It started off as a joke. For many, it’s turned into a ghoulish nightmare. The reality star businessman with no political experience has ridden a train of xenophobia, racism, and misogyny all of the way to the Oval Office. Donald Trump, a man who threatens to imprison anyone who opposes him, is now next in line for the presidency of the United States of America.
Scrolling through my social media feeds; you would think that no one saw this coming. Things were going to be close, but Clinton was going to win. It was certain. The voting, a formality. But try as we might to poll, graph and measure, the political game has always been imprecise at best, and this imprecision can only have been amplified by the echo chambers we lock ourselves within online.
Muffling a lion’s roar with a heavy steel door does nothing to stop the noise. You may not be able to hear it anymore, but purposeful ignorance doesn’t equate to actual problem solving. Months go by, and you forget the power of what’s behind the door. You can’t see or hear how it’s evolved. It may have disappeared. It may have become a monster.
Early on in the Trump campaign, the liberal cohort started to build the boxes in which they’d spend the next 18 months. Trump supporters were unfollowed or unfriended wherever and whenever they made themselves known. Conservative voices were silenced by way of the mute button, and conservative media was written off as a glorified circus act. Trump piñatas were sold like voodoo effigies and Saturday Night Live skits turned hateful acts into laughable moments.
Throughout the primaries, Trump was liberal comic relief. He wouldn’t make it through, so there wasn’t much to worry about. For conservatives, the tone grew serious much earlier on. Whereas liberal voters and voices could not fathom from where Trump had grown, conservatives were fed by the very same base. They were not laughing, and we missed the cue.
It was only a few months ago, in late August 2016, that Malcolm Gladwell was publicly undressed for suggesting that Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin had been ineffective as satire and may have actually strengthened the real Palin’s moment in the political spotlight. As Palin has long since dropped out of view, it’s an easy example to forget. A spot-on Tina Fey in glasses and a skirt suit playing the down home Alaskan politician was SNL ratings gold, but it too was seen from within a liberal viewing box. Palin was defanged, her risky suggestions were turned into hokey one-liners, and she flew up the Republican flagpole while Democrats worked on their “Tina Fey as Sarah Palin” Halloween costumes. The liberal community’s enthusiastic use of political satire, Gladwell argued, didn’t do anything to solve the Palin problem. It only muffled the lion’s roar for sensitive liberal ears. Then the McCain-Palin ticket lost, and her example was forgotten.
Perhaps Palin was the proving ground for this new sort of political game. Like Trump, she tapped into a group, rurally-based white people with little to no college, that big-L liberals have a way of forgetting. Maybe if she’d been taken off of the Republican leash, she would have ended up where Trump is today. Flagrantly rejecting traditional party expectations, Trump has been able to trod ground that Palin only got to look at over the corral McCain had built for her.
Just as Palin was practice for a new sort of politician, her campaign was practice for willful liberal ignorance in the age of social media. Anyone in support was unfollowed, unfriended, and effectively silenced, consumption was restricted to sources more commonly associated with humor, and a serious situation was transformed into the mildly irritating sounds of a nearby freeway. Today, less than 24 hours after Donald J. Trump was elected the next president of the United States of America, this all seems eerily familiar.
Steel doors swung wide and boxes ripped open, the Democratic Party and liberal community have been sent spinning. What had seemed a silly satire almost too easy to make fun of has, beyond the safe spaces created for liberal consumption, become boiling cauldrons of civil unrest. The laughs garnered through Trump-flavored jokes now have a bitter, sickening aftertaste.
Elected and in line, the narrative has shifted to one of exodus. Searches for Canadian immigration policies skyrocketed as the election forecasts flipped to be in favor of Trump. As his train has pulled into the station, Liberals are looking for a way out. I can see the draw. As a dual citizen with France, I have spent more than a handful of minutes considering a possible exit plan, but the National Front and Marine Le Pen wouldn’t be much of an upgrade, and I’m not one for running.
To run is to create a new box, to slam another steel door, and to once again decide to close oneself off to the realities of the political climate not just in America, but worldwide. People are mad and they deserve to be pissed off. The solutions they are trying to employ may make zero sense to the liberal left, and the ways in which they express their frustration may be cringe-worthy, but they have every right to want more for themselves than bad jobs in rough towns with depressed economies. They feel forgotten and like they haven’t been heard. A man arrived who told them he was willing to listen, and we muffled him as well.
The problems America faces are real, and the frustrations of the millions of men and women who voted for a Trump presidency are fair. People deserve more than dead-ends, and the hateful ideologies that have been stewing in America’s post-industrial heartland aren’t going to be solved from inside of an echo chamber or off in another country. So running may be an option, but I choose to listen, and I choose to work.