Dear Hillary Haters: Reflections on Safety in a Trumped Nation

An Essay by Marilyn Winkle

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton reached into my head to scoop up a trembling little girl and told her, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and to achieve your own dreams.” Thank you, Hillary. I have cried a lot in the last three days. Some are tears of fear as media outlets flood reports of racially charged hate crimes. Tears of pride: for friends pledging donations to service organizations whose work may soon be threatened. Tears of frustration: for being ridiculed as melodramatic. Once again, thin-skinned millennials are just throwing temper tantrums. Apparently it’s ok to mourn sports losses, but not threats against human rights. In a brilliant twist of irony, supporters who chanted “lock her up,” and “Trump that bitch,” are calling us negative hypocrites and asking for unity. Even some other progressives have taken to blaming millennials, calling us “social justice warriors,” claiming that leftist rhetoric has been as divisive as any.

I remember confronting Bernie Sanders supporters after his loss in the Democratic primary, quoting my clever co-worker, “One person does not a revolution make,” adding the sentiment that no one had died and you really cared about a revolution, then that fight continues. To Bernie Sanders and his supporters: I am sorry for condescending your mourning, but I still stand by what I said about our revolution. It is not for Hillary Clinton’s loss that I mourn; I know that our revolution continues. Instead I mourn the loss of safety.  

I ask that you all pause judgment and consider empathizing with this.

The electoral college elected a man who was bragged about committing sexual assault. The “locker room talk” excuse (whether you buy it or not) sends a message to men that they can openly demean and assault women without consequence. In a country already full of Brock Turners, this message is frightening. Donald Trump also claimed that women should be punished for having abortions and wants to appoint judges to repeal Roe v. Wade. Mike Pence’s anti-abortion policies led to the shutdown of several crucial Planned Parenthood locations, resulting in an HIV outbreak. Thus, this ideology poses a physical threat to everyone, namely low-income and minority men and women. A survivor of sexual assault, you cannot make me unlearn evidence that patriarchy is deadly. Other politicians have ignored this; our next President openly champions it.

I am not alone in having justifiable fears for my physical safety. The massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando revealed a prevalent homophobic backlash despite recent progress toward marriage equality, and Pence still believes in enforcing conversion therapy. How many black men and women lost their lives this year to white supremacy this year alone? How many immigrants families, who have lived in this country peacefully for generations in the service of white America, now face deportation? I am the stepdaughter of a Cuban immigrant. Growing up, I watched as shiploads of Haitian immigrant made it to US soil only for their families to be broken up, detained indeterminately, and then deported. Americans today are horrified by stories of Syrian refugees who die while drifting desperately in search of safety; Miamians have watched this happen to refugees for decades.

This election showed me how much my body is hated. How much brown bodies are hated. How LGBT individuals are so despised that Christian bakers won’t even sell them a wedding cake. I know it may be difficult for you to care, because you grew up being taught to hate our bodies. If this were not true, I would not need to hear reassurance that my life has value even though I am a woman. But there are other bodies at risk, too, and these concern us all. Between our oceans and our atmosphere, all of our lives depend on the health and safety of our planet. Our next President thinks climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. Other Republicans agree with him, and they will soon control the White House and both houses of Congress. Climate change threatens all of our lives.

Safety is not just a matter of physical concern: our survival also depends on intellectual, emotional, and political safe spaces. Ironically, the concept of safe intellectual space has received equal ridicule from the ideological right and left. Instead of reforming our approach to discussing challenging ideas in order to include a wider diversity of perspectives, toxic patriarchal language condemns “sensitivity” as a weakness. Because even educated people scoff at “PC Culture,” we all fail to establish reasonable rhetorical decorum, surrendering logic in political debate. There’s a reason why, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump boldly claimed, “I love the poorly educated.” I believe that hatred of political correctness led to the anti-intellectual movement which helped elect Donald Trump for President.

It is natural to slide from reason into pathos. I make my living teaching at USC’s Writing Center and have read far too many student essays about the extent to which social media fosters productive discourse. It is a truly complicated question because although social media has been a platform for revolution (i.e. Egypt, #blacklivesmatter, etc), I am sure we have all experienced horrific “conversations” that quickly devolved into name calling. But ever since Plato wrote that “laments are effeminating threats to the state,” the patriarchy has shunned statements like, “It hurt my feelings when you called me a ‘slut’ without even knowing me.” We thus get trapped in horrific cycles of emotional abuse on and offline.  We must learn how to use our amazing ability to reason in order to attack ideas, not people.

Luckily, the change train has already been in motion for a long time, and I am grateful for the civil freedoms that women and minorities have steadily gained. But politics is still far from inclusive. Yes, we are nearing the end of the eighth and final year of our first Black presidency. But despite the general consensus that Donald Trump lacks the temperament and the qualifications to lead this country, voters polled went on record saying that they voted for the “alpha male.” I don’t know what evidence could more clearly indicate gender bias this election season. You don’t know how distressing that is.

Because politicians create laws that affect our collective safety, it behooves our country to make sure that our political spaces are truly representative of all of us. We need to make politics safe for everyone by redefining what just leaders look like. So how do we end the patriarchy that attacks our bodies, our environment, our freedom of expression, and our emotional health? We mourn, and then we revolutionize.

I am not interested in allocating blame for how we ended up here. But for other readers in mourning, I hear you. I don’t own a superhero cape or mask, but here is my summary for what to do next. First, we need to create physical safe spaces: (1) defend women when you find them being assaulted on the street, on college campuses, and in their own homes, (2) open your doors to immigrant families who have made this country great, (3) defend gay marriage and the rights of trans individuals to use whatever fucking bathroom they want, (4) advocate for women’s health, the protection of Roe v. Wade, and the reinstatement of the Violence Against Women Act, and (5) do everything you can to reduce your energy dependence and carbon emissions, and lobby your elected officials to do the same. Next, and this part is crucial in order to successfully achieve the former, fight ideas with logic rather than people with hate. Rather than ridiculing those who express a need for intellectual safety, engage in rational conversations about how to implement them in ways that are conducive to critical thinking and learning. Finally, in addition to teaching more critical thinking, we need to teach compassion and inclusivity so that all people can be safe to express themselves emotionally and politically.

If we keep at this, then maybe such earnestness and grace as expressed by Hillary Clinton today will no longer be relegated to concession speeches.

Marilyn Winkle