I don’t think that I, as an individual, could have swayed the election in a meaningful way but I know I could have done so much more and I did not. I hold myself accountable for that. I am increasingly concerned with accountability because our country is being led by a man who believes he is accountable only to himself and enriching his coffers rather than the more than 300 million people he was so narrowly elected to lead and serve.
It pains me to think about what could have been. It is even more difficult to face the way things are. Every single morning, I am tense as I check the news, wondering what the president has tweeted overnight. Throughout the day, my shoulders tense when I see a news alert about his latest misstep or his latest provocation to North Korea or his latest insult to the media whose adulation he so desperately craves.
Between the election and the inauguration, I tried to imagine what a Trump presidency would look like. I tried to prepare for the worst. What has unfolded over the past seven months is far more terrible than I could have imagined. Advances made during the Obama era are being dismantled. I tell myself to remain hopeful but struggle to find a reason. And then I struggle to remind myself that despair is a luxury we cannot afford right now.
A week ago in Charlottesville, Va., white men assembled to rage for a world long lost — one where their mediocrity was good enough. These were men emboldened by a president who shares their odious beliefs.
I’ve watched in horror as they’ve been energized by his campaign and his presidency. It’s possible that hate like this would have been on the rise anyway, given eight years of the Obama presidency and, animus toward Hillary Clinton. But now we don’t have hate on the fringe; we have it reinforced in the White House.
Most politicians, of all political persuasions, have released statements condemning racism and the violence in Charlottesville, violence that ended in the death of one person, Heather Heyer, and the injuring of many others. Even if these statements are political posturing, they must be made. Our leaders need to make crystal clear where they stand. Now, more than ever, everyone needs to be unequivocal about where they stand.
Unfortunately, far too many people are being equivocal, including, most alarmingly, the president. In the days following the Charlottesville unrest, we have seen Mr. Trump reluctant to disavow white supremacy. The president resents that he, as the leader of the United States, is rightly expected to condemn hateful acts and ideas. Mr. Trump and far too many others believe there is more than one side to the story of Charlottesville. The president thinks that leftist resistance is as culpable as far-right white supremacy. He has lamented the removal of Confederate statues, tweeting that it is “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” as if books and museums do not exist.
When you look at the sum of his behavior, it’s obvious that Mr. Trump is actually not equivocating. He is actively demonstrating that his loyalties lie with only some of the American people.
There are other forms of equivocating. Back in November, pundits began attributing Mr. Trump’s win to “economic anxiety,” because they were unwilling to face the blatant racism that fueled his popularity. Look where that thinking has brought us. Everyone who says, “This is not America” or “This is not us” is being willfully ignorant of both the past and the present. We all need to acknowledge that yes, this is indeed us, the very worst of us. There are people who think it is a problem that the white supremacists from Charlottesville are being publicly identified and fired from their jobs, as if those who would eradicate all of us who are not Aryan deserve empathy. They do not. A white newscaster cries because talking about race makes her uncomfortable because discomfort is most likely the worst thing she can imagine.
We cannot afford to delude ourselves about the state of things. We cannot mollify ourselves with some ideal of neutrality or objectivity as if white supremacy deserves anything but resounding contempt. Taking down Confederate statues is a symbolic but necessary gesture, but we cannot merely dismantle these markers of America’s painful past. We must work to dismantle the pernicious ideologies these statues represent. We must root out white supremacy, wherever it lurks, and call it by its name even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when the people we are calling out are those we live and work with, or consider friends and family.
We are on a precipice. What happened in Charlottesville is not the end of something but, rather, the beginning. And it is from this precipice that I am reminded of everything I did not do during the 2016 election. Hindsight reminds me that resistance must be active, and constant. Resistance is the responsibility of everyone who believes in equality and demands the eradication of racism, anti-Semitism and the hatred that empowers bigots to show their truest selves in broad daylight. I am reminding myself that I should never allow my fears to quiet me. I have a voice and I am going to use it, as loudly as I can.