Opinion: Elegy for an imagined country

Donald Trump supporters
Donald Trump supporters raise their signs before a campaign rally on Monday in Manchester, N.H.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

Many of us have stories about last night: what we thought would happen, and how we gradually realized it wouldn’t. The broad features are remarkably similar: the puzzled text messages flooding in, confusion about whether the news networks were calling the states too early, the phone calls to our nearest and dearest, the social media trawl and the final stunned silence.

For nearly 18 months, Trump’s movement grew gradually, then exploded, but eventually, with the release of his infamous Access Hollywood tape, appeared less and less probable. Going into election night, the New York Times had Clinton with an 85% chance of winning the White House. Nate Silver had her at 71%.

Tuesday’s shocking election results were a cataclysmic moment in American life.

And it wasn’t just the election of Trump. It was the clean sweep that led to a Republican House and Republican Senate and to Trump’s anticipated appointment of hard-right Supreme Court justices.


53% of white women chose to vote for a man who had reliably and repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for them.

As the adage goes, when somebody tells you who they are, believe them. Trump isn’t the alt-right aberration that Democrats have written him off as, just as he isn’t the everyman rebel that Republicans have advertised him as. Eighty-nine percent of conservative voters are with Trump, or couldn’t be bothered to vote against him. This is what they believe.

This morning, President Obama stood in the White House Rose Garden and referred to him as President-elect Trump.

One of the most anxiety-inducing pieces of this moment is that, after more than a year of scrutiny, we still don’t know who Donald Trump is. He has no record of public service. He’s been a Republican and a Democrat. He’s been an absent father; he’s been a devoted one. He won’t tell us how he makes his money. Wednesday morning, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway shied away from his campaign promise to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s email records, hedging and then saying, “We need unity.” Trump’s a regular churchgoer; Trump’s agnostic. He’s a philanderer and an abortion foe. The only hope that progressives can cling to is that he’s consistently, repeatedly, radically lied about his beliefs and policies in pursuit of political power.


Duplicity would be a best-case scenario.

For Clinton supporters, #NeverTrumpers and human rights organizers, this is a particularly painful loss. There is no comfort to be drawn from the movement as the numbers come in. A smaller percentage of women backed Hillary Clinton than backed President Obama. Fifty-three percent  of white women, 4% of black women and 26% of Latina women voted for Trump.

Women of color will suffer doubly for the voting choices of white women. Trump is an intersectional bigot; he’s not merely sexist, but racist, xenophobic, anti-queer and ableist. He’s got the policies to match.

Progressives need to acknowledge that white women historically vote Republican and aren’t a reliable part of their voting bloc. Perhaps we expected them to show up for Clinton this time around because she repeatedly affirmed their rights and was poised to become the first female president. And yet: 53% of white women chose to vote for a man who had reliably and repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for them.

So we need to ask ourselves: Is it always the economy, stupid? If so, we certainly need to do a better job of explaining how the progressive vision benefits everyone — white women and men included. Trump promised income tax breaks and the removal of immigrants from the American workforce and fewer social welfare programs. Clinton had an economic program for all Americans, but one that sounded like sacrifice to those at the top, and wonky to those at the bottom.

She was always going to have a hard time speaking to a certain Trump voter: the white American who feels threatened by increasing ethnic diversity and a shrinking set of work opportunities. The fact is, the path for success of white Americans is now paved in silver, when it used to be paved in gold. (Of course many nonwhite Americans’ paths are unpaved.) But perhaps identity-based coalitions aren’t the route to electoral success progressives imagined they were in this election; it seems pollsters overestimated the extent to which white women were ready to forgo financial concerns in favor of identity affiliation with nonwhite women.

In the coming days, progressives will embrace our ongoing obligation to stand up to Trump’s cruel vision of America. In order to be an effective opposition, we must be as steady as he is mercurial. We are challenged to keep agitating for all the things we voted for when we voted for her. There is time for organization, and there is time for hope. But today is heartbreaking. There’s no sunnier way to put it.


Four months ago, I argued that if the Republican party platform didn’t disturb the American people more than which amateur-hour politico “wrote” Melania Trump’s convention speech, then Trump was the president we deserved. I stand by that.

Last night showed us that we can’t afford to seek refuge in illusions about who we are anymore. We are a country whose central artery is fear of the other. America is not special; it is humiliatingly similar to countries whose policies we’ve publicly derided. We are not protected; our security is not guaranteed. We deluded ourselves that the chips could not finally fall this way, that, in the words of Joan Didion, “lights would always turn green” as we marched forward. We mourn the loss of our imagined country, of our imagined morality and our imagined progressive coalition.

It remains in us, but it is not who we are.

Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to OpinionFollow her @velvetmelvis on Twitter.

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