This morning my six-year-old niece and I had one thing in common: we were both crying. In my little liberal corner of the world outside of Portland, it was hard for me to imagine that forty-five percent of Maine residents and nearly forty-eight percent of United States citizens would vote for a man who demonstrated such blatant disrespect for immigrants, women, minority groups, and members of the military. His exclusionary rhetoric goes against everything our country stands for, and everything I believe in. Like my niece who tearfully insisted on wearing her “Hillary for President” pin to her first grade classroom this morning, I am struggling to rationalize where we go from here.
For the first time in history, Maine’s four electoral votes were split: Clinton earned three and Trump earned one. Central and Northern Maine residents made their voices heard when they went out in force to give the reality television star and businessman their support. This morning my social media feed was filled with broken hearted tweets from the majority of my Southern Maine compatriots, and victorious post from many of my friends and family members in Northern Maine. Between the two groups, there is a lot of anger and hate. People are called “socialist” and “sexist” with regularity, depending on where they stand politically. In some cases, family and friends have deleted each other from social media and from each other’s lives. Some post indicate a desire to leave the country over their embarrassment, and other post indicate that the wounded parties should do just that. To me, this is almost sadder than the election results themselves.
This spring when Trump and Clinton’s presidential campaigns were still in their infancy, I was a tenth grade English teacher at Lewiston High School. (Read more about my decision to stay home here.) My students, many of whom had recently moved to the United States, were surrounded by rhetoric calling for, among other things, the mass deportation of immigrants from both the Republic politicians and in same cases, their own classmates. Like our country, my classroom was polarized, and it was painful to watch. Ultimately, I had two choices: ban any political conversations from occurring and attempt to mitigate the sly remarks that would undoubtedly ensue or address the Republican elephant in the room and teach my students to engage in a respectful and productive political discourse. I decided to do the latter and teach a unit on current events, which focused on what position the United States should take on the immigration of Syrian refugees. We watched news clips, read articles and personal stories, analyzed historical events, and learned about each of the candidates’ positions. The following discussions and debates had three main rules: 1.) Be civil, 2.) Support your opinion with facts, not rumors, and 3.) Listen. The conversations were sometimes heated, and occasionally, students became upset; but ultimately, it helped them to understand the issues, our democracy, and each other better. It’s easy to believe that all immigrants are terrorist and all white people are racist if no discussion has ever occurred - it’s harder to believe these ideas if that “potential terrorist” loans you a pencil each day before explaining his or her immigration story or that “silent racist” helps you with an outline after exposing his or her fears regarding border security.
Even though I am disappointed in the choices that some of my fellow country men and women have made, I won't be deleting anyone from social media, and I won't be moving to Canada; instead, I intend to follow my springtime lesson plan and engage in civil discussions when appropriate, agree to disagree when necessary, and respect our beautifully terrifying democratic process. Trump's supporters are still my family and friends, and this is still my country. If we can continue to engage in positive and productive exchanges with one another, then I believe that it is possible that we will make America great again.