There is only one America. Politicians and pundits may suggest otherwise but our nation does not have a new standard of what it means to be an American.
I woke up on November 9 in the same country in which I went to bed on November 8. I worked for the Obama reelection campaign in 2012 as well as in his administration, and proudly served as the Deputy Foreign Policy Adviser on Secretary Clinton’s national campaign staff so I understand the impact this election had on many.
Outside of the far ends of the political spectrum, what sets most of us apart isn’t the values themselves, but the lens through which we understand them. Regardless of where we’re from and what we believe, we strive for opportunity.
Opportunity, however, does not mean the same thing throughout our society. That realization provides a glimpse into how we find ourselves here at the precipice of President-elect Trump’s America.
I am a Southern black man and recognize that racism clearly exists in our country. It played a role as misogyny and sexism did in this presidential race. I don’t look to make light of these issues, but this is not what I am here to discuss. They alone aren’t affecting societal change today. There’s something more that is interwoven into the issue.
I have relationships with people who voted for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, and I needed to make sense of that. How could they not see the same flaws I saw in this man? Did they hate women or people of color or the LGBT community? When I asked myself that, I realized I was also living in my own echo chamber.
Where I saw a despot and aspiring dictator his supporters saw something different. They saw opportunity.
Long gone are the days when one could earn a living with little or no education by working in factories and fields. I have a friend from the Rustbelt whose parents raised four kids and sent them to college on one income alone. His father was a high school graduate and his mother was a homemaker. For some, that was the American dream available for them.
However, experts in the field today warn that even if plants were to return to the U.S., fleets of automated arms to do the work once coveted by humans would accompany them. We have shifted from an industrial nation to a service economy.
Simultaneously, many flyover Americans are watching a more diverse country emerge around them that does not reflect their own communities. Now a new group of citizens can have a chance at obtaining their own American dream. We speak of more seats for everyone at the table, but we aren’t always clear in conveying that we are also saving seats for economically distressed white Americans, that they are a part of that “everyone.”
President-elect Trump’s followers and supporters hear one thing repeatedly: If you voted for him, you’re racist.
To be called a racist is one of the worst possible accusations today. The term masks a more significant meaning. You’re really telling a person you don’t trust them, you think the worst of them, you are afraid of them. You are telling someone you may barely know or someone you know intimately that you don’t believe they value you as a person.
How can I tell hard working people like my friend’s family they’ve always had privilege, they’ve always had a seat simply because of the color of their skin?
I grew up in Lexington, South Carolina, a beautiful, sleepy suburb less than 30 minutes from the state capital, Columbia. I often found myself the only child of color in my classes or in my activities. My parents grew up in the segregated South. But not only was I familiar with rebel flags and calls for the “South to rise again,” I also saw my neighbors and classmates on free and reduced lunch struggling to find what my parents also fought for: opportunity.
Though they were white, many were poor, they didn’t own property, and their parents couldn’t produce the same level of support and education my parents provided. Today, many of these same individuals see an ever-changing American landscape.
As we continue to be vigilant and vocal, as we continue to speak out against the vitriol and hate empowered by the victorious Trump campaign, we must do what we can to understand what is happening to our neighbors and communities who struggle.
It’s time to step outside of our bubbles. We are not redefining what American values are or what they mean.
I’ve fought for this country and will continue to do all I can to serve it proudly. I don’t want to see us merely survive. I want America to continue to thrive as a standard bearer and an example on the world stage I am proud of.
But for that to happen, we must start by attempting to speak the same language.
Bishop “BJ” Garrison was the deputy foreign policy advisor for the 2016 Clinton campaign.