As I celebrate the victory of Joe Biden, I am overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that so many Americans were mobilized to vote for decency in this election. Joe Biden has surpassed Obama’s record for the most votes ever received, winning more than 74 million votes in total. Biden’s presidency marks an extraordinarily necessary mending of democracy; his overwhelming voter turnout this year reminds me that so many Americans have recognized the gravity of Trump’s dictatorial tendencies. However, it was not just Biden who achieved a record number of votes — Trump, too, surpassed Obama’s 69.5 million votes in 2008 with a whopping 70 million.
Biden’s win was by no means a landslide. In Pennsylvania, the margin between himself and the sitting president was 0.7 percent; in Arizona, 0.4 percent; in Georgia, a mere 0.3 percent. It was therefore not just the Left that was struck by an immense desperation to save our country, but the Right that was struck with an equally immense desperation to preserve our country as it is — nearly combusting with aggression and hatred. This came as a surprise to me, which it shouldn’t have. Trump’s constituents have, for the most part, maintained their loyalty to him throughout his presidency. My bewilderment at the closeness of the election is therefore incredibly troubling, as it serves as an indicator of my lack of familiarity with much of the United States.
I spent some time canvassing in Pennsylvania during this election in areas with high numbers of unregistered or infrequent voters. The organization that I volunteered for advised canvassers to move on if confronted by a Trump supporter — it was not worth the time or energy to attempt to change their minds, as this involved a reordering of their prioritization of disdain for the coastal elites over morality. I did run into a few Trumpers in my time phone banking and door-knocking, but I considered them to be anomalies. It was, and is still, incredibly difficult for me to grasp the fact that there are Americans — decent, family-oriented Americans — who have retained their conviction for Donald Trump throughout his presidency. I live in Manhattan; my friends are liberal, my family is liberal, the schools I have attended and will attend are predominantly liberal. I knew, in theory, that I operated in a bubble, but until this election I didn’t quite conceptualize just how fundamentally different my loved ones and I are from so many of our fellow Americans.
On election day, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly supported amendment number 1 of their state constitution, garnering 62 percent support. The amendment states that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” In essence, if the Supreme Court chooses to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion will go unprotected and unfunded in the state of Louisiana.
I say this without judgement (or, at least, I attempt to): there is an incredibly vast constituency of people who do not think the same as me. Before a friend in New Orleans told me about the amendment, I hadn’t even heard that abortion was on the ballot. Much of the absence of communication that exists between people like myself — people who are embodied by institutions like Princeton, full of intellectualism and an inevitable sense of privilege — and proponents of the anti-abortion amendment can perhaps be attributed to the dismissal encouraged by organizations like the one with which I canvassed.
According to them, it is too daunting a task to attempt to hold a conversation with a Trump supporter because to arrive at any consensus would involve a complete restructuring of ideology. However, the only way to go about beginning to construct a platform on which our country can truly be a united conglomerate of states is if these conversations are held; one way to approach these interactions is by recognizing that gatekeeping political discussions from those with opposite political beliefs only cements the fear and defensiveness so apparent on the Right, an obvious reaction to the palpable elitism of the America to which I belong.
It is at universities like Princeton that we can prepare to listen to, and consequently change the minds of, Americans who voted for Trump. Rather than limiting political engagement on campus to the binaries of the Princeton College Democrats or Princeton University College Republicans, we should create spaces in which left- and right-leaning individuals can gather. Greater comfort with defending progressive and emphatically anti-Trump rhetoric inside of a school representing a tiny fraction of the rest of the country will allow coastal elites practice to not only speak at, but speak with those on the opposite side of the aisle. We cannot treat Trumpers as lost causes. If we do, we will not only lose any chance at unifying the country, but also the preservation of the Democratic occupancy of the White House.
Although Biden has restored some of my faith in the commitment of the American people to honesty, his victory will not quell the distinctly American inability to communicate and understand. In 2016, I likewise underestimated the magnitude and strength of Trump’s base. This faction of American society will not disappear with a new face in the White House. As human beings, we are all inherently self-absorbed; I and so many of the people with whom I surround myself do not take the time to genuinely hear and recognize our neighbors because we dismiss them as “backwards.” Although we may not want to, Democrats need to get to know this country in its entirety if they want to continue to win elections. I cannot call myself an American unless I recognize that I am not the only face of America. Likewise, the rest of the Democratic party must recognize that biracial Manhattanites are not the only demographic to which they must cater.
Our country is enormous, and the diversity of thought and opinion is even larger. In order to make Biden’s win worthwhile, we must take the opportunity of his presidency to educate ourselves on the rest of America.
Andi Grene is a first-year from Manhattan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.