“If liberals are so f***ing smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?”
—Will McAvoy, Newsroom
In the wake of Tuesday’s shocking election results, I have seen countless reactions from Emory’s student body. Students have cheered, cried, posted long-winded Facebook statuses and marched through campus. Many of those reactions have been personal and purely emotional, with few attempting to explore the causes of Hillary Clinton’s loss.
I am not insisting that people are overreacting. I have not lived the lives of those lamenting Donald Trump’s victory and cannot understand their experience in regard to this election. Instead, I will examine those reactions and explore the effects of the words used and sentiments expressed therein, as the power of rhetoric is something of which I have a more solid understanding. Instead of pointing fingers at everyone else, I hope that we can examine the rhetoric that we, and liberal students like us across the country, have used throughout this election to find the answer to Mr. McAvoy’s question as it applies to this election. Through internal reflection and analysis of student reactions thus far as opposed to externally channelling blame, we can discover why Clinton lost.
The reaction I find to be the most ridiculous and counterproductive is exhibited by those who have immediately unfriended and ceased communication with Trump supporters. To refuse to talk to any of Trump’s supporters is the easiest way to guarantee him a second term. If Trump is to lose the next election, then a significant portion of people who voted for him in this election must not vote for him in the next. Convincing these people to change their preferred candidate will be difficult without communicating with them. If you have withdrawn yourself into a social media echo chamber in which your Facebook news feed is curated to your political opinion and the only people and sentiments you wish to be exposed to are those with which you already agree, you are not engaging in political discourse but ideological masturbation. This helps nobody besides Trump in 2020.
This lack of willingness to engage with Trump’s supporters in any regard is one example of the driving force behind his victory. This force is the emergence of a dangerous hypocrisy exhibited by liberal college students and much of the Democratic base throughout this election which we must confront, even in the face of this great loss, if we wish to emerge successful in future elections.
I challenge left-leaning readers of this column to reflect on the rhetoric they used when describing Trump and his supporters. Ask yourself how often your Facebook posts or remarks to friends were focused on his policy (or lack thereof). Many liberal readers will find that most of these attacks on Trump are instead based on his intelligence, family or appearance. The same people who have flown into a rage over his remarks on the appearance of women also turn around and openly mock him for his own. This is hypocritical to the point of defying belief, and yet derisive comments on his hair and fake tan have populated our Facebook newsfeeds for months.
Like many of the arguments made against Trump, this election has become divisive to the point that personally attacking his supporters became far more common than trying to understand their motivations. Instead of talking to Trump supporters, late-night TV show hosts and students alike have taken to talking down to and mocking them. This attitude toward Trump supporters has only empowered his rhetoric, as he painted Clinton’s base as ivory-tower-educated elitists and portrays himself as a hero of the “common man.” Realize that, by mocking and stigmatizing Trump’s base for their lack of education, liberals have allowed a Ivy League-educated billionaire to portray himself as a populist candidate. He could not have pulled off such a grand con without the phenomenon of this election’s condescending and holier-than-thou rhetoric.
This attitude toward his supporters is hypocritical and runs contrary to what most would consider core liberal values. The Democratic Party is meant to advocate for and uplift the poor and uneducated members of this country, not put them down. The self-aggrandizing value that we place on our own education has infected the political rhetoric of American college students, and many of the statements that I’ve seen and heard made about Trump supporters stink of the elitism that liberals claim to abhor. While it is undeniably justified to reject and discredit those who support him for prejudiced reasons, remember that the less reported on and significantly larger portion of his base is not motivated by hate, but by fear: fear of job loss, fear of terrorism and fear of the established political elite. You may disagree with the validity of those fears, but simply dismissing them as unintelligent will earn the Democratic Party no new constituents in the coming years.
Finally, I move, to the most dramatic reaction we’ve seen on campus thus far — the active protests that have broken out. Expressing displeasure with the result of the election and refusing to accept those results are two markedly different reactions, and protests like the ones seen on campus Wednesday blur the line between the two.
Refusing to accept the results of this election, whether it be by protesting Trump’s victory or posting on social media that he will “never be your president” is hypocritical. I, like many Americans, was absolutely horrified when Trump said that he would only accept the results of the presidential election if he won. To see a similar sentiment expressed by Emory students is disturbing and unsettling, as the acceptance of a democratic outcome is enshrined in our national heritage and constitution. I recognize the legitimacy of the grief and fear that many of my peers are feeling, but no degree of negative emotion can justify the direct opposition of the democratic process upon which all tenets of liberal progress are based.
Abraham Lincoln said: “When the people rise in masses in behalf of the Union and the liberties of their country, truly may it be said, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against them.’ ” I urge my fellow Democrats to heed Lincoln’s warning, and move forward motivated not by a sense of disgust for Republican voters, but by righteous desire of restoring unity to a wounded and divided nation. Before we can work on repairing our country, we must first all accept responsibility for the role that our own divisive rhetoric has played in rending it asunder. It is by continuing to fight to work across the aisle and mend burned bridges with the now victorious Republican electorate that Democrats can hope to blaze the trail to victory in 2020.
Tyler Zelinger is a College senior from Commack, New York