Dear Trump voters,
I know how you are feeling right now. Four years ago, on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States, I wrote this open letter to him. “I cannot wish you success, though, Mr President,” I wrote, “because your success would come at the expense of too many people I love and too many values I cherish.” That was true in 2017. It remains true now.
This letter is not to convince you to do what I could not. I try not to be hypocritical, so that means I do not expect you to support Joe Biden. I am not going to smugly tell you “he is your president,” as many of you told me four years ago. You were technically right, of course. He was legally my president, as Joe Biden is yours. But that’s not what “not my president” meant to those of us who chant it, and I reckon it isn’t what it means to you.
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t want you to shut up. I don’t want you to stop protesting. I want you to be — to borrow a phrase from the UK — the loyal opposition. Democracy only functions if there is a robust contest of ideas, if the minority holds the majority to account. That is now your job, as it was Democrats’ job under Donald Trump. We don’t fall in line because we do not have an emperor. We have a president, and he (or she) answers to us. That includes Joe Biden, and that includes you.
I do want the relatively small number of you who storm state capitols with guns or stage insurrections against the US government to knock that shit off right now, but I am not going to tar 75 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump with the same brush as those who would resort to political violence. The vast majority of you are peaceful, patriotic Americans with whom I happen to disagree. I see that that distinction.
Losing is hard. I lost an election of my own when I was in college, and it put me off ever running for public office. My candidate lost the 2004 general election, the 2008 Democratic primary, the 2016 general election, and the 2020 Democratic primary. I know this is painful. I know it sucks.
Having lost a lot of times, I have some advice on how to get through this day and the coming days, when you see the country moving in a direction you don’t like. This is given in good faith, and I hope it is received as such:
This day isn’t about you, but it also is. Inauguration Day can, for the defeated party, feel like salt in the wound. It can feel like the other side is gloating or serve as a reminder of a vanquished hope. It’s tough but remember that four years ago you were celebrating while we mourned. Democrats have a right to rejoice just as Republicans rejoiced in 2017. This day is about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It is not about Donald Trump. But it is also about you, me, and every American citizen. We are a republic, and the peaceful transfer of power should fill every American heart with pride.
Tune out, then tune in. If today is upsetting, don’t watch. Turn off the news. Stay off social media. Take a day to lick your wounds, or celebrate the four years you just had, or spend time on a hobby or with loved ones. You can always turn on Fox News tomorrow, or check Twitter in a day or two. Trust me, neither is going anywhere. It is okay to take some time off to decompress. But then, get back to work. America is at its best when every citizen participates in our democracy, and that includes you. Your voice matters.
Stop litigating 2020 and focus on now. One thing that is important, as I learned quickly after the 2016 election, is letting go. Time marches on, and there are going to be issues you care about that need fighting for. After the 2016 election, those of us on the left got busy fighting the Muslim ban, fighting internment — fighting any Trump policies we disagreed with. We didn’t try to undo the election results (and no, I do not count impeachment as undoing election results). Fight the battle you’re in, not the battle you lost.
Disagree without being disagreeable. I stopped talking to certain members of my family after the 2016 election. For more than a year, I had no communication with them. Then, my teenage brother nearly died. Suddenly, politics didn’t matter as much as the ties that bind. I regret the year I spent estranged from my family. Don’t let that happen to you. One thing we need to always remember is we are not enemies, we are opponents. Do not assume your political opponents act in bad faith. We come by our views honestly, just as you do yours. As Thomas Jefferson said in his 1801 inaugural address, “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
To quote Little Orphan Annie, “the sun will come out tomorrow.” Something Trump voters told me following his victory in 2016 proved true, and might be of some help to you right now: your day-to-day life will not change much. The sun will rise in the morning. Birds will sing in the trees. Spring will follow winter will follow autumn will follow summer. The sky is not falling, even if at times it feels it is. We live in a stable country, and a sign of that stability is how relatively little any of us need to think about politics on a given day. You will be okay. I promise.
We are all Americans, bound together by a belief in liberty and democracy and a shared history going back centuries. Though we may disagree on the issues of the day, we agree on the big questions. We share a commitment to democracy, to liberty, to freedom, to the rule-of-law. We share this country, with all its beauty and bounty, and we must learn to get along again, just as we have had to learn to get along at many different points in our history.
With 328 million of us, we will never all agree. Yet our national motto is not e pluribus unum for nothing. E pluribus unum. “Out of many, one.” We may have as many disagreements as we have amber waves of grain, but we remain as we have long been: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That includes you as much as it includes me.