Editorial – December 2016

Editorial Board

We have become so divided as a nation that opposing political sides can no longer stand each other, let alone understand each other.

Despite what the typical Oak Park resident might see on Facebook, the vast majority of people who support Donald Trump are not bigots. Undoubtedly, some are: those are the people who in the days following the election sprayed the N-word on cars, committed hate crimes in plain daylight, and assaulted and killed a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian student in Wisconsin, all in the name of Trump.

These examples, while horrific, vile and despicable, are not representative of the Trump base. Most of the rank-and-file Republicans who voted for Trump did not vote for him because he was a bigot; they voted for him because he was the Republican nominee for President and because they believed his presidency would further typical Republican values. Most of the working class people who voted for Trump did not vote for him because he was racist; they voted for him because he was the candidate who promised to ameliorate their economic woes. To think these Republicans and workers all racists is to stereotype and ruin any chance of coming together to improve and heal our nation.

We are scared when we see people in Oak Park writing off these Trump supporters. When we see our friends tell Trump supporters on Facebook to never talk to them again, we notice how these people are now never going to see anything that contrasts with their political beliefs on social media. When we see a petition to convince electors to vote for Hillary Clinton has over four million supporters, we are shocked so many people are willing to undermine one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy: the idea that the person who wins the election should have the job. Some argue this petition is justified because Clinton won the popular vote, but the fact is Trump won in the system we have used for 240 years to select presidential candidates. We seriously doubt any of those people would be complaining if Clinton had lost the popular vote but won through the electoral college.

Over 85 percent of Oak Park voters could not comprehend how anyone could vote for Trump, but there are communities in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Florida, where people cannot fathom how anyone could vote for Clinton. There is not enough productive discourse between different political groups – no way for people to understand and empathize with viewpoints different from their own.

The rise of social media has only exacerbated this political separation, as people now live in online echo chambers that only confirm and amplify their viewpoint of the world. A 2016 Pew Research Center report found nearly 6 in 10 adults get news from social media, which is problematic. This information is often biased, factually inaccurate, and only represents the opinions of the homogenous groups of friends these readers have on Facebook. Websites like Breitbart, a conservative news outlet with 31 million unique visitors each month, spread factually inaccurate stories on a number of political issues, most notably a series of articles “proving” Obama was actually born in Kenya.

More traditional news outlets are not exempt either. When seven of the 10 most shared stories on the New York Times website are opinion pieces bashing Trump and his supporters, a liberal’s irrational hatred of the other side might be confirmed. Additionally, many traditional media outlets have ignored revelations about the Clinton campaign present in the Wikileaks emails, leading to a conservative perception of liberal bias. The media in general has roundly denounced Trump, writing piece after piece after piece, but all these articles only enhanced Trump’s anti-establishment credibility.

Trump himself was only a logical extension of this polarization. If the Republican party had not shifted significantly right over the past 20 years, a candidate as extreme as Trump never would have made it out of the primary. If the Democratic party had not shifted significantly left, millions of centrist blue-collar Trump supporters would have been more likely to vote for a party now perceived as ideologically intolerant and elitist. The conditions were set; Trump just took advantage of this polarization and rode the wave of hatred it created to the presidency. If we further denounce those who supported him, we are furthering this dangerous trend and paving the way for a candidate more extreme than Trump.

What we are begging for people in our community to do is to stop furthering the hateful rhetoric and speech that brought us to this nadir in American politics.

Trump is by no means a typical Republican candidate – the fact that he openly stereotyped Muslims and Hispanics, mocked disabled people, and bragged about sexually assaulting women cannot and will not be overlooked, and as a newspaper we will never try to defend him or what he has said.

However, while Trump is inexcusable, his supporters are not.

All we are asking is for everyone to recognize the humanity of those not like them, whether it’s liberals in Oak Park understanding the legitimate problems of blue-collar workers in the rust belt or Republicans understanding why groups who have specifically been called out and harassed by Trump are so scared by this result.

Let us follow the examples of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney, politicians who have every reason to denounce Trump after his personal political attacks but who are placing the peaceful transition of power and their respect of the American people over their own selfish desires. Let us reverse the political polarization that has gridlocked our Congress and weakened our country, rather than contributing to it.

If you are disappointed and hurt by the election results, we urge you to go out and fight for your beliefs rather than giving up in disgust. Fight for the change you believe in, but if you fight we ask you to be empathetic, to understand rather than hate, and to be tolerant of those with different beliefs. America is a country founded on the premise of inclusivity, and as such the only way to move forward is to include everyone in the never-ending vision of the more perfect union America ought to be.