I am a middle-class white male. I check nearly every box for privilege, and I haven’t faced societally-driven adversity or institutional discrimination. I am also a Democrat. I believe in progressive social programs, police reform, prison abolition, cooperative and constructive foreign policy, abortion rights, gun control, more welcoming immigration laws, higher corporate and wealth taxes and a massive expansion of voting rights. On Nov. 9, 2016, I woke up in a state of existential dread. Donald Trump’s victory seemed like the end of the world to me — but it wasn’t. He went on to be the most disastrously incompetent, blatantly corrupt and terrifyingly authoritarian leader the U.S. has ever had, but it wasn’t the apocalypse I was prepared for.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that while I didn’t suffer as a result of Trump, millions of people did. I’m not going to rehash everyone he’s hurt, but suffice it to say almost 240,000 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic paint a bleak picture of the damage Donald Trump has done. What I want to address is the sentiment I heard from my friends and family on Nov. 3 and throughout liberal social media groups: If Donald Trump won the election, it really would be the end this time and that it would mark the end of the fight. This is an incredibly ignorant and privileged way of looking at things.
I realized that all the people saying this were white, financially stable, cisgender and healthy. We are the members of the Democratic Party that look enough like the majority of Republicans to be spared from the policy agendas they have spent the past decades pushing. We can talk about giving up or the fight being over because we can afford to. We could carry on our lives without facing any diversity beyond gloating MAGA comments and Trump flags flying victorious again.
However, for every one of us, there are dozens of Americans who don’t have the luxury of accepting defeat, because that would mean losing their status as an American, their rights as a human and, in far too many cases, their lives. Republicans promise to strip healthcare from millions of people, strike down legal protections for LGBTQ+ Americans and enact policies further threatening immigrants and people of color with brutal law enforcement. These people have to fight every day for rights we take for granted, and they’ve been doing it against the most daunting of odds for centuries. If we hold the values we do with any real conviction, it is insulting to everyone who can’t stop fighting to even joke about throwing in the towel because of the outcome of a single election.
This privileged liberalism is simultaneously the least self-interested and most self-centered politics within the democratic coalition. Privileged liberals hold these values not for personal benefit, but because they care deeply about the wellbeing of all Americans. At the same time, they allow their distance and safety from these issues to cement a willingness to accept defeat. They talk about it being the end of America, or about leaving for some Scandinavian socialist utopia or a sun-kissed tropical island. They let frustration with the prospect of losing become the dominant attitude in how they see elections and politics in general.
We didn’t lose this time, but even if we had, giving up or stopping the fight would be unacceptable. We could so easily go on living the lives that have remained free of Trump’s worst impacts for the past four years and almost certainly would for the next four. We could surrender to the overwhelming force of ethno-nationalist conservatism driving the Trump Republican Party. We could do all these things with minimal to no consequences, but that would render the liberal values we claim to hold so dear, that we are so attached to that the threat of a lost election feels emotionally devastating, meaningless.
Joe Biden’s victory is a massive step forward for the U.S., but we can’t let our privilege allow us to accept it as anything more than exactly that: a step. We can post our photos and pop our champagne — but then we have to get back on the streets and begin to make calls, because the work is just beginning.
Donald Trump’s vote count is disheartening. It demonstrates that after 4 years of incompetent leadership, debasing of our constitution and national identity and embrace of racist fearmongering, nearly half of the electorate supports the president enough to vote for him again. It is abundantly clear that the racism will continue, the voter suppression will continue, and that right-wing populism and even fascism are here to stay.
We must also be here to stay.
We must remind ourselves that we are in this fight for not just ourselves or our beliefs, but for our friends and neighbors who have no choice but to fight. We are in this for all the transgender Americans who have the courage to join the military and deserve a commander and chief who celebrates their valor, not one who diminishes their humanity. We are in this for every Black American who has been hurt or killed in our criminal justice system, even if we are completely safe from it. We are in this for the 20 million plus Americans who stand to lose their healthcare if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and the 27 million Americans who don’t have any insurance at all even when our health care is guaranteed. We are in this for every disenfranchised voter of color or living in poverty, even though our right to vote has been safe for nearly a century. We are in this for Black Americans whose great grandparents were slaves, grandparents were targeted in the rise of Jim Crow, parents marched against Jim Crow and who still have fight twice as hard as a white American for even a shot at the same rights and opportunities. We are in this for the thousands of families facing persecution at home who deserve to be welcomed to the U.S. with open arms, not torn apart and treated like enemies. We are in this for the people who can’t fight, and to stand beside the people who have no choice but to fight.
We cannot let privilege blind us to the reality that whether we take part, or resign ourselves to live in the safety or our whiteness, our wealth, our cisgender heterosexuality, the battle to extend freedom, democracy and prosperity to all Americans is far from over and it cannot be won without all of our voices, all of our votes, all of our determination and participation.
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Aidan Rhodes is a journalism major from Flagstaff, Arizona. He is a passionate chef, athlete and writer.