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Like It Or Not, This Is Who We Are (Commentary)

We can no longer pretend that racists and misogynists don’t define America

I grew up in Alabama, a land of liars.

Alabama is full of church people. They told me racism is bad. They told me sexism is bad. They told me that all people are created equal by a God who loves everyone.

They didn’t believe any of that. They are racist. They are sexist. They are heavily invested in maintaining  class hierarchy. But they did, before this year, believe in propriety. They believed in pretending to be nice. In “Southern Hospitality,” that mythical practice that really just dictates that you should only insult people behind their backs. They voted for Donald Trump on Tuesday.

My mom, a lifelong religious conservative who lives in rural Alabama and voted for Hillary Clinton because she could not in good conscience vote for Trump, is struggling with this hypocrisy. She’s always been one who, like me when I was younger, took all that God stuff at face value. The Golden Rule is real to her.

Late on election night she expressed to me her confusion about how all these people she knew, who professed to believe all the same stuff she does, could not only vote for Trump, but treat him as some kind of Messiah figure. Trump represents direct opposition to everything my mother stands for. Were all these other people who supposedly stood for the same things lying? Or were they deluding themselves?

The answer is, by necessity, a complicated one. For the most part, I’d say it’s both. Self-delusion is lying, too, and being a Christian who votes for Trump requires such an incredible divergence from what you’re supposed to aspire to that there has to be, somewhere in there, a conscious acknowledgement that you’re making a choice that you, as a follower of Jesus, believe to be morally wrong.

My mom, who voted Republican in every presidential election she’s ever participated in prior to 2016, couldn’t support Trump because she understood that.

But what she didn’t understand was that this rotten dichotomy simply is how America operates. We’re a contradiction. We say one thing and think the opposite.

The Declaration of Independence, written by a slaveowner, claims that “all men are created equal.” From the very beginning, we were saying things we didn’t believe.

On the flip side of the political spectrum, we see a different sort of lying and self-delusion. Liberals — white liberals in particular — have a rosy view of the world. “People are basically good,” they say. “We have to look for the best in people.”

This flawed liberal worldview is a sort of self-care defense mechanism. We lock ourselves in social media echo chambers and lie to ourselves about everything being great and always moving forward essentially in an attempt to keep sane. Racism may not be dead, everybody on the left said ahead of the election, but this game is in the fourth quarter and we’ve got an insurmountable lead. There’s no way there are enough assholes left in America to elect Trump.

Faced with the reality of an impending Donald Trump presidency, I’ve seen a lot of these types of people tweeting about how shocking Trump’s victory is for that reason. This is a world-shattering event for them, because it destroys the very thesis by which they’d been living their lives.

But that’s bound to happen every once in a while when you lie to yourself that much. You can’t deal with real problems by pretending they aren’t there.

There’s no denying it anymore.

Our survival, as a nation, depends on making an accurate assessment of our circumstances. We need to take a long hard look in the mirror and understand who we are and what our problems are. Because we’ve got a lot of them, and they can’t be swept under the rug anymore.

We are looking at a population in which 58 million people voted for racism and misogyny. This would have been a problem even if Hillary had won, but we probably just would have ignored that golf ball-sized tumor if she had. Fifty-eight million people is not an outlier. Fifty-eight million people is representative.

This is who we are.

We like to pretend that the United States of America is some inherent force for good in the world. I grew up hearing church people describe America as the great Melting Pot. That our diversity is our greatest strength.

Most of the people who told me that stuff didn’t believe it, any more than they believe that all men are created equal or that racism is actually bad. Everyone just knows it sounds good. And it’s the sort of thing that optimistic liberals eat up without thought.

You don’t hear so much about the Melting Pot anymore. These days there’s a lot of talk, in corners of the internet, about white identity politics, spearheaded by whites who irrationally feel left out of culture — somehow not realizing that “American culture” has always been white culture. Enter the alt-right, which codifies that nonsensical frustration with the rhetoric of Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan, rebranded so as not to broadcast an association with those ideologies.

But make no mistake, Trump’s base is white supremacists. It’s people who believe the U.S. is a “white nation” and that different races are incapable of getting along. A vote for Trump was a vote for that.

And, yes, that is also who we are.

America is racist. America is sexist. America is selfish, and self-delusional. America does not have the best interests of all its citizens at heart. The real America —  all of us participating in our very flawed electoral process — chose Donald Trump to be our leader.

The first order of business in the wake of the election has to be acknowledging that, and accepting all the horrifying ramifications that come with it. We have to understand that this is not a new problem. It’s one ingrained in the very fabric of this country. In the very fabric of the people who make up this country.

This is who we are. And the only way we can ever change that is to deal with it. With Trump heading to the White House we can’t hide our dark side any longer.