With Tuesday just hours away, many Americans are anxious to throw 2016 into the pile of old yearbook photos, exes, embarrassing haircuts, and the rest of the memories we’d rather forget existed as we move on with the holiday season. Tweets and Facebook posts joke about 2016 being a year of embarrassment to skip over in history class. However, it must be addressed that such a plan is mere escapism. A predicted Trump loss is nearly as dangerous as a Trump win. His policies will go untested and therefore unchallenged, his supporters will further blame the system as they point out how it spurned their beloved leader, and there will be another Trump (perhaps not as orange or self-destructive, but another nonetheless). And with the threat of a Trump successor, we must carefully decide how we wish to proceed as we address what has occurred, or we risk all of the progress we have been working to achieve.
With the excuse of breaking “PC Culture,” Trump has given permission to a new era of unfiltered opinions, illustrated by comments as offensive as claiming that Mexico is sending rapists, criminals and drug dealers, made without fear of accountability or criticism. Trump supporters have been captured happily displaying shirts of spewing sexism, crying out slurs at rallies, and demeaning the opposition through name-calling and, at times, the brute force of removal. The PC culture they seek to destroy seems to be the decency of being respectful, of appropriately addressing others instead of focusing more on the problems of censorship and the closing of dialogue between different perspectives.
And speaking of children, this season has been a disturbing and confusing experience for a generation that has been taught that racism ended on a bus ride and misogyny ended with suffrage and their father offering to cook dinner one night. Growing up, the message given to me was to always “accept and appreciate the differences among us,” to be an “up stander,” to be the pioneer for positive change, to recognize the repetitive nature to history and to be the one who breaks the cycle. This election season has been counterintuitive to all of these goals. Children watch as candidates comment on “hand size,” throw fifth-grade playground insults at each other, and threaten the future of the children with whom they play at recess without repercussion. And the effect on children’s psyche is of no surprise to anyone. An informal survey conducted by Teaching Tolerance reveals that two-thirds of the 2,000 K-12 teachers surveyed reported that students, especially those of immigrant or Muslim families, feared for their safety. But it isn’t just fear they have noticed: Over half of the teachers reported that students have increased in uncivil political discourse and over a third observed an increase in “anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant” sentiment. Teachers are uncomfortable: If students are so openly displaying these characteristics within a classroom, what have they been saying elsewhere without the fear of getting in trouble or having to defend their viewpoint for their treatment of others?
Perhaps the answer to that question is clearer than we would like it to be. Harvard University’s men’s football team faced an abrupt end to their season as a “scouting report” on female recruits was brought to public knowledge. The report, in crude terms, ranked each female recruit, evaluating her appearance and assigning each one a hypothesized “sexual position.” Though as disgusting the entirety of the report is, society is almost numb to it. We have seen a presidential candidate brag about sexually assaulting women and then dismiss it as “locker room talk,” report that his accusers are too ugly to be groped, and dismiss the opinions of women by commenting on their looks. When a man who could possibly hold the most important position in the nation doesn’t flinch at scrutiny, refuses to acknowledge misogyny where it has been observed, and actively participates in the very mentality that has been oppressing women for generations, the American people begin to expect less from each other, to believe that this is just how it goes, to start accepting defeat and another instance of “locker-room talk.”
Although Trump may be the figurehead of this small excerpt of a long list of problems facing us in the foreseeable future, he did not stand alone. Everyday Americans are voting for him. And perhaps even more concerning, many still believe in his message and turn “locker-room talk” into dinner time conversation. Kids aren’t just spending their time watching Trump on TV — they are watching their mothers, fathers, neighbors, and friends interact with society in new ways. This is not a shift. 2016 did not come out of nowhere. The ignorant bliss of a harmonious society in which we had once lived has been shattered during the course of a few months, and will likely require recognition: Words have been spoken that cannot be taken back, rallies were held calling for the removal of an entire bloc of Americans, and many minority groups feel unsafe as memories of America’s dark past flash before their eyes. 2016 was a year of bystanders, of a GOP to afraid to take control of its own party, of Democrats too willing to chalk it all up to Trump, of feeding stigmas and stereotypes. The impact of 2016 will not go away. 2016 is not just about Trump. Instead, it is the most revealing election year for the American people, a window into the troubled psyche of this society.
Contact Juliet Okwara at jokwara ‘at’ stanford.edu.