The night of Tuesday, Nov. 8, I expected to see students enthusiastically celebrating a momentous victory for American women. I expected spirits to be unusually high after an arduous election season. I expected to watch perhaps the most controversial, but undeniably the most politically prominent, female figure in U.S. political history shatter the ultimate glass ceiling. What I witnessed was a drastically different sight: hoards of people screaming “primally” in the center of the quad, intermittently chanting, “fuck Donald Trump”; fellow students, many of whose livelihoods will be seriously threatened come Jan. 20, staring blankly at their computer screens, or else with tears running down their faces. As the news of Trump’s triumph began to sink in, the “glass ceiling” that feminist leaders have been urging us to break since the late ’70s began to feel more like a concrete ceiling.
However, I would argue that it’s about time we– as feminists, as young voters and as a nation–felt the true weight of the oppression that persists in the U.S. I’m not saying there are benefits to a Trump presidency; I won’t even claim this to be a silver lining, because there isn’t one. But the Democratic Party has grown complacent with the seemingly leftward trend in social and political progress, and–although it shouldn’t have taken a flagrantly discriminatory, socially regressive egomaniac winning a national election to open our eyes–we can’t change that now.
Clinton spelled out the ways in which Trump would set back progress decades for women. Most Liberals–and many Conservatives–can by now rattle off a long list of misogynist acts: his continual appearance-based judgments of women; his insistence that sexual assault within the military is only to be expected; most horrifically, his alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl. Many of these offenses, however, are not specific to Trumpism. It is crucial for the U.S. to address the ways in which it is, and always has been, a breeding ground for misogyny.
In some states, insurers and employers are still permitted to refuse to comply with the birth control provision instated as part of Obamacare, therefore denying women access to affordable contraception (Think Progress, “How Some States are Rolling Back the Clock to a Time Before Roe v. Wade,” 01.22.13). Lawmakers continue to push back against the progress made toward reproductive freedom in the 1970s, “slowly passing abortion restrictions, shutting down women’s health clinics, targeting abortion providers, and inching the country backwards” (Think Progress). While the U.S. seemed to be working toward deconstructing a system that disproportionately put non-white and low-income women at risk, current policymakers are steadily reinforcing these historical divides.
Although the Left has undeniably taken action against anti-choice politicians and activists, it has done little to dispel the myth that Americans are increasingly in favor of reproductive rights; in fact, it has arguably perpetuated such misconceptions. While it is true that many Conservatives have given up on the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, this indicates not an acceptance of reproductive freedom, but merely a different approach to the restriction of basic human rights: Rolling Stone articulates, “Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant” (Rolling Stone, “The Stealth War on Abortion: How the Tea Party and Christian Right are Eviscerating Rights,” 01.15.2014).
President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights Nancy Northup explains, “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front” (Rolling Stone). This strategy is perhaps more threatening to women than attempting to undo Roe v. Wade, which would be met with great opposition. Admittedly, Liberals are far from oblivious to these measures; however, public outrage has centered on extreme measures. Meanwhile, as the Democratic Party continues to highlight blatant legal infringements, in most states, “the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business” (Rolling Stone). The rise of “PC culture” has in many ways served to legitimize these instances of extreme Conservatism. What started as a social movement intended to promote respect and acceptance of varying identities often, in practice, suppresses arguments against Right-wing politics.
In the wake of Trump’s victory, there has been a rush to shift the blame of his impending presidency off the backs of certain pockets of his supporters. While it is critical to understand the logic behind his demographic–specifically white women, recent college graduates and the working class– there is no excuse to dismiss the inherent misogyny and racism of any demographic of voters along gender, race, class and educational lines. This attempt to bridge the gap is undoubtedly well-intentioned, and yet, “In the rush to be radically empathetic, and reckon with another’s disaffection, a different kind of normalization occurs: We validate an identity politics that is often rooted in denying other people’s right to the same” (The New Yorker, “What Normalization Means,” 11.13.2016).
Although it is important to respect differences of opinion, there is a line between hearing Right-wing voices, and using them to justify the perpetuation of racism and other systems of oppressions. We often uphold the Obama administration as proof that America is now “colorblind” and PC culture frequently contributes to this delusion. Not only is declaring oneself or one’s nation “colorblind” inherently racist for obvious reasons, but it glazes over the grim truth: Obama’s presidency has only strengthened the resolve of Conservatives–who see this as a threat to the structure of white supremacy–to reclaim their territory.
While most Liberals would be–and were–outraged and disgusted by this unabashed display of racism, many of the same people believe, on some level, that racism is not an issue that every American must confront. A country built on white supremacy cannot continue to ignore an issue that is deeply rooted in our national identity.
As uncomfortable as white Americans may be with discussions of racism–and the rise of PC culture, if nothing else, has made it abundantly clear that this is the case–it is crucial to continue to have these conversations, albeit better informed and more inclusive of minority voices. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike are at risk of “further legitimis[ing] Trump’s white nationalist narrative by turning a blind eye to the structural racism and misogyny that swept him to victory” (Newstatesman, “Make no Mistake – Donald Trump’s Victory Represents a Racist ‘Whitelash,’” 11.09.2016). As much as we would like to believe that it was simply the promise of steady employment or the appeal of radical change that attracted voters to Trump–and these were certainly factors– rationalizing the unexpected outpouring of Trump support is a slippery slope.
It is not enough to demonize Trump, or even his supporters; rather, “In the coming days, weeks and months, we need considered analysis about the construction of whiteness and politicians’ arguments that white identity [is] under attack from… minorities” (Newstatesman). So consider this a wake-up call. Donald Trump isn’t an outlier; he garnered 47.5 percent of the country’s support. And while it’d be foolish to argue that the U.S. would be in just as much danger in a Trump-less world, we cannot continue to attribute all the nation’s shortcomings to a single person. In order to move forward, it is of course essential to recognize the ways in which Trump will attempt to silence minority voices; however, it is equally crucial to acknowledge the ways we have failed to ensure that these voices are continually heard in a constructive way.
Most importantly, we must be there for those around us (as well as for ourselves) who are people of color, who are survivors of sexual assault, who are differently abled, who are LGBTQIA+, who are Muslim, who are Jewish, who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Because as scary as the idea of building a wall around our nation may be, it is equally dangerous to construct walls within it.