RN&R staffers and community members attempt to make sense of the election

Photo / istock/andykatz

Here's a collection of essays in response to the surprising results of the 2016 presidential election. There are a variety of perspectives represented here—however, none of them are celebratory. Folks with that perspective made their views clear on Nov. 8 through the power of their votes. And although racism, sexism and other discriminatory fears might not have been the only motivating factors of the election, they played an unmistakable role that needs to be acknowledged, confronted and healed.

Power that despises

I have never felt fear after an election result before. I have been disappointed, angry, and in the case of George W. Bush’s election to a second term, utterly dumbfounded. But this time I started crying before it was called, when it became clear that there just wasn’t any other possible outcome, and I haven’t stopped since.

The tears are not over losing the contest. Haven’t we all at some point supported a candidate who didn’t win? These are tears of anticipated pain, that knowledge that the blow is coming and being utterly unable to avoid it or stop it.

There is a particular type of anguish that accompanies the deep knowledge, gained by virtue of having to unceasingly negotiate your existence, that you are despised and nothing you can do or say will save you from that. I will again be watching women, particularly we “nasty women,” valiantly try to maintain our worth and dignity in what will be an inevitable tsunami of systemic oppression and harrowing daily abuse. I have worked in the justice system. I have spent many hours over many years watching victims bravely resist their abuse with the sincere belief that justice would prevail if they spoke the truth about their private nightmare. I also watched justice elude a fair number of them, because the hard reality is that justice isn’t a response to truth; it is a product of power, bestowed upon those deemed worthy of it by those who wield it.

Trump’s victory will serve as validation of his rhetoric, his beliefs and his reckless disregard for rules, boundaries and basic civility. His supporters will interpret his victory as permission, granted by the American people, to treat those who oppose them with contempt. The alt-right now has justification for its delusional belief in the inherent superiority of the white male. Women will not be the only targets. Americans hanging on by an economic thread, many of whom voted for Trump with hope that he would bring change, will be swept into the pile with the “undeserving,” along with people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the disabled, journalists, scientists, academics and anyone else who doesn’t fit their narrative of acceptability.

Trump won only 48 percent of the vote. Not a mandate, but at press time 60,961,185 people identify with his version of America. More than 60,000,000 have been given a pass to “reclaim” their America. I was completely invested in Hillary Rodham Clinton being the woman who—finally—would rise above the dogged, ugly and ultimately harmful abuse levied upon women who resist, who want more, who say no. We spoke our truth, and 60,000,000 Americans didn’t believe us. We are at the mercy of power that despises us. We are afraid. We feel powerless. And so we weep.

—Rebecca Thomas

Rebecca Thomas is an adjunct professor at Truckee Meadows Community College.

Repudiate number 44?

I finally turned the news back on late in the afternoon on the first day of this president-elect Trump world. I’m not going to lie. My eyes were puffy from crying, but I could see. And I could hear.

And what I heard pissed me off.

For a moment, this was a surprising relief from the bouts of nausea and crushing despair I’d been swinging between all day. But I digress. What I heard, almost immediately, when I turned on the TV, was a commentator on CNN saying that Trump’s election was a “complete repudiation of Obama.” Now, I believe that a lot of what was said on Wednesday, Nov. 9, amounted to shell-shocked word vomit. But this took the cake. Perhaps Trump’s election is a repudiation of the establishment. But if Trump’s election was, in fact, a wholesale rejection of Obama—if the people who voted for him did so just because they believe our nation needs something complete different in its next leader—then they are senseless.

Obama did a great deal of good for this country and its people.

Obama inherited a country in turmoil, a country in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. And he turned it around—quickly. Congress approved Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package weeks after he came into office. He signed it into law on Feb. 17, 2009, and GDP growth turned positive less than six months later. Yes, we all felt the aftershocks of the recession for years, but, in June 2009, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the recession over.

Obama fought to get health-care coverage for millions of people. The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010. A day later, Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell announced that “repeal and replace” would be the slogan for fall. But the ACA survives—for now. A single-payer national health care program would be a far cry better, but I’ll happily settle for system in which people cannot be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. I will take a system that brought the number of uninsured people to its lowest level ever.

Under Obama’s administration, “love won.” That’s how he put it when he referred to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that finally codified the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. And Obama said it so eloquently: “No matter who you are, here in America, you’re free to marry the person you love because the freedom to marry is now the law in all 50 states.”

Lastly, I want to say something about Obama’s role in race relations. I’ve wanted to say this for a while. As I recall, it started around 2012, these claims in major publications that race relations were at an historical low and that it might somehow be the president’s fault. It was around the time Obama expressed his sympathy to the family of Trayvon Martin.

Maybe race relations are at a low point. Maybe they need to be. If we refuse to acknowledge a problem, if we tacitly agree to not discuss it, it might remain out of sight and out of mind for a fortunate few us—for a time. It might remain under our radar, festering all the while. I can’t just say, “Well, I’m not racist, so I don’t see my part in this.” None of us can. When black people regularly face down discrimination, when they’re at a much higher risk of having fatal encounters with police, it’s all of our problems. If Obama’s presidency made it harder to turn a blind eye on this, then good. Great. And if race relations seem uglier than ever, maybe it’s because we’ve reached the point where people can’t go back to ignoring the injustice.

—Jeri Chadwell-Singley

Jeri Chadwell-Singley is the RN&R’s Special Projects Editor.

A new hope

On July 12, 1979, local Chicago DJ Steve Dahl organized a “disco demolition night” at Comiskey Park and invited his listeners to bring their records for a large bonfire on the baseball field in between a doubleheader. What had been planned as a gimmick turned into a riot, destroying the field, and canceling the second game. As soon as Dahl’s explosion had destroyed a crate of records, white, straight working/middle class men stormed the field, expressing their impotent rage at the perception that “their music” and “their radio stations” were being edged out, that a music largely created, produced, and consumed by gay people, women, Hispanic and African Americans had somehow managed to become more interesting, more popular and more important than theirs.

After Trump’s election, my initial response was fear. As a married gay man, I have every reason to believe he will follow through on his promise to appoint Supreme Court justices who will take my marriage away from me. His vice president has advocated using taxpayer money for “gay conversion therapy.” This should terrify everyone, gay or straight. But most Trump supporters aren’t terrified. Instead, like those rioters at Comiskey Park in 1979, they apparently feel like all those groups, all those people that don’t look like them, act like them, pander to them, have taken their place at the front of the line. Realizing this, my fear turned to anger. I’m still in that place; I’ve never felt more Nevadan than I do right now, knowing they will have to pry the marriage license out of my hands before I’ll give up my rights to bigots. I know there are people who voted for what they think were economic issues, who voted “despite” the things he’s said, or chose third-party options, knowing the ultimate result would be Trump’s election. It seems likely, looking at the voting demographics, they could afford to vote their conscience, knowing that any consequences of his administration wouldn’t affect their civil rights. I suppose I’m most angry at these people. Trump has always been honest about his misogyny and bigotry, but I imagined I lived in a country whose people weren’t so quick to sell out others’ basic human rights.

It’s cold comfort knowing that the greatest art comes out of the times of greatest fear and oppression. Would Morrissey have penned such furious lyrics without Thatcher? Could Joni Mitchell have written “The Fiddle and the Drum” without Vietnam hanging over the heads of her generation? It’s easy to forget, listening to these great songs, that they were produced during times of real suffering. Historians generally point to the Comiskey Park riot as the “day disco died.” Disco didn’t die, though. Instead, disco went underground, and in the years since, dance music has emerged as one of the most vital, living and humane forms of popular music. The voices of those musicians survived that attack, surviving on the hope that love would win out. Right now I’m living on that hope.

—Louis Niebur

Louis Niebur is a musicologist, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and longtime Reno resident.

The great curve

The first election I remember clearly was in 1988. I was eight years old. My parents were lukewarm Dukakis supporters, but I liked a different candidate. I supported Jesse Jackson, because he was a personal friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., whom I admired then and now, and because I liked his preacher’s cadence.

Most of my extended family members are Southerners, and that fall, I remember talking to an uncle at my grandmother’s house in Northwest Florida. Somehow, he turned the conversation toward politics. I think he was trying to grill me for my parents’ views, since they were considered the subversives in the family. When I told him the name of my preferred candidate, he laughed hysterically, like I had just made the most ridiculous kids-say-the-darndest-things comment he had ever heard. It was like I had told him I wanted to be a unicorn when I grew up. He got my grandmother from another room and made my repeat my views. She also immediately started laughing, and the two of them shook their heads in disbelief and laughed ’til they were wiping away tears.

That was how I realized my family was racist as fuck.

Not my entire family, of course, but enough of them to matter. There were other clues. Although my grandparents weren’t particularly wealthy, they had a housekeeper, a black woman who was treated with affection but unmistakable condescension. And there was a great aunt who was rumored to have close connections to the KKK.

It was a disheartening moment. Not only was it a direct confrontation with my family’s racism, but I also felt like I was being punished for having an opinion.

I’ve often thought back on this incident. Two occasions, in particular, stand out. The first was on election night, 2008, standing among a crowd of happy revelers at Reno’s Lincoln Lounge, and listening to Barack Obama give the kind of stirring, spirited speech to which we’ve all subsequently grown indifferent and desensitized. But that night, it was still fresh and inspirational, and after one great turn of phrase or another, a friend leaned over to me and said happily, “We have a black president.”

I smiled, and thought back to 20 years earlier, when members of an older, crustier generation found the very notion laughable. It felt like a historic rebuke to that attitude, and although I knew racism was still alive and well, it felt like a giant clod of dirt had just landed on it, smothering it, beginning to bury it deep in the grave of the past. That felt like a moment that confirmed one of MLK’s best lines: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

PhotoS / istock/andykatz

On the morning of Nov. 9, I flashed backed to 1988 again. My girlfriend had already left for work, and it was my job to get her two daughters to school.

“Who won?” asked Josephine, 10, as soon as she was up. The race had been too close to call at bedtime.

It was difficult to force the word out of my mouth: “Trump.”

“Oh, no!” said Josephine. “But he’s so mean!”

“I saw a video where he told a lady she had a stupid, fat face,” said Viktoria, 8.

“But how could he win?” asked Josephine. “Did women vote for him? How could they vote for him when he said all those mean things about women?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Can we move to France?” asked Viktoria.

“Or Tokyo?” asked Josephine.

Quoting kids for their political views can seem like a cheap trick, I’m know, since those views are likely aped from the adults they admire most, and the girls had heard me and their mother discuss the election at great length.

Nonetheless, it hurt to tell the girls, who had been so looking forward to the likelihood of a woman president, that instead we were going to have a president who they knew used abusive language—words they weren’t even allowed to say—toward women. And it hurt that the girls, who are mixed race, also knew that the new president was a man who came to power with the support of racists, and that he used language criticizing people for their religions, their backgrounds, their languages and their skin colors.

And I flashed back to when I was their age, and I was mocked for my fledgling political views, and I felt powerless. I wanted to hold them and protect them, and I felt a flash of anger reaching back nearly three decades. And it moved forward through all the fears and anxieties I now had for the future. And I could no longer see the slow arc of justice, and, if anything, I felt like it had abruptly curved backward.

—Brad Bynum

Brad Bynum is the editor of the RN&R.

Deal with it

I recently came across a Facebook article about how fake anti-Trump supporters were being bussed into Austin in order to create the illusion of discontent. I commented, “Do you not believe that people are upset by the outcome of this election?” Someone responded, “Stop whining! And if the news article above is correct, once again, it’s an orchestrated planned riot, not a protest.” After more discussion, I realized that these Trump supporters firmly believed protests in the streets were just another ploy by the corrupt establishment trying to maintain their control. Other people’s discontent wasn’t real. My own fears were unfounded. The busing story did turn out to be false, but unfortunately that doesn’t matter. Narratives trump facts every time.

You may already be familiar with the narrative that brought Trump to victory: The corrupt establishment has been abusing you for decades. They want to shore up even more control by taking your guns away and allowing “criminal aliens” to stream over the border. Tolerance of Muslims and Black Lives Matter protesters will lead to further chaos, disorder and death. Elites have sold out working people with bad trade deals and over regulation. The corporate media will lie to you because they’re in it for themselves. Anyone who doesn’t believe these truths is either blind, stupid, or fighting to preserve corruption. It’s us versus them.

People on both sides of the aisle bought all or parts of this story. While there are truths within these narratives, these narratives aren’t the whole truth. As John Green says, “Truth defies simplicity.”

For those fellow progressives who think Trump will be just the jolt we need to jumpstart the progressive movement, please brush up on your history. Trump’s failings will continue to be spun, scapegoats will be targeted, and it will be even harder for people to figure out what’s real with a free press under attack. We can’t count on a “Bloody Sunday” moment to change public opinion because our media landscape is fragmented. No one knows how to manipulate this better than Steve Bannon, Trump campaign adviser and former head of Breitbart News. Any uprisings will be framed as terrorist actions that need to be squashed. Civil disobedience against injustice will give Trump even more license to spy on us, jail us and squash dissent. If the progressive movement couldn’t unite around the common goal of stopping a maniac under our current system, how are we suppose to succeed under the coming authoritarian one? Can we survive this?

We must believe victory is possible. We must reach out to each other and help those who are less privileged. We must build a coalition stronger than history has ever known. We must insist on building a society based on reason, empiricism, and equal justice under the law.

We might be able to get away with getting caught off guard once. We certainly can’t afford to make the same mistake twice.

—Valerie Bischoff

Valerie Bischoff is a filmmaker and journalist committed to creating content that inspires, informs and illuminates. She’s now based in New York, but grew up in Reno.

Who we are

Edmund Burke: “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.”

On election day, I noticed that women were awfully upbeat. Friends, clerks, every woman I encountered had a pleased demeanor. At dinner, a friend who has been demoralized over her job situation was buoyant and funny. I recalled that when President Reagan named the first woman U.S. supreme court justice, a wave of joy among women swept across the country. Now, another achievement women had been hoping for was close enough to touch, and they were excited.

Later, when I woke after midnight and checked the numbers and realized with a jolt that there was no longer a pathway to the presidency for Hillary Clinton, I thought first with dread that Donald Trump would be president and then, quick on its heels, came the sinking thought of what this would mean to those women I had encountered all election day.

If what I heard post-election was any indication, I think a lot of women are experiencing something in addition to what men are. Men may be shell-shocked by the outcome because they consider Trump crass and swaggering or for other reasons. But a lot of women, while feeling the same thing, were also invested in the election of a woman president, all the more so because the alternative hates women. What had been validation turned into oppression. I’ve never been all that bewitched by Hillary Clinton. But her opponent was not a run-of-the-mill candidate, a Dole or Romney. Not often does a candidacy provide, by the great power of example, the potential of changing for the worse the kind of people we are. After his initial economic populism gave way to religious and racial bigotry and misogyny, a woman defeating him would have been more sweet—and when he beat her it made it more bitter.

Learning that some women had a hand in it—white women voted 52 percent for Trump—made me ask women I know how that was possible. It seemed like a Jews-for-Hitler thing. One woman wrote back, “Sexism is not exclusive to men. Just as people of color can ’internalize racism’, women also ’internalize sexism.’ ”

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton said, “We owe him [Trump] an open mind and the chance to lead.” Many news websites like Townhall changed that in headlines into Clinton saying that Trump “earned” the right to lead.

Trump may be owed a chance to lead, but he didn’t earn it. He won power by pitting racial and religious groups against each other. He hates women. He disdains the disabled. He promises more war crimes. For the next four years he will be setting a dreadful example for our citizens and the world. He gets what we want to give. He earned nothing. And we need to protect ourselves and humankind from him. Part of that is by treating each other well and setting a better example for our leaders.

Republicans seem intent on adjusting their historic principles to accommodate Trump. Paul Ryan is under pressure to adapt to Trump, instead of the other way around. They should hold firm against Trump and control him.

Trump is attacking the young for protesting his election—and blaming the media for inciting them, as though they cannot think on their own. How would we Boomers have reacted in the 1960s if George Wallace or George Lincoln Rockwell had been elected president? They should hold firm and set a better example.

Forget honeymoons. We must keep an eye on Trump every minute and civil libertarians must stop him anytime he puts a step a quarter of an inch out of line. We, not he, should determine who we are.

—Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers is the RN&R’s news editor. He has more on this topic on his Newsview blog.