(I’m giving myself room for one angry lament today.)
Today we have a headcount.
As many of us—most of us, in fact—have been shocked over the last 18 months at the petulant incivility of Donald Trump, the hardest part has been trying to understand why someone would support a man like him.
Now at least we have a sense of the scope of the problem.
I knew that my country had a race problem.
I knew that women in this country had a legitimate complaint about the way they were treated.
I knew there was a simmering level of hatred toward those who were perceived to be threats to our society: gays, Muslims, people who wanted access to health care.
I knew that too many had disconnected the nostalgia for our immigrant parents and grandparents from the immigrant who lives next door.
I knew that too many of my fellow Americans were bitter, fearful, angry people.
I just never knew how many, until now. It looks like the final count will settle at right about 60 million. I hope I never lose the feeling of being stunned by that number.
There are, as I see it, three main categories of Americans who voted for Donald Trump.
The first group truly believes in his rhetoric and vision for America. They are afraid and angry. They rail at a system they don’t understand, but from which they have benefitted immensely. They don’t like anyone who isn’t like them. They match their hatred of Islam only with their ignorance of its principles. The men among them think they are entitled to grab the genitalia of women with impunity.
As strange as it is to say, I can live with knowing that this group exists. I always figured that they were out there, and I didn’t care as long as they weren’t in the majority. It’s not the Trump True Believers I loathe right now—that’s reserved to the other two groups.
Because the decisive balance of Trump’s support came from Americans who either slavishly voted their party line over their conscience, or who hated Hillary Clinton so much that even Donald Trump seemed acceptable.
This was never a contest over policy, it was a referendum on decency, and 60 million of you failed.
If you have daughters, may you face them with embarrassment and regret, as you have now given men in this country—or at least the President—permission to greet them in the most appalling ways.
If you’re raising sons, I’m curious to know just what exactly you will teach them about what it means to be a man.
If you have gay friends or neighbors, may you fumble for words to explain your choice, and not break eye contact until you have absorbed their pain and suspicion of you.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Muslim friend, may you have the courage to ask any number of questions you should have asked before you cast your vote.
Still, as a historian, I have hope.
This country survived the Civil War and Reconstruction. It came through the Depression and the Second World War and fought its way through the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. When our democracy seemed fragile, as during the Vietnam War and the Richard Nixon and even the Bill Clinton scandals, we pulled together and found new ways to live as Americans.
All of that seems like a quaint and distant memory today, though I still believe we can do better.
There’s a lot that is broken about our country—racism, sexism, homophobia, and the abandonment of our own working class come to mind. But we’ve had bigger problems than those, and we’ve had bigger problems than Donald Trump and his 60 millions. Now is the time to lick wounds, love our neighbors, regroup, and peacefully claim back the country we thought we had.
At least we know the scope of the task before us.
Today we have a headcount.