It’s taken a while to digest what happened November 8, 2016 when America went to the polls. As the dust continues to settle in the surprising aftermath, it’s become clear America held not one election, but two.
In one election we chose between candidates and policies. In the second election, we chose between values that define who we are and how we will treat each other. Both count big time.
The first election involved making a national choice on policy direction for our country. This election pitted a set of Democratic policies on healthcare, trade, the economy, immigration and other issues against a Republican alternative. In this election, American voters were once again deeply divided. A majority of states (though not a majority of voters) chose the Republican alternative. According to the rules of the electoral game by which we all agreed to play, the Republicans won. They won control of the White House, both houses of Congress, and a majority of the state governorships and legislatures.
This is the genius and glory of our democracy. Whether you agree or disagree with the victors on policy decisions, we all agree they get to govern.
In this first election, large numbers of Americans registered their unhappiness with the status quo. They have seen their jobs migrate oversees, the middle class lose ground, and ISIS and other terrorist organizations conduct atrocities with seeming impunity. Voters rendered a verdict. The current policies, painted in their eyes with a Democratic brush, have failed them. They want a change. And they got one. A big one. Now we get to see what the Republicans will do when they have to govern and not just say no.
But America held a second election. At the same time that we voted on policies and leaders, we voted on values. I’m not talking about the values of trade protectionism or immigration. I’m talking about who we are as a people and how we agree to treat each other. Donald Trump publicly attacked, denigrated, and bullied women, Muslims, Mexicans, and countless others. He openly embraced racism, sexism and diversity intolerance at a level not seen in an American leader for a half century or more. In the face of this conduct, enough voters said this is OK or doesn’t matter to make him president.
This is now the tragedy and shame of our country.
Already we see the repercussions of this second election. Suddenly children in school openly mock and bully other children just because they are different from them. Hate graffiti appeared overnight. White men publicly insult, offend and threaten women and people of color. Some even do so proudly declaring, “Welcome to Trump’s America!”
Unlike the first election, the outcome of the second election has not yet been determined. How we conduct ourselves in the days, months and years ahead will determine this critical outcome. I call upon the newly elected Republican leaders to denounce, in the harshest and clearest terms, all acts of sexism, racism, and bullying. I call upon every one of us to stand up to anyone who acts in such an un-American way. We have fought too long and hard for civil rights for all and an end to the oppression of women to allow any backsliding now.
Every one of us needs to cast our vote again and again in this second election. We do so in how we respond when we witness an act of bullying, sexism or racism. We do so when we stand up to the perpetrator, individually and collectively. If you see something, say something. Better yet, do something. Make it clear who will win this second election: all of the American people and our most deeply cherished American values.