Last week, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton made the call to concede victory to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. Well before this moment, however, our country fell into shock. The media had painted a very different picture as to what we should expect Tuesday. Early voting statistics led many to believe that the seasoned Democrat would secure the presidency with little hassle. As the big electronic boards displaying the image of our ill-fated nation grew more and more blood-red, jaws could be heard dropping all over the nation.
In the aftermath of Trump's win, millions of people (including myself) began the five stages of grief. We denied the possibility of his win by sharing funny memes of Hillary Clinton drinking excessively and began looking into ways that the Russian's could be responsible for Trump's higher numbers. We lashed out at those who supported the extremely controversial candidate in long facebook posts that alienated our family and friends. We screamed in the streets, "Not Our President!", exercising the very rights that many conservatives argued we liberals were trying to squash. We began petitions, begging the electoral college to honor the popular vote when they officially cast their votes in December. Even Obama has been offered a third term by many Americans, willing to bargain away the twenty-second amendment if it means not having to live under a Trump administration. When depression set in, many of us cried into large glasses of alcohol and even larger cups of coffee. Our eyes swelled red as we contemplated the cataclysmic effects this election. Many of us are still in this stage, our emotions too raw with only a few days to process them.
The fifth stage will not come easily. It is nearly impossible to accept what we are afraid of. Millions of American's will not find acceptance because they are terrified, and their fear is substantiated by a subset of newly empowered Trump supporters, who have come out in droves in the last few days to remind us what the new regime could entail. Children across the country are now emboldened by Trump's victory, openly bullying minority children with little consequences. Some adult supporters have not proven to be any wiser. College campuses all over the country are reporting similar incidents.
However, you will notice that I wrote "a subset of Trump supporters", rather than all Trump supporters. As much as I want to tattoo bigot/racist/xenophobe/Misogynist on the foreheads of everyone who filled in the little bubble next to Trump's name, the truth is, there are some who do not deserve this label outright. There are outliers in this election, people who voted for Trump, not because of the filth that came out of his mouth, but in spite of it. It is important to account for these people, before we can understand the true issue at hand.
Some of these outliers are people who really are good at their core, but needed to vote for Trump for their own family's survival. I read an article that spoke of Alaskan families who were at risk of losing absolutely everything under a Clinton administration, due to the fishing regulations she would impose. Those coal mining towns that we all loathe because of their severe impact on the environment? They contain actual people, with nothing else to do once their livelihood is ripped away from them. I may support Clinton in her environmental efforts, but that does not mean I am incapable of empathizing with the people it will affect. A lot of these people will cross over into the group that Hillary Clinton called, "deplorable", but some are truly only trying to survive.
There was also another type of outlier who supported Trump, and they are also not necessarily terrible human beings. These people have been sheltered and well-educated, they are entitled, arrogant, selfishly short-sided, and they are nearly always white. These people are also currently incapable of understanding the true impact of Trump's presidency on on the communities in which they are not a part of. I am not excusing these voters, for it is within their reach to listen and learn from those screaming out to them, but they are disabled by their upbringing. These college-aged men and women believe themselves to be empowered by their ability to vote not with emotion, but solely on policy. They claim not to be any of the labels we've screamed at them, spouting friendships of all kinds, however, these voters unashamedly admit to caring more about the structure of this country's government, than the citizens dwelling within it. Personally, I disagree with this mentality on a fundamental level, but I do understand it.
There are, of course, outliers which may not fit into either of those categories. Single issue voters (i.e abortion) also made up a small population of Trump supporters. I will also take a moment to note that there are people who voted for Trump who will feel like they do not belong to any of the groups listed. They are probably wrong, but I'm writing a couple sentences to cover my bases anyway.
Now that the outliers are accounted for, we can zero in on the largest group of Trump supporters. The majority of Trump voters were white, working class, evangelical men & women, a vast portion of which topped out their education in high-school.
This is our problem.
Let me start by saying there are a lot of people who will not like what I have to say on this subject. I will also say that when I use the world evangelical, I am not grouping all Christians into that category. There are all different types of religious people. From the extremely religious, all the way to, "Eh, I guess I believe in God." When I say evangelical, I am referring to the bible-thumping, Jesus-is-King, type-Amen-in-this-facebook-thread, kind of Christian. This loud and proud group of Americans are the reason Trump won the presidency. They are also victims of America's failing subservient education system, which is a large piece of the fragile puzzle that led us down this terrifying path.
It is my opinion that allowing evangelism into our public school system is putting the students in those situations at a severe disadvantage. By allowing historical facts and well-supported theories to be watered down in certain areas of the country (so that the evangelicals will not riot in the streets about their religious freedom), we have failed the future generations of those areas. At some point in our country's history (I say at some point because despite what many want to believe, our forefathers were not Christian. They were deists and they absolutely believed in the separation of church and state), the bible has become just as relevant in policy formation as the constitution. This undeniable fact is failing our children, and in turn, failing the country. It is not a coincidence that the least educated Americans are also typically the most religious. It is also not a coincidence that the most religious in this country are likely to live below the poverty line. It is a cycle of epic and vicious proportions.
If you're having trouble grasping this concept, let me give you an example.
A baby girl is born to a young evangelical mother, who became pregnant after she received abstinence only education. Despite her strong faith in God, the young girl had sex before marriage (because she is a human being with human hormones) and now, due to her circumstances, is forced to marry the father of her baby. Assuming adoption is out of the question for this girl (because we all know abortion is), this young woman will drop out of high school to care for the baby. Perhaps she will receive her GED, perhaps not. She may be too busy to study, because she will have work forty hours a week at the local superstore to afford her new life as a married mother. She will undoubtedly turn to Jesus and the bible to help her get through the difficulties of her situation. Her husband will also be forced to work excessive hours, but he will probably have the luxury of finishing high school first. As her child grows and begins to go to school herself, the mother will have little time to discuss what her daughter learns in school, and when she does, she might not understand all of it. She will, however, probably take issue with certain aspects of the science curriculum, because as a devote follower of Christ she knows how the world was created. The mother will be sure to pass on this important information to her daughter. However, unlike the mother, the daughter might receive some sort-of sexual education. Her mother hopes to avoid raising a grandchild along with the other three children she has produced over the years. The daughter does not get pregnant. She finishes high school. Then, because college is far too expensive for a household bringing in under 50k a year, the daughter will have to find a job. Without a college education, her choices are limited. When she eventually marries and has a child of her own, her children will not be going to college either. Their mother has worked at the local grocery store and has worked her way up to manager, but it still isn't enough. Maybe one of the children pays for community college themselves, but they fall into serious debt as a result. Through all of this, this family struggles to pay for medical care. They can't afford the more healthy foods and they don't have time or energy to exercise regularly because they have to work all of the time. They continue to rely on the teachings of the bible, but still, their troubles do not lessen. Fifty years down the line, this family has grown larger, but their experiences haven't. They are still poor, still not properly educated, and still praying to Jesus to help them.
But when our government tries to answer those prayers in the form of various government programs, these evangelicals refuse. It is a lot like the fable about the man who refuses to leave his home during a horrible flood, believing God will save him. He denies help from good Samaritans and rescue workers three times, because he believes God will help him. The man drowns. When he reaches the pearly gates, the man cries and asks why God didn't help him. God responds, "I sent you help three times. What more were you looking for?"
The US government is capable of offering a better education to its citizens, but the party the evangelicals vote for is typically against the necessary budget changes to allow for this and supports their crusade for bible-friendly education. The government also offers an affordable healthcare system to those who need it most, but the poorest Americans and the most religious Americans continue to vote against their best interests. Even programs like Welfare, a system that keeps millions of children fed, is at risk for defunding under Trump's regime. And yet, despite the multitude of economic reasons that poor people should vote democrat, they vote Republican. Why?
Religion. More specifically, fundamental Christianity.
Why does religion keep a lot of poor religious people from voting in their best interest?
Lack of education.
(If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would take this moment to point out that it would be rather advantageous for the Republican party to hitch their wagon to the evangelical vote. Otherwise, their voting demographic would consist of the top 1% in economic status and those who prioritize keeping our government small. Without the evangelical vote, Republicans wouldn't stand a chance. Just a thought.)
Everything comes back to education. Most of the people who have left religion behind (or never had it to begin with) are well-educated citizens, often with a family history of higher learning. This says a lot about the relationship between education and religion. However, there are a number of devout scholars who are far more educated than I could ever hope to be and I have many close friends and family members who are both religious and quite intelligent. I also know less educated, but very open minded religious people, who have had the benefit of moving around to different areas of the country, living among different kinds of people. I believe this type of education is just as valuable as academic education. In fact, I think life experience can be more important in many ways. By living in different communities and getting to know all kinds of people, we are offered a valuable lesson in empathy and it pushes us to re-examine our outlook on life and religion, just as traditional education does.
When our federal government allows these evangelical communities to cut themselves off from important life experiences and academic knowledge in public schools, we are failing our citizens. Watering down text books and allowing teachers to refer to Jesus and God in the classroom as if they are each undeniable truths, keeps our children from having to challenge themselves at a very young age. I know this is the fundamentalist's goal, and that to not question things is considered a virtue in those circles, but it should not be allowed in the public school system.
(Side note: This whole not questioning thing is frighteningly similar to what one would find in a cult. Just another thought.)
These people have the right to their religion. This is an unalienable right, given to them by the constitution, and I support that right one hundred percent. I also support their right to practice their religion however they wish, with the exception that their beliefs do not harm others and are not pushed onto other people. However, by allowing our public school system to openly practice any kind of religion, we are allowing this system of subservient education to perpetuate, and thereby dimming the futures of every child in those classrooms.
Let me paint a different picture for you.
That same young woman from above? Her best friend goes down a totally different path. It is in witnessing her best friend's experiences, that this young woman begins to question her beliefs. How could God allow her to become pregnant at fifteen? Why didn't God stop her from having sex? Why was sex bad in the first place? Why give them these damn hormones! The young woman's mother does not support her curiosity, but the young woman continues in her studies, going to the library after school and watching videos on Youtube that challenge her beliefs. When it comes time to make a decision about going to college, the young woman applies for scholarships and financial aid, driven by her knowledge that there is much more to learn. Despite being unable to pay, the young woman goes to college and receives her degree. She has to work the entire time she is in school, but because she is working in a college town, she has the privilege of getting to know all different types of people. This life experience continues to enrich her life and expand her mind as she enters the work force in her chosen career path. Many years down the line, when the young woman decides to start a family of her own, her children will immediately benefit from their mother's experiences. Whether she retained her Christianity or not, the young woman has gained valuable life lessons that have opened her mind and her heart to all different paths of life.
To me, this is the better story. It's the one our government should help enable. Instead, because fundamentalists are loud (and sometimes very scary with their death signs and their large guns) the government allows these bends in our constitutional rights to separation of church and state.
One week after the election, Trump voters are eagerly awaiting the President-Elect's reign, counting on him to deliver on the ominous promise of Making America Great Again. For these evangelicals, that means Making America Christian Again (it never was/should be), Making America (powered by) White(s) Again, and Making America Straight Again (We've always been here guys, you're just not allowed to kill us anymore so more of us are coming out). These are the people we should be concentrating on. It is easy to condemn the outliers who voted Trump despite their lack of racism/homophobia/xenophobia/misogyny, because even if they do not feel that way, they are saying that those beliefs are not deal-breakers. However, there is nothing we can do about these people. Some of them are well-educated, some of them are well-experienced. They just have different priorities. Despite how disgusted I am with the idea that anyone could hold government structure over the life of even one human being, I can accept this.
What I can not accept, is the abandonment of this country's constitution and the fundamental beliefs on which it was founded. By not effectively separating church and state in many of our public schools, we are allowing the substandard education that ends up pushing out more and more under-educated and ignorant young people, who are left with no reason to question the bigotry they are presented with. In fact, they welcome it! It's all they've ever known.
We have to focus on education in the next four years if we have any hope at avoiding this catastrophe a second time. We won't be able to change every mind, but we can start by broadening the minds of those who have yet to close them entirely. By reaching out to local advocacy groups, volunteering, and providing support in any way we can, this is something positive and empowering that we can focus on while we work through the first four stages of grief and begin the fifth.
Acceptance will only come once we've found a way to fight against that which we can control. We can not control who was elected president anymore. We can not control those who voted for him. However, we can make moves to enlighten future voters. This election was White America's last stand in many respects, and they won. We have to be ready for the next assault.
If we are prepared, if we are educated, their bigotry will be crushed by our votes.
Let's get to work.