Photo: Sam Wolff
Matt Koller jettisoned a Wall Street career in 2013 and began a life of extended traveling, writing, and photography. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.
Shocked, angered; disgusted. Right now, it’s easy to use these words. It’s easy to go on thinking that Donald Trump was propelled to the presidency on a platform of xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny, and a whole host of other nasty, brutish “isms”.
Enraged, saddened—broken. It’s easy to look at America right now, and feel that we are done; that our Great Experiment is over, and the heralding of a new, nuclear, age is nigh. It’s easy to sit around and stew in visceral disgust, questioning just how, how, how, we got where we are. There are many things that are easy to do right now, and for the time being we should indulge them.
But once we’re done wallowing in our own grief, mindlessly trying to wrap our heads around the fact that we just elected Donald Trump President of the United States, we need to do some things that will be more difficult. We need an honest reconciliation with ourselves as a country, in an effort to make sense of how our collective disenchantment with the political process got us here.
t’s clear that a large, electoral majority of the American populace felt ignored — that what the country lacks today is not a voice that will unite our people under the banner of Great American Exceptionalism, but a set of ears willing to listen to the concerns and plights of normal people. We don’t need someone who will fight for the everyday American; we need someone who will listen to the everyday American. Too much pressure is put on the President to be the voice of the people, and not enough pressure is put on any of us to listen to what the people have to say.
It’s easy to say that Red Beat Blue because our country wants to deny gays the right to marry, or believes that men should make more money than women. It’s easy to say that Red Beat Blue because we want the Mexicans out of here, and Syrian refugees turned away at our doorstep. It’s easy to say that Red Beat Blue because there was a clear-cut choice between “right” and “wrong” — between progressive social justice and regressive, selfish interests, and that Americans overwhelmingly opted for regressive, selfish interests. These things are easy to say.
Yet it’s difficult to consider that maybe, just maybe, there are a whole host of problems in America whose importance we’ve underestimated. Relatively speaking, I am a member of the moneyed, white elite, to which any realistic opportunity is available, and relatively speaking, these are the kinds of people I surround myself with: those with college degrees, deep intellects, and a thirst for knowledge about the world; progressive-minded individuals that truly care about feminism, gay rights, and the conflict in Syria. Those with aspirations that go far beyond the town in which they were born, and worldviews that take into account a plethora of global issues facing not just Americans, but the world at large. It’s difficult to think that maybe, just maybe, we are so intent on pushing forward our progressive social and global agenda (which, mind you, is still the way of the future), that we’ve failed to address the concerns of everyday Americans only interested in the problems in their hometown. I can’t honestly speak as to what these problems are, but I’m going to make an honest effort to find out as part of my personal reconciliation.
I’m an eternal optimist, and I refuse to believe that we elected a President based on a strict platform of xenophobia, bigotry, and misogyny. I refuse to believe that we, as a country, are capable of such shortsighted selfishness. Perhaps it’s naivety, but I want to believe that those who cast a vote for Donald Trump did so because he pledged to listen to their concerns. I want to believe that those who voted for Donald Trump did so not because they are full of hate, but because the establishment never earnestly listened to what they had to say, and Trump promised them exactly what they wanted to hear: down with the establishment.
I’m an eternal optimist, and I truly believe that if we take the time to listen, we’ll find that America is slightly less bigoted, and slightly less terrified of change than we might believe on this dark, shameful Wednesday. I truly believe that if we listen, we’ll find that people voted for Donald Trump because he pledged to address issues that are close to home for many Americans, and that issues that are close to home mean more than we realized. The language might have been crude, but the message was clear: that Trump cared more about local, immediate concerns than he did about global issues with far-reaching, albeit hard to grasp, ramifications. That speaks to people.
I want to believe that the results of the election will lead to better things for our country, even if it doesn’t seem that way right now. I want to believe that an outsider like Donald Trump will shatter the entrenched political establishment that so very many Americans, your correspondent included, loathe. I want to believe that Trump will be a harbinger of change — change that listens to the will of the people, rather than the monied interests of Wall Street, the Oil & Gas industry, and Corporate Lobbyists. At this moment it seems counterintuitive, but he is more likely than any single candidate, ever, to shatter the gridlock that plagues America politics. He is not a faithful member of the Republican Party, and has no obligation to toe the party line. Say what you will about him, but he’s his own man. Hopefully that works in our favor.
Regardless of how you feel, this is the new reality: a Trump Presidency. We can cry about it, or we can accept it for what it is, and move forward with that reality. I refuse to consider that he’ll actually follow through on building a wall between the US and Mexico, or throwing Hillary in jail, just as I refuse to believe that he’ll nominate a hardline archconservative justice to replace Antonin Scalia. I refuse to believe that he’s actually a diehard rightwing Republican, because he isn’t: he was a Democrat until 1987, a Republican from 1987-1999, a member of the Reform Party from 1999-2001, a Democrat from 2001-2009, a Republican from 2009-2011, an Independent from 2011-2012, and a Republican from 2012 until the present. He is an opportunist who rode a wave of populist discontent all the way to the Presidency, saying whatever it took to pander to a disillusioned electorate: most importantly, promising time and again that he would address the concerns of the voters assembled before him, practical implementation be damned. His sweeping proclamations are hardly entrenched dogma; they are empty promises made on the spot. I refuse to believe that these hardline, empty promises will become active policy.
Time and time again, Trump has shown that he is accountable to no one, and there is no reason to believe that he will suddenly hold himself accountable to these countless empty promises he made. I’m an eternal optimist, and I refuse to believe that this is the beginning of the end of America. I want to see this as an opportunity for an earnest, four-year discussion where we can honestly assess and address the concerns and needs of the American people, and hopefully put the two-party system six feet under.
We didn’t live in Reagan’s America, and we didn’t live in Clinton’s America. We didn’t live in Bush’s America, nor did we live in Obama’s America. This country always has been, and always will be, our own, so rest assured that we will not live in Trump’s America. It might be easy to lose sight of that fact today, but it’s up to folks like you and me to ensure that we don’t lose sight of what it means to be a Great American: tolerance and opportunity for all.