So here we are, briskly sliding into the brand new world of Donald Trump’s America. I’ve been stunned, as you likely have as well, at the sudden change in this country’s fortunes over the past four days; soaking in what has been said and what it means for the future; listening to neighbors, friends, acquaintances and the news; and generally trying to get a view of this new place that we call home.
The first thing that bowled me over as results came in Tuesday night was how we in the media managed to get this equation so wrong. We deserve a smack for not seeing this coming. All the data we were working from told us Hillary Clinton would likely win the presidency.
But here on the East End, the trouble signs for the Democrats were obvious quite early on.
Back in the primaries this spring, it was clear that something was afoot here. Donald Trump was a powerhouse on the East End in the primary, and he proved a powerhouse here this Tuesday, taking home 52.1 percent of the Suffolk County vote, while Hillary Clinton won just 43.9 percent. All this in an area that broke easily for President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
I’ve lived on the East End my whole life. My family has lived here back to the time of the first Europeans on Long Island, and the East End I see this week is very much the one I remember from when I was a kid — a very white farming community where you didn’t talk about your political opinions if they were any way urbane or about our responsibilities to each other as human beings. The only common ground could be found on the value of hard work and individual resourcefulness, both good values that have made America great.
This is also an area that has never elected a woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and, as the child of a single mother who had three daughters, I think I’m qualified to say that it doesn’t seem to be an area that encourages ambitious women.
For my immigrant and African-American neighbors, growing up and today, this place has always been one that harbored a deep racism and a xenophobic streak a mile wide. That rift seemed to be healing until Tuesday’s earthquake, and no amount of dirty fill that you can dump in that hole will make it right any time soon.
The East End has seemed under assault in recent years. When I was living in Sag Harbor nearly two decades ago, we who lived there year-round harbored a deep resentment of visitors from the city, who brought their wallets and their ideas eastward every summer season. After September 11, many of those visitors became our full-time neighbors, and the mistrust and anger seemed to dissipate.
The North Fork is currently at the crest of a similar influx of outsiders — urbanites who are making it impossible for young local people to find housing, a seasonal economy driven by low-paying jobs. This year, for the first time, a young local girl lashed out at me for being an “elitist outsider who was ruining her town.” The truth is I’m a 1996 Mattituck High School dropout whose grandfather grew up on a potato farm on Sound Avenue.
So, that’s our microcosm here. It isn’t Youngstown, Ohio, and it isn’t Detroit, but if we deny the anger and hopelessness here, we’re missing a big part of the point.
But back to the media, and how we got this so wrong.
This would have been my 20-year-old son’s first presidential election in which he could vote, and I spent a good couple of hours Tuesday afternoon texting him and reminding him to vote, giving him the details about our polling place, and volunteering to drive him to the polls. He stopped answering me about 6 p.m. and I let it go.
I texted him Wednesday morning and asked him if he voted and his answer was “yeah, like it made any difference.” When I pressed him for details about the experience, he went quiet again. I turned to his Facebook page, and all I found was a meme from a couple weeks ago that said “It’s like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are our parents getting divorced and fighting for custody over us, and all we want is to go live with Grandpa Bernie.” So I’m just going to assume he didn’t vote and move on.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the polls that showed Hillary had this election in the bag convinced her most lukewarm supporters to stay home. And I’ve found plenty of Trump supporters in my own neighborhood whom I never knew had political opinions until after Tuesday night. I had assumed the silent majority would break for Hillary. And that’s the biggest mistake I made.
Under the pile of punditry and election theory that divide liberal elites from the hard-working nation, the bottom line is that nobody cares what you know until they know that you care, and liberal Democrats have done a really lousy job of late showing some really hard-working people that they care about them. Bill Clinton understands how to do this intuitively. His wife doesn’t.
I don’t know what Donald Trump understands. I can’t read people who are making us suffer their own nasty cases of narcissistic personality disorder. I stopped listening at “grab her by the pussy.” I’m a recovering victim of sexual violence. We’ve all got baggage, even journalists.
So the media, we done messed up. We thought the story was “Loudmouth Reality Show Host and Lady Who Wants to Break Glass Ceiling,” when in fact the story was about you and me and everyone we know.
I voted for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t endorse her because I don’t believe in endorsements. Nobody cares who the media wants them to vote for. We’re nearly as reviled as used car salesmen and members of Congress. My endorsement isn’t going to change your mind, anyway. You’re smart enough to decide who to vote for and you’re adult enough to own your decision.
While women who’d spent their whole lives being taken for granted waited all night in the Jacob Javits Center for Hillary to break through that building’s glass ceiling, over in Germany it was already well into the mid-day hours of the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, literally “the night of broken glass,” one of the first occasions on which German civilians looted and destroyed synagogues and Jewish businesses, killing and wounding hundreds of Jews while the authorities sent tens of thousands to concentration camps.
I bring this up not to be an alarmist, but because this story resonated so deeply this week for my African-American neighbors, and for my Jewish friends who can feel the air of virulence that surrounds any exclusionary campaign. These things are real. They have happened within some of our lifetimes. And the people who remember those times have a duty to us to make sure we never forget.
The time that America was greatest was the time we stood up to those bullies and won the Second World War. What would it look like if we were on the wrong side of history? I don’t want to see that day.
In the Riverhead Middle School this week, my younger niece reported that white kids were piling up their backpacks in the hallway to build a wall between themselves and the Latino kids that they had always been friendly with.
So, yes, this story really isn’t about “Loudmouth Reality Show Host and Lady Who Wants to Break Glass Ceiling” any more. It is about you and me and everyone we know.
I have to say that I’ve been impressed with the way Trump supporters I’ve spoken with have reacted to his win — hard-working men who held their heads high with quiet pride in their decision.
The only complaint I’ve heard from them about the aftermath of this election has been that they don’t understand why whiny college kids have taken to the streets to protest the results of what appears to be a fair election.
There is something sacred about the result of a democratic election. It needs to be honored. President Obama has handled this transition with great class. So has Hillary Clinton. We can too.
There’s much about this country that can withstand a four-year experiment in incompetent leadership. My biggest fear, and one that I think is very relevant to us here on the East End, is that the changing climate cannot withstand the dismantling of the Paris Climate Agreement or the EPA. The earth is at the end of its rope with our already too little, too late climate policy. And without the earth, we’re nothing.
There is plenty that local and state governments can do to get ahead of the federal government on climate issues — from renewable energy to coastal resiliency to emergency preparedness. There is a place for all of us at that table, and many of our local leaders are already sitting there, waiting for us to join the conversation. It’s only a matter of a few more years before none of us, especially here, will be able to afford to pretend partisanship has a place in climate issues.
And most importantly, it is now up to all of us to watch after the safety of our neighbors, to stand up to bullies and to empower our children to stand up to bullies in school. Some of the most disturbing stories that have come out of the past few days have been about how this election has emboldened bullies in school to behave horribly toward their fellow students.
During homeroom at Riverhead High School Wednesday morning, the PA system in my older niece’s junior class cut out before the class could be led in the Pledge of Allegiance, so the kids sat down. When it started back up again, only half the kids felt well enough to stand up again and vow to work for liberty and justice for all.
And yes, in case it’s been a long time since you’ve been inside a classroom, kids still do say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.
This is America, after all. And our kids are pretty great.
That’s all I’ve got. I hope it’s some help.