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Believing in democracy is our only option

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It's 5:37 in the morning and I am sitting here, endlessly reading about the election as I sit in the common room and not even a second cup of coffee can energize me about the future of our fate. It's almost a week later and I still feel numb accepting Donald Trump as our president and am evermore frightened as biased, right wing cabinet selections are rolling in for his administration.

I'll admit, the buzz is back on campus, Wednesday morning's clouds have lifted, the PTSD many felt is improving, and conversations are starting to normalize about politics, but it is undeniable there is still widespread grief and despair about the election.

I’ve already accepted the reality that a xenophobic, racist and misogynist will become our future leader, (as the probability of Hillary Clinton being elected by the electoral college is slim to none), but I’m left with crippling hope that Trump’s weaknesses will be balanced out by his administration. He justifies his inexperience with promises to "surround [him]self with good people" and "really knows the smart people" but when the future of our administration is not yet complete, and already so skewed, I’m frightened.

As someone who advocates for environmental social justice on campus and intends on entering into an industry surrounding human rights, (as a political science, environmental science and policy major/minor and ethics certificate), I'm having a hard time taking a positive outlook on the next four years. How can I be invigorated for the future of our country when a climate change denier will now be the head of the EPA and former head of Breitbart News, a notoriously fringe right wing media source, will now be Trump's closest confidant as Chief of Staff? How can I possibly look at the direction of country without horror? (Or rather, without fear of a 2017 apocalypse and exaggerated melodramatic claims?)

But it's alright, everything's fine, I'm sure Myron Bell will do everything he can to reduce rising global temperatures since he already wants to invest in more funding; I doubt he will use it to "combat the nonsense put out by the environmental movement." And I'm hopeful Steven Bannon will work to protect women's rights too, since he already sees us "as just a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England!” (So shoutout to my 4 years of catholic school education in Rhode Island, thanks for enlightening with the means to become an outspoken feminist!)

So yeah it's alright, everything's fine, I'm confident Trump's administration will take a nuanced approach and work with the interest of the people in mind. It's not like Bell is financed by the coal industry or Bannon is known to be a relentless critic of illegal immigration and minorities. Bannon was never quoted for "supporting the KKK until he realized they smoked weed" and Bell's mugshot was never plastered on the walls of UN climate talks last year as "one of the seven climate criminals wanted for destroying our future."

And yeah, I'm sure Bell will discourage the president from dismantling Obama's Clean Power Plan and “canceling" the Paris Agreement and Bannon will prevent Trump from building a wall with Mexico. Trump's cabinet isn't complete yet, but I'm optimistic he will continue choosing great candidates like these men, as he already set an impressive precedent.

Alright, I'm sorry. I really am. I’ll stop my cynicism, and honestly, my apology is more to the country as a symbol; how I am deviating from nationalism more than anything else, but how can I stop myself from being so disenfranchised and ashamed of our country? How can I look at our future with optimism when everything I have learned thus far has led me to a dissenting opinion?

So here lays exactly my point. My education, all that I've learned in school; analyzing wealth inequality in my political science class, discussing media bias in my journalism course, determining what is objective morality in my ethics seminar, studying political economy and understanding the environment's inextricable links to the economy in my energy class—has shaped me to cultivate, and intensify my current views.

Only, it is what liberates me—my pursuit for knowledge, that also causes my inherent bias against the new leader of the free world.

As I take a step back and am forced to justify, understand and grapple with our nation's results, I'm realizing I am not the majority. The 18-24 demographic is only 15 percent of the election and less than half of the electorate has even pursued a college degree. As important as I thought Duke's votes would be in North Carolina, our small demographic still wasn't enough to turn the state blue.

I'm facing the reality that what matters to me, and many of the people I am surrounded with on a daily basis, is not necessarily what matters to most, and this oversight was a critical fault in my views for the election.

It's easy to forget, attending an extremely liberal and prestigious academic institution, a place where it is arguably taboo to even suggest supporting Trump's positions, that most people don't think like me or care about the same causes. I live in an arguably elitist bubble, surrounded by academics and peers that campaign for many of the same issues as I do, but can quickly forget the obvious fact that different policies affect people differently.

Just outside our fairytale, gothic style campus, 20 percent of the people of Durham are living under the poverty line—dealing with much different stresses than whether or not they will be able to finish a paper before midnight or if they can land a summer internship overseas. It makes sense that they might care less about social justice issues and more about finding an economic reform that will mobilize them from their suffering, finding inspiration in Trump's proposals for redemption.

I am trying to see the election from outside my impenetrable collegiate bubble—from the perspective of Trump's supporters; from all of those who felt powerless, "suffering economic and social dissolution" while I have the privilege of feeling empowered by my academic environment. It is ignorant for me to discredit "revolutionary change [as] needed" because these feelings of national decline, felt by the working class are clearly very real, just something I am lucky enough not to be faced with everyday.

However, I believe many of Trump's supporters were persuaded by a dark vision that is not a true picture of our nation. Trump won voters on the idea that we needed to be saved—that poverty, rejection, education and housing was horrible and "crime is at levels that nobody has seen."

In my 19 years of existence, I haven't found the same picture of reality to be true. I don't believe our country needs to "be made great again," we just need a leader to continue on the path already laid out for us. Crime is actually at its lowest rate in 45 years, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than natives, twice as likely to start businesses, initiatives and reforms have improved public schools and hospitals, and there has been steady gains in employment and wages.

But despite these improvements, our electorate preferred Trump's portrayal of the United States as dysfunctional and desperate, convinced by his sensationalized, simplistic claims and his anti-establishment ideology. Trump spoke to the forgotten ones, the white, middle class Americans in the rust belt who are typically expected to vote Democrat. His unexpected victory came from historically leaning Democrats that felt underrepresented, aligning with Trump’s philosophy for change rather than continuing Obama’s legacy where they clearly don’t feel served. Under Trump’s sentiment, our country is headed in a direction for the worst for these people—and they need him as as a savior.

I'm not here to discredit this vision of reality, but rather, am using it to come to grips with the election. I’m forced to recognize the plurality of American's realities. I must go forward believing our democracy was served in this election, as the core of our system is "public policies equally shared among citizens," and not just outspoken, progressive and privileged college students, like myself, who think they know what is best. The democracy is comprised of varying levels of interests, intensities and preferences, and they don't all need to be as passionate about positions, or even as educated.

I must trust in the fact that our democratic system is a representation of what the majority wants, and that what the majority believes is best, is what is best for our country. As much as it pains me to say this, the majority believes Donald Trump is best for our country and I am forced to only hope, restricted by my limited worldview, that indeed, our newly elected president is what is best for our country.

Yet while we must accept this fate, we also must continue our obligation as engaged citizens to hold the government and their actions accountable going forward. Donald Trump is not our newly elected dictator, he might make laws I don't like, (or just attempt to obliterate contraceptive rights and environmental protections entirely), but "the law is no protection" and "whether they are carried out...depends on the general temper in the country."

I have to trust Orwell's sentiment in "Freedom of the Park," that we have the power for change, within the electorate and citizens' response to Trump's policies going forward, by educating them on these issues, if I want the possibility of a hopeful future. 

Sheridan Wilbur is a Trinity sophomore.

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