Trump’s America excludes many, is not normal

Zachariah Sippy at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
Zachariah Sippy at the 2016 Democratic National Convention Photo provided

Stories like my grandparents’ highlight what has made America great.

I know that it almost sounds like a joke: What happens when a New Jersey-born Jew and an Indian Hindu immigrant meet in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s?

They get married, of course, they have a daughter, my mother, and they have an amicable divorce. America is a place where people can learn from one another, share cultures, cross racial and religious divides and create something new in the process.

I found it ironic that President-elect Donald Trump’s slogan is “Make America great again,” because he clearly lacks an understanding of the ideals and values that have made America a great nation. His campaign, and most of what he has said and tweeted since his election, have fostered division, rather than engagement among people. And, of course, his revisionist history about America’s greatness fails to remember such blights in our country’s story as slavery and genocide of native people.

His election threatens our greatest ideals: the pursuit of justice and equality; freedom of the press and of speech; and, above all else, the notion that all people — regardless of creed, race, sexual orientation or gender identity — are created equal with inalienable rights.

In the wake of this election, many have criticized progressives for being aloof and unsympathetic to the plight of Trump voters. They claim that many voted out of economic desperation and despite, rather than because of, his displays of bigotry and sexism.

This fails to recognize that voting is the most sacred act in a democratic republic, one that has serious political and ethical ramifications. And when you vote for a specific candidate you make a choice to simultaneously endorse and condone their actions and positions.

The choices we face at the ballot box are about more than just the leaders we select. The real decision is about what type of country we aspire to be.

Just as voters for Hillary Clinton condoned the status quo, a neoliberal economic approach and the maintenance of establishment politics, voters for Trump condoned his racism, xenophobia, bigotry, prosperity doctrine and inexperience.

Regardless of your reasoning, a vote for Trump condoned his behavior and has helped foster a new political atmosphere. A vote for Trump demonstrated that racism was not a deal-breaker when it should have been.

I agree with those who say there is an empathy gap, that we are increasingly functioning within “bubbles” that only reinforce our political outlook. And yes, it is important to listen to those of all political persuasions. My only question is: Where is the empathy for those who are scared by the president-elect, his proposed policies, political appointments and allies?

As a Jew living in Kentucky, I can personally attest that, with the increasing visibility, and seeming acceptability, of the voices of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and racists, I no longer feel as safe as I used to, and I identify as a white, straight, cisgendered man.

Where is the empathy for me? More importantly, where is the empathy for our black and brown brothers and sisters? For our gay, lesbian, queer, bi and trans friends? Where is the empathy for Muslims scared to wear hijabs in public, Sikhs afraid to wear the turban, Jews fearful of wearing a yarmulke? Where is the empathy for women, who are facing the prospect of ever more laws to limit their rights, and a misogynist president who objectifies their gender?

Trump won, and his supporters have the privilege of setting the national discourse. The question is whether they are ready to empathize with the majority of Americans, who not only voted against Trump's America but now fear having to live in it.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

My New Year’s resolution: I will never be silent or complacent, that I will fight and resist every step of the way, because #ThisIsNotNormal.

Zachariah Sippy, a junior at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, is vice president of Henry Clay Young Democrats.