By the time this is published, you might already be dead. Thanks to our annual Best of Utah issue, the deadline for this space has been moved up a week, so I'm writing barely after Election Day 2016. Yesterday, raucous crowds of Hillary Clinton supporters held loud, peaceful—and so far, legal—protests against the electoral college victory of Donald Trump to become the next president of the United States. At this hour, I'm not sure if the end is nigh, but it's plain that many people believe they can see the end of the world if they stand on their tippy toes.
In 1972, I was in my first quarter at the University of Utah. The campus was often rife with protests against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, against eating non-union-picked lettuce, for women's liberties, or feminism, or women's right to choose. Finding a protest was easy. Though I did march here or sit there on occasion, I was hardly a campus firebrand.
Yet, over time, I became certain that each of those causes would always remain core to me. They have been, plus an important new one—though I can't recall gay rights being a campus cause in 1972. The above was the backdrop as I pulled back the red, white and blue drapes of the voting booth on Nov. 7, 1972, in the Copperton Lion's Club, eager to cast my first vote for president as an 18-year-old. I closed the drapes behind me. I then did exactly as my coal-mining, Cretan grandfather had taught me: I voted straight-ticket Democrat.
I left and hadn’t driven very far when the radio DJ announced that Richard Nixon had won re-election. My folded ballot was still in the ballot box. The guy I voted for, George McGovern, would carry just one state that day. It was a massacre.
Every cause I believed in was shredded. I didn’t matter. My friends didn’t matter. My Afro wearing study partner didn’t matter. My Mexican buddies whose fathers worked two jobs didn’t matter. The hippie chicks in all of their bell-bottomed, tie-dyed, bra-less glory didn’t matter. The Vietnam war—which Nixon expanded into Cambodia the previous year—didn’t matter. It felt like the end of the world.
But it wasn't.
Today, many people fear for their very being. But, here’s the deal: If you give up, it’s game over. If you remain afraid, it’s game over. If you don’t do something positive, it’s game over. We need to know we’re not alone—but protests alone won’t move the needle. Especially pointless is raging that all of the 60 million people who voted for Donald Trump are a bunch of inbred, toothless, dimwitted, racist, gun toting-idiots.
Some are. But not all.
Many people who voted for Trump have more in common with you than with him. Appeal to them. Don’t rush to marginalize them. People who voted for Obama in 2012 did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Racist? Not.
Oddly, one hope now is that the former liberal Democrat Trump will renounce the vengeful and scary positions he took in order to win, and will move closer to the governance stronghold of political centrist. Maybe. But, the damage is done. Fix it; start there.
By any account, it wasn’t Clinton’s experience and ability that did her in.
Without going all Kafka—did Trump win or did Clinton lose? Solve that and you can move past wherever you are today and find a solution for tomorrow. For instance, it was plainly strategic to choose Mike Pence as a vice-presidential running mate, filling the evangelical gap for Trump nationwide. Was it arrogance, or cynicism, that led Clinton and the Democratic party to choose a running mate who only barely appealed to fellow harmonica players? By that view, sports fans, one side played to avoid losing while the other side played to win.
Ask these, too: Why do people care so much when their champion didn’t even bother to campaign in Wisconsin, a state that Trump bragged he was going to win on Day 1? Why did Clinton only win in the cities, especially when Obama’s lasso was much wider in 2012? The Dems lost Wisconsin—but Michigan? How could she lose Arkansas, where her husband was governor? What if Elizabeth Warren were on the ticket, or Bernie Sanders, or Mr. Ed? Would my coal mining grandfather vote for her?
If you’re going to mourn, if you’re going to protest—and put your life in the path of newly empowered racists, bigots and sexist pigs—if you’re going to invest so much emotion into a person, you need to know that person has your back as much as you have theirs. That is their contract with you. Hold them to it.
I mourned in 1972. I did also after the hanging chad results in 2000 when our Best of Utah was a pre-teen. Sixteen Best of Utahs later, I’m feeling it again—for similar reasons as some of you, yet for one in particular: Some newspaper offices like ours—comprised of ethnically, racially and sexually diverse employees—are amping up security measures not only because of ugly campaign rhetoric against individual freedoms, but because Trump called for war on the press, too.
We will not let our love of the First Amendment be taken from us, we cannot abrogate our responsibility to solace the weak and to strengthen the bold. We have learned to trust more in words, truth, honor and action—and less in people.
It’s the best we can do. If we fail, it won’t be because Trump did it to us. It will be because everyday people took us for granted and never learned how and why we got here.
Column modified to accurately reflect author's 1972 vote.