In the weeks following the election, I was left disappointed and disenchanted. On November 8, what began as a night of ironies, comically exaggerated moans of anxiety, and bowls of “stress-eating” mac and cheese dramatically transformed as an unstoppable hush grew across our unceasingly surprising country. Watching the outcome become more and more clear, many members of my house grew numb and mute, no longer amused by hypothetical imaginations of the election’s results, and the mac and cheese lay uneaten, congealed in red and blue paper bowls scattered across our Resident Heads’ apartment.
Huddled in the barren gut of campus, we gathered on the quad, shivering in the cold as we screamed into the air during an event meant to comically express our “primal” rage over an election that couldn’t have—shouldn’t have—ended up this way. “Taps” buzzing in the air, students raised their fists and cheered as mementos of Trump’s campaign were burned, the smell of burnt plastic in the air.
After that night, strangers and friends, many of whom had only expressed lukewarm approval of Clinton’s candidacy, posted rejections of Trump’s election, the hashtag #NotMyPresident rippling across social media. “#StillWithHer!” my friends echoed, posting pictures of teary faces, American flags, or—most frequently—half-empty liquor bottles while declaring their refusal to accept Trump’s future presidency.
However, after the events of the last several weeks, I have realized that what our country needs more than anything is to be #WithHim.
As a child, I never gave a thought to our American democracy. Although the United States government is relatively young, I and many others have treated our political system like a bloated bellyache after Thanksgiving: predictable, constant, and fun to complain about. I never doubted the political stability of my country, and I never needed to. I had the privilege of complaining about the “corruption” of American politics while also living in the comfortable position of knowing that my family’s safety was protected.
The stable presence of the U.S. government led to my and many others’ overly trusting view of politics. We don’t realize that everything and anything can happen in politics, because we have been so coddled by the United States’ dependability. I—and every other United States citizen—have never had the experience of living in a country where our safety was in peril due to our crumbling government. Messy and muddy and mucky as it is, our government has never been so fractured as to dissolve into full-fledged anarchy.
We are in a “make-or-break” moment for our political system. In times of civil division and political unrest, much like the atmosphere today, we have seen countries erupt into disarray and violence: Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Egypt. It has happened in other countries and it could very well happen today and to us. When Trump threatened to reject the results of the election should Clinton win, The New York Times published an article stating that this is the type of rhetoric that has created rifts in the necessary trust between a government and its citizens—and led to many countries’ downfall. Although the United States government has been an omnipresent force in many Americans’ lives, this is not a given. We can have no sense of certainty that we are in any way safe from being thrust into a nationwide state of chaos should our government collapse.
I need not go into unnecessary detail about the chaos and bloodshed that follow these political collapses, but let me remind you of the death tolls that accompany the destruction of a government with the formation of rebel groups and uncontrollable protests. Imagine the mass destruction that we have witnessed in smaller countries taking place in the United States of America, arguably the most powerful country on Earth with one of the world’s largest populations. The destruction of the U.S. government would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
Rejecting the results of this election could have a much larger and threatening impact than we realize now. Rejecting the outcome of the election—a properly-conducted election that resulted in the legal election of a leader agreed upon by the Electoral College and a large portion of the United States population—means undermining the strength of our political system and placing our political system in jeopardy.
This is not to condemn protest as a means of political expression. Some of America’s greatest accomplishments have come from peaceful protest, and citizens’ ability to criticize their government is one of the United States’ most formidable strengths. However, there is a large difference between protest and a rejection of a legitimate election. While one expresses disapproval of an unjust action, the other is an aggressive and dangerous act of rebellion against the agreed-upon structures of government. To those who say Trump is a tyrant who will have horrendous effects on our government, I concede. He is a dangerous, narcissistic despot, but he was elected rightfully by our country, so therefore we must respect the results. To those who claim that the Electoral College is an inaccurate method of representing the desires of the American people: Call for structural change, but do not refuse to accept the legal election of a man who was technically elected according to the current laws of our country. Rejecting his election licenses others to reject the outcome of other elections, creating a dangerous slope of political disobedience.
Our democracy’s well-being is the most crucial treasure we have as Americans. It is a miraculously mundane familiarity that I could sit with my friends, eating breakfast following the night of a contentious election. Though commonly overlooked, we must remember what is at stake should our government fall. Claims like #NotMyPresident are much more than mere attempts to gain Instagram likes or expressions of political disapproval—they threaten the very core of our safety as a country. In this incredibly important period, what we need to do as citizens is accept the results of a successful election for fear of what is at stake should we reject it. The sad truth is that Trump was legitimately elected, and therefore he must become the legitimate president of the United States. He should become president because it is what the American people decided according to the long-established laws of our country. The moment we begin rejecting the legal election of political leaders is the moment that the first crack in American trust in our political system arises. Rather than looking to the past and dangerously refusing to accept the results of a legal election, we must look to the future and how we can preserve the peace of our country while creating change. For the sake of our country, our democracy, and the future of our government, we must be #WithHim.
Lena Breda is a first-year in the College.