Dear America: What Happened?

“This is not normal,” declared John Oliver in a half-hour long piece on the recent presidential election. And it’s true. The US election did not feel normal at all. It felt like the processes were wrong, like the usual hoopla surrounding any election was soured somehow. Allow me to get political here for a bit, because to me, this did not feel normal.

Some UTM professors, however, would disagree.

On November 14th, just a few days after President-Elect Trump became an actual thing, students assembled in DV 2080 for an emergency roundtable to discuss two important questions. (1) How exactly did Donald Trump, whose candidacy was pretty much a joke for quite some time, get elected for US’s highest office, and (2) What exactly does that mean for the rest of the world?

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See, even though his election feels abnormal, according to Prof. Randy Besco, it was perfectly normal. Everything ran as planned – and that is what feels strange. In fact, Besco mused, it’s the fact that nothing did change that makes this feel so weird. It’s the fact that nothing stopped a man who ran on decidedly racist and xenophobic rhetoric that isn’t quite right here. Did that stop Americans from voting for him? Nope.

The fact is, there are a number of reasons why someone like Trump could be voted in. A general dislike for both candidates. Some rampant lying within both campaigns – so much so that it began to feel normal. Single issue voting. An increase in turnout for some groups with a decrease for others. Even a swing towards right-wing politicians with nativist and isolationist ideas that we’ve seen throughout the year in other countries (remember Brexit?) could have had some influence on the mindsets of people going into this. The reasons go on and on. It’s going to take myself and many others I’m sure a long time to process them all.

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(Brexit)

It was the symbolic importance of the election that really struck hard, Prof. Erin Tolley went on to say. What better way to represent a sharp divide in political ideology then a nail-bitingly close election between two candidates who, as I see it, are fundamentally different? Heated debate almost broke out between two roundtable attendees – this is how strongly these two sides feel.

So what happens now that Trump is bound for the White House, according to these professors? The answer is, who knows? Trump will either follow through on his promises, or he won’t, there’s really no way to tell. Personally, I’m hoping he doesn’t – it will be one of the first times, in fact, I actively hope for broken political promises. And while I fairly must say there are some policies of his that objectively might not be too bad, overall, there are a lot of promises he made that I can’t and won’t agree with. Everyone, of course, is free to their own opinion on the matter.

As each professor spoke, they were asked to report a silver lining among all the mess. Many did try, but to me, each reason felt somewhat hallow. In fact, Prof. Spyridon Kotsovilis simply stated that now, things would get interesting. Truthfully, it’s going to be painful, this election, just as Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech. It’s hard to find a silver lining because, for a lot of people, there isn’t one.

At this point? I’m honestly struggling to find a bright side to this. I woke up on Wednesday, November 9th, with this feeling of dread in me. And I don’t presume to think this was the same for everyone, of course, because for some people, Trump was a good candidate. For me? Not so much. This feeling after an election in another country? This is what isn’t normal, I think.7622cfb86320e9d922e4c1f4a22d07d4

(The left-wingers right now)

I won’t presume to know how we’re supposed to go forward with this whole thing, both emotionally and in terms of community. I know that lots of people are scared, angry, or just stunned that this happened. What matters now is keeping on top of things – being aware of what’s happening and offering support to our American neighbors. And, above all, not accepting this. Normal doesn’t mean good. Significant changes need to happen – changes that Canada cannot partake in legally, but can definitely support.

What November 14th’s roundtable gave me was a little extra knowledge. Some more facts to help process what was going on, or better yet, understand just how this almost unthinkable thing happened. I am grateful to the professors who showed up and gave their time and views to help myself and a room packed full of others. It gave me some insight on that quote – “This is not normal” – what it didn’t do is convince me that normalcy is fine to accept.

I’m not saying we all have to go to out into the streets and begin protesting – it’s not a plan that works for everyone. But as the students of this generation, the people who will inherit politics soon enough, I believe it is our job to know about these issues, to have opinions on them and debate them. I believe it is our job to be educated in our world, and to use that to make it better somehow.

Why? So when we ask America what happened? We can have answers. We can have some grasp on what does cause political trends and what are the consequences of supporting or denying certain people or policies. Perhaps we cannot vote in their elections, but we can vote in our own, and in what might just be a new era of politics, we can influence Canadian politics to lead in liberal democracy.

And of course, on the much more personal scale, we can accept those who might be suppressed by the system, provide solidarity to people who are protesting for their own rights. We can make the world a safer place for those of any number of personal identities. Right now? At the very least we can support those who are rightfully scared about America’s next president.

More than anything, we can keep in mind that the fact that this was normal for politics needs changing. In Canada as well as in America. We, the students of UTM, could be some part of that change.

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(A dog dressed as Donald Trump because why not?)

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