by Tyler Hicks
It didn’t seem serious until about 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8th.
Millions of Americans watched in horror as the election results poured in from Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and defied everything we thought, no, knew was going to happen. Conversely, millions of Americans were elated to see that all the pundits, prognosticators and predictions were dead wrong — the fact that their chosen candidate was pulling off a shocking victory was icing on their proverbial sundae.
But should Trump’s victory have been so surprising? As Saturday Night Live and host Dave Chappelle pointed out in the first episode after the election, anyone who bothered to look around America the last two centuries would have noticed the deep-seated racism permeating culture and society.
“Well of course he won Kentucky, that’s where all the racists are,” white SNL cast member Beck Bennett said in character in the election night sketch.
“All the racists?” Dave Chappelle’s character asked.
The “Why?” and “How?” of this result matters, because the answers to those questions may hold the key to preventing something similar from ever happening again. But just as important is the question of “What now?,” a query that can inform our actions and ensure that our nation and all of its people remain as informed, supported, and safe as possible in the storms to come.
Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States, and the many things we can and should do as journalists and civilians over the next four years are united by one common theme — this is not normal.
Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
Social media and the internet played a bigger role in this election than ever before, and that role is unlikely to be diminished in the years to come.
In some cases, this was a good thing: The democratizing potential of these technologies gives people all across the nation access to information that they would not have otherwise. But there’s a dark side to democracy.
The web was awash with fake news sites and stories from sources foreign and domestic. As much as we can quibble over the shady origins of these stories, media literacy is the troubling issue underpinning this controversy.
Facebook safeguards, while necessary and useful, will only act as Band-Aids masking the virus that is media illiteracy. To cure this virus, educators at the high school level need to incorporate media literacy into their curriculum, and journalism teachers at that level and above need to engage their students in thoughtful discussions about ethics and the power of fake news.
But the real work begins outside of the classroom.
In a famous commencement address, the late great David Foster Wallace advised the graduates of Kenyon College to remind themselves of the struggles of others and to commit themselves to living a compassionate life every minute of every day.
“This is water,” he reminded the metaphorical fishes. “This is water.”
A similar mantra is needed in our lives as future journalists.
The President-elect rode a wave of hatred and anger to the White House, and hate crimes have skyrocketed in the wake of his victory. Now is the time to be better.
Journalists should seek to understand and report the struggles and complex fears of the marginalized, thereby shining a light on what is all too often misunderstood or misconstrued.
Likewise, we must prioritize facts and thorough research now more than ever, and use social media as a platform for engagement, not a pedestal for alienation or self-promotion. Open and honest dialogue is a necessity, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook give us the chance to talk one-on-one with the people reading and supporting our art. Let’s use that opportunity.
Hate speech, racism, sexism, and microaggressions in all their forms must be challenged online and in daily interaction, because to ignore is to become part of the problem.
All of these small, daily commitments to justice and compassion will ensure that the next four years are as bright as possible, and will help us remember an important fact every minute of every day: This is not normal.
At least, it doesn’t have to be.