Yesterday, I was on Twitter having what I thought was a courteous conversation with a conservative from a red state. We were exchanging our perspectives about Hillary Clinton, and while we didn't agree on much, it was nice to hear how people from other parts of the country feel. But based on what I was reading from her, she believed some widely-disseminated conservative talking points that were not factual; so I tried my best to both refute those talking points and still respect her opinion.
I guess I didn't do a good job of either, because when I went on Twitter today to resume our discussion, I found she had blocked me. I admit to being disappointed, but not surprised. I've found over the past few months that when it comes to politics, many people on Twitter prefer to only speak to those who agree with them. I'm sure I'm guilty of this too, although I do try to be polite with anyone I talk to on social media. But I've repeatedly found that especially when I'm talking to Trump supporters, as soon as I disagree-- even politely-- it quickly leads to my being called insulting names. (I am not for a minute suggesting that Hillary or Bernie supporters didn't also seem insulting or condescending sometimes; I know it's difficult to speak about emotional issues without one side or the other feeling offended. And that has happened a lot over the past few months.)
I will leave it to the pundits to discuss why Hillary lost and Trump won. Meanwhile, reactions to Mr. Trump's election are as polarized as the country is. Here in the blue states, many of us remain stunned that voters wanted someone with Donald Trump's many flaws and failings to be the president: as we see it, his wrong-doings over the years (his bigotry, his crudeness, his unwillingness to tell the truth about how little he actually gave to charity, his refusal to pay taxes or release his tax returns, his bullying tactics, etc. etc.) have far exceeded anything Hillary was ever accused of.
But in the world of conservatives-- those who will talk to me, and those who won't, Hillary (no matter what she says or does) is diabolical and dishonest; while Trump (no matter what he says or does) is regarded with awe and admiration. Millions of red-state voters see Hillary as untrustworthy, while seeing Trump as their champion: she represents the status quo, while he represents change-- tough talk, positive action, and a new kind of politics that will get things done. In the blue states, we believe he is a con artist and an egotist, who promises magic to desperate people. In the red states, they believe he is someone they can count on, someone who hears them, who understands them, who will make their lives better.
A long time ago, in 2004, a young and idealistic Barack Obama (then a senator from Illinois) gave a now-famous convention speech in which he said there are not two Americas-- there are not red states and blue states; there are just the United States. I used to believe he was right, but now I am not so sure. As Mr. Obama saw first-hand, during the entire eight years of his presidency, Republicans obstructed whatever policy goals he put forward, even those that were previously championed by Republicans. As we in the blue states see it, President Obama tried his best to reach out to the other side, but they only wanted to deny him even the smallest of victories; and as a result, he was unable to move the country forward the way he wanted to. In the red states, Republicans are praised for obstructing him-- red state voters believed Republicans in congress should be commended for stopping this president's outrageous policies and saving the country from disaster. And ironically, the same voters who claimed they wanted change and that's why they voted for Donald Trump also returned nearly all of their senators and representatives to congress. If the so-called swamp is going to be drained, it will be the same veteran politicians participating in the attempt, including some who have served in congress for many years and know how to protect their own jobs.
Forgive me for being skeptical, but I don't think there will be the kind of change Mr. Trump promised. He has already surrounded himself with lobbyists and veteran political figures, and the policies they want are the same conservative policies past Republican presidents tried to implement-- some to please the pro-business community (big tax cuts for the wealthy), and some to please the Religious Right (defunding Planned Parenthood, trying to overturn Roe v. Wade or stopping gay marriage). Meanwhile, one thing won't change at any time soon: red state and blue state voters will continue to talk past each other, talk about each other, and think badly of each other. Truth be told, Mr. Trump doesn't need to build a wall. With so much anger, frustration, and discord on both sides, I fear we've walled ourselves off from each other already. And the election of Mr. Trump will only make the distance between us even worse.