I am a teacher. I teach math to future elementary teachers. And I sometimes find myself telling a class how disappointed I am with their work on a test or a project. I don’t mean I’m disappointed in all of them. Just enough of them to make my grading experience unpleasant.
And in the weeks that followed that peculiar and dispiriting presidential election we just had, I find myself in the same mood.
I thought I’d be depressed. (Well, there’s that, too.) I thought I’d be scared and sickened. I find to my surprise that I am mostly just pissed off, and not at whom you might expect.
Frankly, American voters, I am very disappointed. Not with all of you, not even with a majority of you, but with about sixty million of you who saw to it that we will have as president for the next four years a real estate flim flam man who believes nothing he says and is demonstrably a liar, a reality TV star who plays the part of a big money mogul (but who has underperformed the market over the last forty years), a bad boss who brags about his skill at molesting women—well, you know, him.
The aforementioned president-elect is so stuck in his narcissistic rich kid self that I can hardly blame him for being him. All he wanted to do was parlay a respectable performance in, say, Iowa or New Hampshire into a seat at the table when Republicans sat down to iron out a tax plan. It was just business. He failed to fail, however, and now he’s considering whom to appoint as Secretary of State: Mitt Romney (who hates him and is not shy about it) or Rudy Giuliani (who is a certifiably insane paranoid). It’s not the Pres-elect’s fault. Oh no, American swing-state voter, worried about Clinton’s emails (remember those? At all?) or just imagining that we needed to do something different. Well, we did. Thanks a lot.
Which American voter? Well…
Again, I know there isn’t a monolithic American voter. As I’ve noted, the P-e, Mr. Donald J. Trump, did not even win a plurality of the popular vote; Hillary Clinton did. (And no, DJ, there were not millions of illegal voters. There never have been. Liar.) Oh, there were lots of different kinds of voters, and I feel different ways about all of them.
1. Swing-state swing voters. But you, swing-state Reagan democrat, I’m really talking to you. You did something stupid, and we’ll be living with that mess, unable even to start cleaning it up, for four years. You thought Mr. T’s business acumen would help us fight trade wars, and his bombastic style would be cheering. No, his business acumen is the sort of thing that makes things worse for everyone but him, as a cursory examination of his business history shows. And his bombastic style is likely to result in something worse than bombast. Did you think he was going to scare the terrorists? Oh, no, sweet pea. He’s going to scare off allies and help recruit terrorists.
And it’s your fault. And I am extremely ticked off at you.
You can’t blame Russian hackers: they just fed you misinformation. You can’t blame NAFTA. You can’t blame Monica Lewinsky. You certainly can’t blame Obama. Believe me, he’s ticked off at you too. Just imagine George Washington succeeded by Joe McCarthy. Or Ronald McDonald.
Other voters I feel a little less angry with: well, a little.
2. Conservative evangelical Christians and gun enthusiasts. I feel kind of bad for you guys. I heard multiple people say at one point or another in the past few months that they have to vote for the Republican candidate, since he’s the only pro-lifer in the race. (That’s not quite accurate, but in a winner-take-all system, it’s close.) We all wanted to say, him, a pro-lifer? Well, they say back, he’s the best we have. He claims to be pro-life. Similarly, NRA enthusiasts felt that, absent a surge by Gary Johnson, the GOP candidate was their only choice.
I feel bad for you guys, I really do. You were blackmailed. You know Mr. Donald J. Trump is no pro-lifer. He just forced himself to say he was so that you would be forced to vote for him. You know Donald isn’t a great gun enthusiast. He was for gun control and abortion rights until he thought about running for office. Heck, he didn’t even vote until he thought about running for office.
But you had to vote for him, because he had you by the hairs that are notable for their shortness. And now you have a serial adulterer with a sleazy family and who knows what all hidden in his unreleased tax returns as president. And so do we all. Maybe you should rethink that single-issue-voter concept, huh?
3. Bernie or Bust! To be fair, nearly everyone I know in this category—I teach college, so I know a lot of these—relented by election day and went for Clinton. But the 1% of the electorate who went with Jill Stein, whose credentials were at least as thin as those of Gary “Where’s Aleppo?” Johnson: you probably decided Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. For Mr. T. Because you didn’t even listen to Bernie. Thanks a lot. And thank you for sparing us the whole discussion about how Bernie would have done better.
And now we get to the people I really do feel bad for.
4. Pantsuit Nation and the kids. Many, many people were enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton. I know scores of women and men who were seriously excited for the first woman president. And I, who was a Sanders guy in the primaries, found myself warming to the Lady in White as I got to know her. I have two boys, and they were bummed out Wednesday morning. I can only imagine what it was like to explain to a ten-year-old girl that Hillary was not going to be president, that yet again we would not have a woman president.
5. The basket of deportables. I’m not inclined to paranoia about the new administration, but it’s certainly understandable if Muslim American citizens fear pogrom, or if Latinos, even those here legally, fear deportation. We’ve already seen giddy Trump supporters celebrating by beating up gays and firebombing mosques. All the vulnerable populations—LGBTQ Nation, Latinos/as, Muslims, Blacks, natives, the disabled, the list goes on—benefit from the open arms of the shared America that was the hallmark of both Clintons and of Obama, and face exclusion at the very least by the victory of a nearly pure white, dead straight political movement.
6. The American system. The last twenty years—marked by Republican utter resistance to Bill Clinton and to Barack Obama, culminating in an unprecedented year-long Supreme Court vacancy as the Republicans in the Senate chose to un-act on Obama’s final High Court nomination—have certainly put some strain on our federal political system. The Court was supposed to be non-political; the Electoral College was supposed to assure the choice of a wise and careful statesman; Congress was supposed to be the place where compromise was forced upon disparate interests and geographic centers.
And meanwhile, gerrymandering has made most of the House seats safe for one party or the other, and at the same time has enshrined a GOP advantage despite the fact that persistently more votes are cast for Democratic House candidates than for Republican ones.
So instead, the Court is split into liberals and conservatives, the Electoral College obstructs the clear will of the people, and Congress is where bright ideas go to die. And the only way forward seems to be revolutionary: a candidate who can transcend politics and unite opposing views, a Court made up of appointees who come from a nonpartisan process, and an apportionment method that does not allow party majorities in state legislatures to skew the votes of their citizens to benefit themselves and their contributors.
At some point, the demographic changes in the country will break the floor under the Republican party, but the assumptions about the political system—gerrymandering, obstruction, and the clever bit of wisdom than all is fair in politics—will all still be there.
As will the low bar you have now set for who is qualified to be President of the United States of America.
And that, American voter, is why I am giving you the hairy eyeball. In case you wondered.