Though I have extensive experience in the matter, I have never warmed to being taught that I am in the minority. Often by wide measure. Tuesday night was, for me, tough medicine. I concede that I reel.
Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. That’s no easy sentence to write. I can’t grasp, now, or perhaps ever, what it means for a nation to move from Barack Obama to Trump. I’m not sure I’d call it evolution. But, then, I’m no scientist. I’m barely a lawyer.
President-elect Trump has revealed the deep, deep anger felt by great swaths of ordinary Americans at a politics, and at governments, that, they are convinced, ignore and abuse, and perhaps even despise them. The enraged include a lot of my extended family. Still, Nov. 8 was a jolt – even if it shouldn’t have been.
Trump also taught how sick-to-the-death folks are with poll-tested, pre-packaged, bloodless, robotic, say-one-thing-do-another politicians. His opponent, perhaps unsurprisingly, hadn’t yet received the memo. Still, a Trump presidency will likely prove to be an astonishingly expensive vehicle to convey such messages. What ensues may well wound millions of us acutely, especially the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, the most profoundly menaced and jeopardized. And that says nothing of the peril about to be launched on the world stage. The United States has never had a literal presidential demagogue. Who would now claim an American exceptionalism?
When I went to bed election night, it was clear Trump had won, Sen. Richard Burr had been re-elected, and, with what I understood to be 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Gov. Pat McCrory had a not insignificant lead over the attorney general. I recalled Abraham Lincoln’s plea to Gen. Montgomery Greigs during one of the bleakest moments of the Civil War: “The bottom is out of the tub, Meigs, what shall we do?” What shall we do?
The morning brought better news. Roy Cooper had apparently bested McCrory by fewer than 5,000 votes. I know that we’ll fight about this. Perhaps for some time. And I’m aware that, even still, veto-proof majorities were retained in both houses of the General Assembly.
Still, as my academic colleagues regularly tease, I am obsessed with the character and prospects of the people of the state of North Carolina. So as one Tar Heel, I am immensely grateful for the campaign Cooper and thousands of activists, partisans and engaged citizens mustered. He didn’t run the way I would have wanted. And I said so. But I’m guessing Cooper and his colleagues knew better.
Nobody likes a firebrand. (I read that somewhere.) And even if the victory required the awkward gift of McCrory’s eerie and quizzical embrace of HB2, at least now the bottom rung of the commonwealth won’t have the full gunnery of both the state and federal governments trained upon them. Thank God, literally, for small favors.
So I am not devoid of hope. But I’m not chock-a-block with sensible advice either. I know what my late friend and mentor, Dan Pollitt, would say – quit moaning, gird your loins, and get back in the fray. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but not every time it moves. And not at the speed of our choosing.
I have spent much of the last several months interviewing low-income black and Latino women who work long hours, often at more than one job, but still live at the edge of desperation in some of the most economically distressed neighborhoods of Charlotte. I’ve spoken frequently with impoverished white and African-American parents in Goldsboro who, despite full-time employment, feel trapped in housing projects so dangerous they can’t let their kids sit on the front porch or walk to the school bus. And I’ve sat at kitchen tables in 40-year-old mobile homes in Wilkes County so plagued by mold and heat it’s hard to believe people can sleep there – with Trump signs and Confederate flags proudly displayed.
I don’t claim to know the secret to bridging the chasm between these families. I do know they have more in common than you’d think, and Lyndon Johnson was right that “too many Americans live on the outskirts of hope.” I’ve also learned that each of them feels that their governments treats them like enemies and strangers and castoffs. And they’re angry. Making them central to the shared prospects of North Carolina lies at the heart of our threatened future.
Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.