It goes without saying that I’m surprised and upset by the outcome of this election. My surprise quickly turned into sadness, anger, and hopelessness, which was hard to swallow, because the night before I was hopeful. I even wrote about it.
I took the day after the election to feel sad. It was my right to feel sad. So I cried and was dramatic and then I was silent. But later that night I began to analyze. I began thinking more about the question I asked earlier that day, “How did we get here?”
Well, there’s one obvious and devastating answer, which is racism and sexism still prevail in this country.
But the alt right wasn’t enough to get the outcome we got. And, among all racial groups, Donald Trump gained ground over the 2012 election and lost only a little support from women.
So what I and others are baffled by are those undecided voters who made the choice we didn’t expect. The ones whose votes weren’t rooted in hate or intolerance. So what happened there?
While I don’t agree with the choice they made, part of me understands why they made that choice. They feel let down and ignored by government.
And the Clinton campaign did little to show that they heard that and had ways to fix it, even though I think they did. That’s actually Clinton’s strength, listening. Which is why her policies are good. The campaign was just more on the attack rather than amplifying what they were hearing and the solutions those concerns inspired. Too much of “here’s why he’s bad” and not enough “here’s what I’m about.”
I understand the hopelessness many Americans were feeling. I understand their desire for change. I understand that they were voting for what they needed, not necessarily what social justice in this country needed–not in a selfish way, but in a survival way. Because that’s what a lot of middle-class families are just trying to do–survive.
I hear this from my family who falls in the middle of the spectrum.
On paper, they make too much money to receive government aid for things like education, child care, and insurance, but in real life, they don’t make enough to ever get ahead or even just get by. Their “take home pay” never actually makes it home. It’s frustrating and depressing, and each day can feel like a defeat.
My childhood fluctuated in and out of that desperation. We lived on “last dollars” and unsecured government assistance.
My mom had to be strategic about reporting income and cash flow because with any increase we risked losing that assistance. We began to fear the label “middle-class” because we were actually better off poor.
But my family was fortunate and still is. We had options and people helped us. Other don’t have those options and that’s how families can go from middle-class to homeless overnight. Their livelihoods feel like a spinning top that at any moment can fall over.
And they don’t feel like the government is providing enough stability or reassurance. An “outsider,” even one whose personal values you disagree with, holds some appeal.
If you watched CNN at all this election cycle, you heard this was a “change election.” One campaign was identified as change; the other was “more of the same.”
Here’s the problem with that: “more of the same” was misunderstood and oversimplified, which—as we all know—happens a lot in public debates.
These past eight years were about progress and laying a sustainable groundwork that allowed us to continue working toward a better America where the middle class thrive and the poor have a clear path to the middle class.
I don’t think you’ll find a Democrat who would say Obamacare is perfect as is; President Obama himself probably wouldn’t. Obamacare today is not everything it was planned to be, but it’s progress.
Having more people than ever with medical insurance is progress. Having students able to stay on their parents’ insurance longer is progress. Pre-existing conditions no longer disqualifying you for coverage is progress. But yes, premiums are too high, and choices can be limited.
The plan was never to leave Obamacare as is. It needs to change. There is more to be done.
When you work in communications, you quickly cherish the phrase “There’s more work to be done.” That’s because progress doesn’t mean perfect. “Perfect” is almost always an oversell. We weren’t selling Obamacare, or other actions, as perfect–it was progress. A step in the right direction.
To me, both campaigns were change campaigns.
Clinton’s was about moving forward with new policies that are sustainable in a progressive country and preserving the liberties of ALL people. But she didn’t make that case forcefully enough to low- and moderate-income battleground voters, who I think saw her as more of the same while being lectured about their personal values.
Trump’s was a “start over,” “drain the swamp” campaign. I saw it as a step backward, both in how government works for people and how government values people. But he was able to sell it to a lot of frustrated voters as a step in a different direction that’s worth trying.
Today I woke up over the grief and ready to fight, particularly for women and people of color. My hope is restored, and I know our country will repair itself and will get back to making progress. But I can’t help but feel dismayed at the number of voters who signed on to empty promises, who could have instead signed on to real solutions if that had been a bigger focus of the campaign.
So while I understand their frustrations, because I have many of the same, I’ll never understand their vote.
Hanna is a Chicago digital media professional and blogger at “She Dabbles In.” She has also worked in digital communications at Obama for America and Education Post.