we became the monster—those of us who supported Trump and those of us who failed to take him seriously enough to stop him.
You see, Donald Trump is not the monster in our midst. We can’t blame him for what he channeled. We can’t fault him for the foulness of the stream from which he drank. We can’t hold him responsible for the violence and hatred he so easily incited. He didn’t create these things. They already, unfortunately, live in us. He simply reached out and touched them and drew an electric charge from their dangerous undercurrent, then jolted the country with its force. His source of power isn’t new; it’s as old as the hills—a flow that has always been there.
No, it is not Trump but the people who so eagerly elected him (as well as those of us who quietly allowed him to win), who must confront the monster’s face in the mirror. A twisted face that embraced divisiveness with a smirk, encouraged prejudice with a wink, and mocked difference with a snicker. Trump merely put on a mask that people recognized and said, “I’m ugly just like you,” and people with ugliness lurking in their hearts saw themselves in him and him in themselves and cast their votes accordingly. Beauty lives in these people, too. And grace. And goodness. But beauty wasn’t what they were shown. Grace isn’t what was modeled for them. And goodness was absent from the disgraceful, disturbingly entertaining circus of this election. It’s hard to rise above our basest selves when a figure who commands the national stage descends so low. And yet, he wasn’t dragging us down, but only meeting us, sadly, where we were. And while Clinton, rightly, was held to the high standards of a professional politician and “normal” candidate, the media treated Trump from the start as an aberration, a joke, a funky outlier instead of the familiar face of intolerance and hate that history has time and again shown us, and in doing so enabled him to become whatever he wanted and allowed him to assume whatever shape his supporters desired. The media totally missed it. Trump was, and is, of course, a true politician, a master of the game. In what is surely a supreme journalistic irony, the editorials spoke truth, while the “fact-based” articles devolved into opinion.
Looking at last night’s results with this morning’s clear eyes, I realize that the big, bold, all caps headlines have it wrong. This election was not a surprise or an upset, a shock or a stunner. It was entirely within the realm of the expected. We the people were naïve to believe that a majority of America was better than this outcome. Some Americans are, but many more still aren’t. Trump’s victory and Clinton’s defeat remind us that only in rare moments do we find the courage to exceed ourselves, to transcend our fallible human nature and reach the summit instead of pausing to rest on the plateau. Yesterday was not one of those moments. But we must have faith that there are more of them to come. We must believe that we will once again display our unlimited capacity for true greatness. We must remember that we can be the change, be the love, and be the face of the nation we want to see in the mirror. We must persevere in the fight do what’s right, and we must never, ever, ever give up. Because the monster can never, ever, ever win.