A Resolve to Reflect

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For many Maggie Walker students, Election Day 2016 began in a buzzing anticipation of triumph and ended in gut-wrenching heartbreak. Liberals across the country and around the globe tuned in with the eager expectation of a very particular outcome, but found their resolve slipping as the hours ticked by and an electoral map once foolproof began to falter. But for young people in particular, the slow trauma of election night proved exceptionally stunning. Many of us here at Maggie Walker are unfailing social progressives, instinctually fluent in the language of modern social justice. Raised on Obama’s rhetoric of hope and change, we grew up believing in a certain arc of moral justice moving unfailingly towards equality, modernity, and progress. Now, on the precipice of adulthood we stand armed with the buzzwords of millennial social justice movements, ready to call out privilege and -isms wherever they may appear. Thus for many, November 8th’s outcome was devastating because it seemed to present a warped and perverted outcome at odds with everything that members of our generation believe about our country.


Of course, Trump’s win represents the lingering political power of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny in American society. But it is also an opportunity to re-evaluate the tenets of modern liberalism which many of us are so instinctively familiar with, and recognize some of the flaws within mainstream discourse surrounding social justice. A trend which has already emerged within this election’s result is the political power of working-class white voters in the “rust belt” of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These voters have seen their employment opportunities disintegrate, they feel disenfranchised by the political process and unheard by the “establishment.” Perhaps they are vulnerable to xenophobic concerns that the encroachment of immigrants and minorities threatens their own fragile status in society. These are the people who have often been alienated by modern social justice movements. They are the ones who feel attacked and victimized by political correctness. They are frustrated, resentful of establishment liberalism, unstable in their own social and economic positions, drawn towards populism. Ultimately, they voted for change out of desperation and fear.

It’s easy for college-bound Maggie Walker students from relatively affluent families to look at Trump’s supporters and say they acted out of bigotry and fear, to see this win as nothing but a threat to our liberal principles of social justice, or to scoff at toxic white insecurity. Yet perhaps it may be time to check our own privilege and attempt to understand the fundamental frustrations which helped fuel a Trump win. We have a responsibility to recognize the failure of modern liberalism to provide an inclusive message, often instead using identity politics to attack and alienate others. We have a responsibility to remedy the ideological self-segregation which has created such a profound distance between “red” and “blue” America. Many of us may feel frustrated that Trump supporters don’t understand us. As budding intellectuals, it’s important to remember that we also have a responsibility to try and understand them. Going forward, that kind of communication and mutual empathy is the only way to bridge the ideological isolation forming in our nation today.

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