By Blake McGill (Age 17, Easton, PA)
Ambivalent. This was the word I used to describe my feelings in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Driving through my suburban hometown in eastern Pennsylvania it was clear to me who would be declared the winner of our county come election night. Trump signs on Trump signs on Trumps signs lined sidewalks, and highways, and even multiple billboards.
My parents, who are both loyal Republicans, spent the months and weeks leading up to November 8th in fierce disagreement of what the ultimate outcome would be. Sure “The Donald” would take Northampton County, but the odds of him offsetting Hillary’s support in Philadelphia and Pittsburg to clinch Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes were slim if not laughable. My mother had put all of her faith into the real estate mogul. She was utterly convinced that the polls were wrong and that, in the end, the “silent majority” would prevail. Because my mom spends every night with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and a glass of chardonnay, my dad and I, naively, shrugged off her predictions as ignorant and lacking in evidentiary support.
Now, I would in no way like to give the perception that my father, former member of the Northampton County Republican Committee and lover of all things Ronald Reagan, was a supporter of Secretary Clinton. On the contrary, his beef with her ran far deeper than policy. He believed that if elected, in addition to failing to enact necessary change, she would probably spend the next 4-8 years under investigation. He once used the words “tragic figure” to describe her: inherently flawed and destined for failure. That being said, he almost voted for her.
After the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in which Donald Trump spoke of sexually assaulting women, my father decided it was the last straw. He would rather have 4 more years of Obama-esque policies than someone who disrespects over half of the U.S. population. Then just like clockwork, FBI Director James Comey writes a letter to Congress announcing that the FBI is reopening the investigation of Clinton’s emails. Maybe it was a reminder of his disillusionment with the Clintons and their seemingly endless scandals or what appeared to be a turning of the tide in favor of Trump, but my father had officially hopped back aboard the Trump Train, and this time he was the conductor. He still, however, was unconvinced that Trump could actually pull off what would be a historic win on all accounts.
On election day, both of my parents cast their ballots for Mr. Trump. Neither are racists, sexists, or bigots. Both yearn for change. I sat with them on election night as the votes came in. My mother donned a look of satisfaction, my father and I ones of shock and disbelief.
I was incredibly curious to hear how my much more liberal friends were reacting to the news that what was once a joke could possibly be a reality. These friends live across the country and, like myself, are heavily invested in American politics. For obvious reasons, they were upset. I guess I just didn’t realize how upset they would actually be. I, perhaps ignorantly, did not correctly measure the emotional importance this election had for many people, including for my friends. I tried to make light of the situation and offered my belief that everything was going to be fine. This was a mistake. I was used to being in the ideological minority and even being taken to task occasionally for my political leanings, but this was different. I was under attack, and while it eventually subsided and the night would end with all relationships still in tact, in those initial moments I felt the most ostracized I have in my life. I recognize that this is, in part, because I go to bed every night under a blanket of “white privilege” and political affiliation is really one of very few aspects about me in which I can be categorized as a minority, at least within my peer group. That being said, I could not for the life of me understand why my friends, with whom I have differed countless times before, were just now deciding that my perceptions were not only wholly inaccurate but incredibly dangerous.
Had I been eligible to vote, I honestly don’t know which button I would have pressed. Even on the night of the election, I never once expressed favor for the Republican presidential nominee. I did, however, have a much better understanding of why millions of Americans were casting their ballots for Trump given my parent’s decisions and the sentiments expressed in my hometown. They want change. They feel as though their voices are being ignored. They tire of the decreasing size of the middle class and the increasing size of our national debt.
I knew I would be unable to eloquently express the frustration of this now very important demographic of Americans. Many of us had moved from a group message to a Google Hangout, so I decided to bring my computer down to my dad and allow him to explain why he voted for Trump. The conversation, while initially awkward, blossomed into one of the most productive discussions I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. My friends calmly and respectfully asked my father an array of questions, challenging his views and allowing him to express many of the opinions he had not had the opportunity to share with those on the other side of the aisle. My friends conveyed their gratitude, and while days later many are still very upset, all went to sleep on November 8th feeling a little bit better than they had just hours before.
Several days have passed since the election heard ‘round the world, and many are still trying to come to terms with the shocking results. To those people, I would suggest hope: hope in the system, hope in our people, and hope in our new president-elect. I encourage people to open up dialogue between themselves and those who disagree with them. We, the American people, still hold the power. Whether you agree or disagree with the results of the election, we all still have the responsibility to hold our representatives accountable. It is their job to execute our will. The people are the fourth branch of government and we have our own set of checks and balances. Whether we like it or not, he is our president (or at least he will be soon). Let’s have faith and give him a chance.