-Donald Trump has won the presidential election fair and square.
It pains me indescribably to say that. But in view of the protests that have unfolded across the country since Tuesday, some of my fellows in disappointment seem to be in need of hearing it. So I will say it again:
Donald Trump has won the presidential election fair and square.
Every American needs to accept this. We Americans who just have to think that thought in order to feel our insides sick-squash together like an empty beer can being crushed under a rolling tire need to accept it most of all.
We don't have to accept it with any feeling of shame. This was an upset, not a washout. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She still lost the election, of course, and there are major lessons to be learned from how that happened. But no analyst, no matter how deep his or her state of shock -- or glee, as the case may be -- ought to be putting her performance on a par with George McGovern's 1972 total of 17 electoral votes, or Walter Mondale's 1984 loss of 49 states.
In fact, what is true in the aftermath of all American elections is triple-true of the aftermath of this freakazoid stunner of an American election. The winning team is suddenly being portrayed as a pantheon of magically wise vote-whisperers, and the losing team as bunch of tone-deaf bumblers. Sure: To the victor go the spoils, and let the alt-right rejoice. But rest assured, a good deal of the post-election populist crowing about exactly why Trump won will no doubt turn out to be as facile and wrong-headed as the pre-election expert pronouncements about why he couldn't win.
But win he did, and there is nothing all this protest is going to do about it.
Oh, wait, yes there is: Tie up traffic. Inconvenience people who may or may not even have voted for Trump. Cause injury and property damage. Expose in Trump's detractors the very qualities of intolerance and thuggery that is so throatily denounced in Trump's supporters. And worst of all, deepen the general sense that America is a nation at cultural war, rather than a nation that has just seen millions of citizens cast their votes in peace.
This is so deeply, indescribably wrong. We have been defeated, not cheated. There is such a long list of ways to channel our angst in response to the one without treating it as the other. The political ones are obvious: Let's mark our calendars for the congressional midterms in 2018, and for the slew of state and local races before that. Let's donate to, or volunteer for, organizations that work on behalf of those we fear stand to suffer under the new administration. Send Ruth Bader Ginsberg a giant case of ginseng.
But even more important -- much more important for this moment -- let's find some Trump supporters to talk to. It shouldn't be hard, there seem to be a lot of them. Let's pull our heads out of our own Facebook feeds and entertain the possibility that we have something to learn from those who have just whupped us -- who may, in turn, entertain the possibility that they have something to learn from us. (If not, the odds are good that soon enough, we will be whupping them right back.)
In recent years, on college campuses and elsewhere, liberals have promoted and conservatives have ridiculed the concept of "safe spaces" where no one can be physically or verbally attacked -- or legitimately challenged on their views as per the right to freedom of speech, take your pick. But it does seem clear that we could really use some safe spaces for frank exchanges of views on this vote, where people can say how they voted and why without getting shouted down or spat upon...even if those spaces just open up here and there, in the course of every day.
I know that versions of this are already happening on Facebook and such, but it also has to happen in real life. Whatever sparks of ugliness flew out of this campaign, it strikes me that those sparks could not have ignited such animosity absent a broader and deeper coarseness in our culture that, in turn, might not exist if millions of Americans had not become so accustomed to conducting so many "conversations" without ever having to look anyone in the eye.
It's not a series of lovefests I am advocating here. It's more like a massive number of brutally, mutually difficult debriefings. We can heal, but it's gonna hurt.
Nothing anyone says is going to shake me from my conviction that Trump should have been denied every vote on the grounds of the birther insanity alone, or my anger that Hillary Clinton was blasted to high heaven for levels and sources of income revealed on her tax return while he got away with not even producing his. But if it turns out that a huge number of voters pulled the lever for Trump mostly because they just couldn't stand Hillary, that leads to a very different interpretation than if they mainly voted for him because they think he's going to revive American manufacturing. If Trump voters agree with the president-elect that climate change is either a myth or a problem that can't hold a candle to the problem of re-employing workers in fossil-fuel-related industries, that indicates one kind of challenge for those of us who feel differently. Ditto for his stance that abortion should be entirely illegal. If many disagree with Trump on those positions but voted for him anyway, that's another.
"Don't mourn, organize." That used to be the rallying cry of optimists in moments of defeat, and soon enough its time will come again.
Not for right now, though. For right now, let's get off the streets and on the case.
Don't march. Empathize.