Reflections from a Former Republican Turned Democrat

Alex Robledo, Georgetown University:

Excitement, confusion, nervousness, disbelief, defeat. That was the track of emotions I, and many millions of Americans who supported Secretary Clinton, felt as the election results slowly but surely pointed to a rousing Donald Trump victory. When I woke up the next morning, I was honestly unsure what had happened. For a moment, I thought it was still the morning of the election. But as I reached for my phone and the screen lit up, the words that greeted me instantly crystallized the reality that I had desperately tried to shut out the night before: “Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States in a stunning victory, CNN projects.” I was shell-shocked; yet in hindsight, it was a train wreck that could be seen from a mile away.

I was not the typical liberal Democrat who supported Secretary Clinton—I was a lifelong Republican, and I supported Mitt Romney over President Obama in 2012. Yet while my presidential preferences have since changed, the sting of devastation that I felt on election night was all-too-familiar from four years ago. When that election was over, I was motivated to learn from the defeat: I resolved to try and change the Republican Party from the inside. The famous “autopsy” report that the GOP had authored spoke to what I felt needed to be done: make the Republican Party more inclusive and big-tent-like, particularly by reaching out to racial minorities and women voters. For the next four years, I had devoted countless hours toward making that happen. As the editor of the Georgetown University College Republicans’ online blog, I opened the intellectual discourse within the party to encompass a wide variety of perspectives, even those that did not fit the traditional conservative mold. As Mahatma Gandhi instructed, I tried to be the change that I wanted to see.

Yet despite the progress I was seeing on my campus and among the young Republicans I had come into contact with, the party as a whole was taking a wildly different track. In a sea of well-qualified, distinguished, and honorable candidates during the primaries, Republicans ultimately chose as its leader a man who was fundamentally opposed to the vision I held for my party. Far from reaching out to racial minorities and women, Mr. Trump took glory in insulting, denigrating, and even assaulting them. Rather than painting a hopeful vision for the future, he played up nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments to preach a gospel of despair and infiltration.

Donald Trump’s message was 0ne I could not get on board with, but even worse, I was let down by the Republican leaders who stood by his side and refused to condemn his poisonous rhetoric. I was so disillusioned that, in the spring of this year, I left the Republican Party and went all in with Hillary Clinton. I donated to her campaign, put up her signs in my window, and pleaded with friends to vote for her before ultimately doing so myself. I thought we were on a track to victory, as I am sure many of us believed by watching the polls and consuming mass media, all of which signaled a Clinton victory. Then reality came knocking on our doors.

In the days, weeks, and months to come pundits will dissect this election every which way, but there is one thing I can be sure of: I fundamentally misunderstood the pain that is being felt by, what I believe to be, the majority of Trump supporters who are decent people. The vitriolic rhetoric of Mr. Trump himself, and the support he was received from the alt-right and white nationalists, blinded me from the very real discontent that regular people in this country are grappling with. Rather than work through the thought process of those who sided with Trump, I turned away. There is no doubt that many who supported Secretary Clinton can relate to this attitude, but it is clear now that we were wrong to not empathize with them. Now with the election finally behind us, I am determined to move on from this experience with a lesson learned, much like in 2012. I never understood how so many decent people could support a man like Donald Trump, such as this 51-year-old Muslim woman who even considers herself to be a liberal. But rather than continuing to write them off, it is time I started talking to people like her to try and understand where they are, and to start working to bridge the deep chasm that lies between us.

I implore my fellow Clinton supporters to do the same, and to move forward both with resolve and with respect. As difficult as the election results have been to accept, we ought not to meet our new reality with bitter, cold hearts. If the mantra of “stronger together” has meant anything over the last six months, it is that we truly are better as a people when we come together and talk with each other, not past each other. Accepting the reality of a Trump Administration does not mean accepting the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that Mr. Trump himself embraced in his campaign. We can, and must, continue to stand for our values of openness, civility, and respect, and we must resist hate wherever we encounter it. However, the fabric of our country rests on respect for the office of the presidency, including whoever it is that occupies it. Donald Trump may not think America is great, but the truth is that that distinctly American tradition is exactly what makes this country great.

But to those who supported Donald Trump, let’s be clear: bridging the divide is a two-way street. If you are sincerely motivated not by racial bias or prejudice but by economic loss and frustration with government, then you have a responsibility to call out and condemn the hateful elements within your ranks. Democrats and disillusioned Republicans have warned for months of the hate that was pervading the Trump campaign, and now that he has won, that hate is quickly metastasizing. Within the last six days alone, the number of race-based hate crimes have noticeably increased, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Racial and ethnic minorities are finding themselves the targets of harassment and threats, anything from being heckled to being told they would be set on fire because of who they are. Decent people of all political persuasions can agree that such despicable behavior is contemptible and has no place in our society. But it is not enough to simply say, “Oh that’s bad, they shouldn’t do that.”

Donald Trump’s supporters, as the very people who helped bring about his political victory, you have an equal—if not greater—responsibility to actively discourage the racial hatred that is on display. If you believe Clinton supporters should get behind a Donald Trump administration, then you are responsible for ensuring that minorities continue to have a place in our post-Trump society.

I would like to close with a few words I have for Mr. Trump. I know you won’t ever read this, but I must express what I and many Americans like myself are feeling in this moment of uncertainty. I cannot forgive and forget the hateful, vitriolic rhetoric that you’ve employed during your campaign, and I refuse to rejoin a party that has been taken over by someone of your moral caliber. However, none of what I feel can change the fact that you will now be my president. As such, I hope you realize the awesome responsibility that now rests on your shoulders. The future of this country—and indeed the trajectory of world history—now lies in your hands. I know you won’t bend to what people want you to be, but I hope you can understand that your words and actions as president will have very real effects, and they should not be made in the same vein as a 3am tweet.

You’ve said that you will be “a president for all Americans,” not just those who supported you. Those words are not comforting to hear, because as you’ve said yourself, words are nothing compared to actions. I will try my hardest to give you the chance to lead this country with a fresh start, because our success as a nation rides on your success as a president. I hope you truly do work to be a president for all Americans, like you promised. Because make no mistake: the 60 million of us who did not vote for you will be watching you closely for the next four years, and we will hold you to that promise.


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