In various multiple instances in this column I wrote pieces about the possible impacts of the presidential election on American society. In a recent article I wrote that the day after the elections would be particularly important because of the increasing divisiveness and polarization in the campaigns. American society has been divided along different lines and these divisions started to generate a significant threat to the social fabric of the American people. This of course did not mean that there were never divisions. However, this long election season made everybody a little more nervous, fearful and skeptical. The discourse of the different groups became more offensive, aggressive and exclusivist.
Now, the question is how to deal with the aftershocks of this divisive election? The events and hate crimes that took place in the aftermath of the election demonstrated that there is serious threat for the intensification of similar incidents in the coming days and weeks. The concerns about the “day after” turned out to be accurate. Interpersonal and inter-communal trust may be directly influenced by the existing political climate in the country. To prevent societal aftershocks, there are several steps that different groups and institutions need to take. First of all, Donald Trump’s team, which will lead the transition in the next two months and then run the White House in the coming four years, need to work diligently to defeat the existing feeling of fear and anxiety that exists in a sizable portion of American society in the post election period. Although the campaign was led using very exclusivist and divisive language from the very beginning and capitalized on pre-existing fears and concerns in society, there are important opportunities for the new administration to deal with these issues. In some instances, it takes an administration as such to give confidence to the segments of society that fear the differences in the society. If it can be controlled and contained, this increase in self-confidence can lead to the elimination of the feeling of fear and anxiety because of “others.” Trump’s election as the president of the United States can be an important asset to handle this feeling. However, there is a second step that needs to be taken at the same time. Giving confidence to certain segments of the population needs to go hand in hand with guaranteeing the rights of others. Those who felt another type of fear and anxiety after Trump’s election to lead the country need to be comforted in the coming weeks. In these different steps, Trump himself can contribute to this process by launching a campaign against this feeling of fear and intolerance. His messages may not totally demobilize the thousands of people he mobilized during his campaign, however, it can be an important instrument in delegitimizing the discrimination and animosity in different segments of society.
Trump’s first message after he won the elections on Tuesday had some signs of this understanding and recognition of the feeling that before “making America great again” one needs to make it a unified country again. Since then, some of the statements that he made earlier during the campaign were removed from his website. For example, his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. after terrorist attacks was removed from his website. In fact, even before the election, many analysts were pointing out that Trump’s pragmatism would triumph after the elections and he would abandon marginal positions that are not feasible or sustainable. However, Trump needs to work tirelessly in the next four years to remove these concerns. He has to be inclusive in his administration and receive feedback from people who are from different segments of society. It is also the case that he may not convince some of his constituency when he revises his position on these issues. The already mobilized people may follow the ideas of Trumpism instead of the path of Trump and resist the change. If he wants to pursue a unifying role for the country, then he needs to fight against the people who worked with him during the election campaign and who refused to give up the divisive discourse.
This will be the first step to deal with the “day after shock” of the election and to heal the polarization of the American people.