Column: Rerouting toward progress

On election night, as results poured in indicating that Donald Trump would become the next president of the United States, I felt compelled to call my friend in D.C. This friend, a native Colombian who moved to America just over a year ago, said the city was in shock, as was the rest of the world. We talked for around an hour before ending the call, both of us mutually concerned about this outcome that had hours earlier seemed unthinkable, only moments before Trump delivered his acceptance speech.

The next morning, with this reality setting in, I texted my friend to get an update on his thoughts and feelings about the outcome. And, with two texts, I saw the possible become impossible, not only for my friend, but for the Americans who have suffered the most; those who had not been represented in American history, but had found a voice in the Obama administration and a prospective Hillary Clinton presidency. I saw the “Change” and “Hope” that President Obama championed as the cornerstones of his campaign slowly recede. I saw the social progress that we had naively believed to be indestructible and unremitting become fragile and uncertain.

“I was planning to intern for the White House,” he wrote. “Now, I’m probably not gonna make it.”

This friend, a previous Capitol Hill intern who foresaw a future in politics, is more than qualified for the position, which made these messages particularly unsettling. But even worse, I saw someone who had been in America for such a short time suddenly feel unwelcome. And I was ashamed. I was ashamed that 60 million Americans voted for someone so unqualified to serve as commander in chief. I was ashamed that my demographic was responsible for this outcome, with 63 percent of white men having voted for Trump, according to CNN exit polls.

It was easy to feel this defeat on Wednesday. Many Americans — Clinton supporters or merely supporters of an American government that is representative of all Americans — still feel this defeat. But nearly a week later, my friend and I agree that backing down isn’t an option.

For those of us who support a progressive America, we have an obligation. We must keep this upcoming administration in check for ourselves, for our friends, for the America that we already see as “great.” That means paying attention. That means watching now-president-elect Trump’s “60 Minutes” interview or taking notice when Trump appoints Brietbart News CEO and white nationalist Steve Bannon as the chief strategist of his campaign. That means emphasizing to this administration that issues such as climate change, racial discrimination, a women’s right to choose and LGBTQ rights are important to a large number of the American public; a majority, in fact, if we’re considering Hillary Clinton’s healthy lead in the popular vote.

According to Pew Research, the millennial generation now outnumbers the baby boomer generation. We have the numbers. We have the ability. We just need to mobilize. As we cast our ballots in 2018 and 2020, we must tell ourselves that the vote isn’t just for us, but for all Americans.

In the meantime, it’s up to us to refrain from making the same mistakes made by the opposition. Should we protest, we must do so peacefully and effectively, refraining from violence, name calling and polarization. Should the Trump administration be willing to cooperate, we should reach out to them in order to get progressive, inclusive legislation passed. This doesn’t mean that we should normalize Trump, his rhetoric or his administration — which could be just as disastrous as expected. But it does mean that we should show establishment Republicans and the Trump base that we are capable of being better than they have been.

This isn’t defeat for our generation. This is a new beginning, and we must choose which direction we wish to go.

Jared Casto can be contacted at [email protected].