MANY AMERICANS awoke Wednesday morning to wonder if they were welcome in their own land.
This feeling of alienation was different from the normal jolt we get when our party or candidate loses an election. That moment of disappointment, though also painful, is one of the costs we bear for living in a democracy — and caring passionately about how it is run.
Donald Trump’s victory brought a more visceral pain to many because it was not just a matter of R’s and D’s. Mr. Trump won overwhelmingly with white support in a country that is no longer overwhelmingly white. His language during the campaign — “the Hispanics,” “my African American” — was frequently dehumanizing, and the substance of his policies was more so: proposing to exclude Muslims from the country, for example, or to round up and deport millions of Hispanics. He enjoyed disproportionate support from men and is set to become America’s 45th male president. Of course, he received the votes of many women, people of color, people with disabilities — the case should not be overstated. But it is just as true that many women, Muslims, immigrants and others historically excluded from power wondered what Mr. Trump’s election would mean for them.
Hillary Clinton, in her gracious concession speech Wednesday, spoke of “building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.” Her campaign, she said, had been about an “American Dream . . . big enough for everyone — for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone.”
In his also gracious victory speech earlier Wednesday, Mr. Trump had promised to “bind the wounds of division.” “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans,” Mr. Trump said. We hope he means it; it is not only right for the country but in his political interest, too, given America’s changing demography, which Mr. Trump may be able to slow but cannot reverse. His sincerity will be measured by the diversity of his appointments and even more by his words and policies. Can he stop casting aspersions, for example, on an entire religion (“All I can say is there’s something going on”) and judge everyone, including Muslims, as individuals? Will he act on his pledge to welcome large numbers of legal immigrants?
We can hope, as we say, but we also must not wait to find out if such hopes will be realized. That Mr. Trump did not win a majority of Americans’ votes does not make his election any less legitimate — we all accept the Constitution we have — but it is not irrelevant, either, as we think about what kind of country we live in. And the fact is that each of us can work toward making our country more “inclusive and big-hearted.” Each of us can reach out to a neighbor who looks different, or talks differently, or gets around differently, and say, yes, this land is our land. Those are the kinds of bonds that can help a democracy survive from the bottom up in times of stress. Maybe Mr. Trump’s election can be the spur some of us need to help strengthen those bonds.