This started as a post, on November 9th, titled “the day after the night before.” Since then, I have only written one post for the blog. That is not particularly odd, given this blog’s previous record, but it does interrupt what had been a slow burn into regular updates. I am disappointed by the interruption, and surprised: I usually write about things that upset and worry me. This time, my writing has suffered.
There are many reasons I am concerned, if not frightened, that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. However, the post I sat down to write on November 9th was not about how I felt after the election, but what it had been like to walk into class that day.
It was difficult, more difficult than I expected. I did something I have not done in class before: I shared with my students some of the specifics of my politics, before expressing my own disappointment with what had happened. I was specific on why I was so disappointed, and I talked about the difficulty of having a wife at home crying mostly from fear at what the future might bring and what this means about the country. I am the only white person in my household but also the only immigrant. I take solace in the fact that Trump would say anything to get elected, but I share my students’ disappointment that he would say some of the things he has said in the last few years and still win an election.
In the end, I waited, not least because of the difficulties around all of this. I do not think everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. In fact, I know it not to be the case. It is important, I think, for us to realize that the problem is not that a Democrat lost or a Republican won, but that it is alarming such a clearly unprepared person, a person of such clearly limited ability, has become president. Mostly it is important to understand this has not all happened in the last month. It takes time for such phenomena to germinate and ultimately manifest.
I was going to move on, and never write this post at all, but here it is. If nothing else, I wanted a small memorial to the moment I walked into a classroom holding a silence I had never heard before. I’ve often read variations on the phrasing of a “heavy silence” but this was my first time experiencing one this deep. Students had tears in their eyes. Whether I liked it or not, Donald Trump was in my classroom. He will not go anywhere soon. For me, the response is simple: I will teach what I have always taught. We will read about and discuss how good ideas go bad and how bad ideas proceed regardless, we will talk about how many ways we experiment with this relationship between the individual and the state, we will talk about the importance of cultural production and the meaningfulness of ideology in social and individual interactions. We will talk about all these things, and I will encourage my students not to take arguments at face value, whether those arguments be appealing to them or repulsive at first. I will continue to be a historian, and we will talk about all these things and go out into the world.