When I was in my early twenties, I spent a year working at a Hallmark card store in a Shippensburg, PA strip mall. Most of the other employees were female students from the local university. There was an older woman who also worked there. She and I were on the day shift together a lot. A young African-American man got hired at the store. The older woman told me that she couldn’t believe they would hire him. I asked why. “Because of all the young girls who work here,” she replied, implying that he might be prone to raping them.
I angrily told this woman that her comment was racist and that she should “never say that bullshit around me again.” Obviously, I’m not afraid of confrontation when I’m presented with something I find morally objectionable.
The 2016 presidential election reminded me of that incident. As you might guess, the outcome has been a real challenge for me. I am not anti-Republican. Many friends and family members are Republicans. I myself was a registered Republican at one point in my life, although that was largely so I could vote for my father in the primary of a local election. I am not upset that my “side” didn’t win this year. Had any other GOP nominee beaten Hillary Clinton (who, incidentally, was nowhere near my first choice to be our Democratic candidate), I would have been disappointed, but not filled with the fear and anxiety that gripped me this past Tuesday as I watched results roll in on CNN.
I am, however, virulently anti-Trump. I won’t go into the specifics. If you’re anti-Trump too, you already know why. If not, I probably won’t convince you to join my way of thinking. (That said, please consider reading this piece for a calm, reasoned explanation of what I, and many others, are so upset about.) My social media feeds have been less about movies this week and more about politics. Focusing on anything else has been difficult. Many friends and followers have supported these thoughts. Others have told me to “get over it” or “move on.” Well, those things really aren’t in the cards for me.
And yet, as despondent as part of me feels, there has been a surprising sense of optimism creeping in. Not optimism that Trump will do a good job — he’s been crystal clear about his policies, many of which will directly hurt people I love and care about — but optimism that I am not helpless in any of this.
My wife and I are the adoptive parents of a bi-racial child. We’ve worked hard to teach him that racism is bad, that people of all colors are beautiful, and that he should never, ever be ashamed of who he is. We’ve taught him that women are not objects here to serve men, that the religions of other people should be respected even if different from our own, and that gay people have just as much right to love and be loved as straight people. These are just a few of the lessons we’ve been working to instill in him.
Having a president-elect with a long history of racism, multiple accusations of sexual assault against him, and a running mate who believes gay people can be “cured” through conversion therapy is a bitter pill to swallow. But you know what? We don’t have to stop teaching the lessons just because Trump was rewarded for things we find repellent. And if anything, this is an opportunity to show our son how to stand up and fight against bullying, bigotry, and intolerance of any sort. We’ll never have a better “teachable moment.”
Over the last 48 hours, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I’m going to handle this election. There’s still a lot of rumination going on, but a few ideas have solidified. First, I’m going to continue to use my voice. It’s the only weapon I have, and I’ll wear it out if need be. If the Trump administration tries to enact legislation that is going to hurt people, I will write letters, circulate petitions, call my state representatives, and disseminate information through social media. I’ll even peacefully demonstrate if necessary. The right to do these things is inherent in the First Amendment. Our forefathers put them there for us to use. You’re damn right I’m using them.
I’m also going to get more involved in my community. I reside in a predominantly white area. That has gradually been changing over the last few years. The vast majority of folks here are kind and compassionate. There are also some bigots. If I see anyone being harassed because of their race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation, I will intervene.
I am in the process of looking into organizations I can join in my area that will advance the causes I believe in: equality for everyone, aid to the poor, protecting women from abuse, and so on. I’ve already done a few small things through my church. I am going to do more.
Through these and other yet-to-be-decided means, my wife and I going to ensure that our son learns the lessons we want him to learn. And one of the biggest of those lessons is that when our family witnesses injustice, we don’t look the other way — we do something about it.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth animosity between Trump supporters and Trump opponents. I vow to avoid the temptation to jump into that fray, because it will only detract from the work that needs to be done. Whether I approve of the president or not, I can instill my deeply held values in my son. I can work to make my community a better place that reflects my ideals. I can raise my voice for causes I feel are just.
That’s what I intend to do. And believe me, I’m just getting warmed up.