I have to admit something that many women my age might find quite surprising: I have never seen the movie The Notebook. It looks pretty terrible if we are being honest with each other, and it was before a time in which I considered Ryan Gosling a talented actor. I am, however, familiar with one of the more famous lines of the movie in which his character, who I do not know the name of, yells the phrase, “What do you want?!” over and over again at Rachel McAdams’ character who I also do not know the name of. The scene makes very little sense to me out of context, but I can tell through Gosling’s face and the particular mood setting of this six second clip, that the doubt that she possesses in terms of what she actually wants is very unsettling for Mr. Gosling’s character.
There is a movie that I have seen that poses the same question between two different characters, and that movie is Good Will Hunting. In it, Robin Williams’ character, a therapist, asks Matt Damon’s character, Will Hunting, a simple question about what he’s looking for in life. “What do you want?” he asks, and Will remains speechless. Before this question Damon’s character tried to worm his way out of the question by using an elongated, metaphorical story about the uselessness of the government as some sort of defense mechanism to Williams’ intimate life question. It is a very important scene in the movie as it establishes the vulnerability of a person, even as smart as Will Hunting, that they can possess when asked a question that they’ve never really considered before.
The 2016 Presidential Election has made me feel like a combination of Robin Williams in that therapy session, and the six seconds of frustration that Ryan Gosling’s character experienced in The Notebook. Particularly, I find myself having these moments of frustration with supporters and fans of Donald Trump. I, in no way, hide what affiliation I have in this election. Being a solidified liberal for most of my life, the conservative way of thinking has always been something harder for me to understand, but the mutation it has taken during this election is something new. Conservatism, like liberalism, consists of a set of principles and ideals, and its conservative minded thinkers use those principles to decide what they feel they need and want the American political powers that be. You may find that a lot of those ideas I may not agree with all the time, but one cannot help but respect and appreciate the consistent values that they have always maintained…until this election.
That is not to say that we have lost conservatism as a whole, but rather that it has been substantially replaced this election by an unforeseen set of ideals mutated out its foundations, and contorted in a way to make you think that it is a replica of what we have always come to know. However, this is much scarier, and we as the American public were never really prepared. The ideas that have spawned from Mr. Donald Trump’s campaign have been centered around fear, doubt, paranoia, nativism, and a lack of accountability. It is a political anomaly, centered around a man who has been always been associated with money, power, and fame. Yet, his campaign has inspired those that feel they are powerless. Trump’s campaign has made those who have looked at the eight years under the Obama administration as a step back, and a loss of what they once had. Furthermore, it has fueled that fear by having its supporters imagine eight more years under a Hillary Clinton presidency that would only set them back even further than they once were. It has tapped into the racially menacing nerve of White America that had never found a formidable voice to express the frustrations that it held, and now that voice has demanded action.
Here is where, though, we have failed as a society up to this point in regards to the Trump supporters. We have spent the better part of a year laughing, ignoring, and chastising them in the hopes that humor would laugh away the darkest parts of this movement. Once we realized that wouldn’t work, we attempted to confront many parts, not all, of the movement for its seemingly violent nature in, again, the hopes that a realization amongst these voters would occur. We missed the bigger point, though, and, frankly, we weren’t asking the right question. We heard the ideas of the Trump supporters and then rather than add room for discussion, we decided to try and talk over them. But how can you talk over ideas, such as race and violence, that have been at the very core of American History? What we should have done, and what we should choose to do now, is ask Trump supporters the only question that really matters: What do they Want?
What we also failed to realize was the notion that Trump supporters had never thought, or even had to ask themselves this question, either. They are the Will Hunting in this scenario, boastfully talking around the one thing they never dared to consider because maybe it’s just easier to handle, and there we are in the room with them scared to engage. We may never know what attracts them to Donald Trump but we can at least do ourselves the service of finally understanding what it is they want him to achieve.
So, I turn this to you, if you are planning on voting for Donald Trump this election because you more than anyone should be asking yourself this. What do you want? Think about it for a second before you answer. What is it you truly want from this election, from this man, and from his potential presidency? I think we can clearly establish what you don’t want. We know you don’t want Hillary Clinton. You don’t want the Obama administration to take away the values that you hold dear, you don’t want to feel like you’re losing any of your constitutional rights, and you don’t want any future legislation that makes you fearful for your safety in this country. We have established that. However, before we continue let me just go ahead and tell you what you’re not going to get no matter what so we can establish some boundaries to this exercise:
- You want Hillary Clinton to go to prison for Benghazi and/or her email scandal? Never going to happen
- You want President Obama to admit that he is either not from this country, or that he has purposefully torn it down? Never going to happen.
- You want the supreme court to repeal any Abortion legislation? Won’t happen.
- You want the media to quit having so much “liberal bias”? Impossible to define
- You want to keep the government away from your guns? Point me to a piece of legislation that says you will lose them.
Before, though, we completely remove them, let’s imagine for a second that you did get these things; then what happens? You want Hillary to go prison for her actions? No problem, she’s in jail now. Do your wants and needs stop at this point? It is hard to imagine a political environment in which someone with Hillary Clinton’s power and ethical quandaries to not emerge in her place eventually. Do you now campaign against them as well?
What about President Obama? Clearly, you aren’t a fan of him either or his policies. So, let’s imagine for a second that everything he’s ever done in office was completely wrong and detrimental for this country? What would you then want? Surely, something as monumental of a revelation as that would be would mean you would have dozens of ideas of where to start fixing his mistakes, correct? I ask you this in complete seriousness, because these are the questions that matter, and we haven’t even arrived at the good stuff yet.
Now let’s imagine these questions are finally off the table because, in all objective seriousness, none of these are actually plausible in our current political climate. I hope while you were reading this you were already thinking of your answer to my very simple question: What do you want from a Donald Trump presidency? What do you want him to do for you? What do you want him to act like, to speak like, to behave like? You and I both know that part of his appeal to you is that he’s against the establishment of politicians you have always come to know, so we clearly know what you DON’T want him to behave like. However, could you tell me what characteristics you do want?
Many Trump supporters believe in Donald Trump’s idea to build a wall along the Mexican Border to keep Mexico out, but have probably never asked themselves what happens after that wall is built. So I ask you now, what does that wall mean to you, and what do you want to come from it? Let’s play this scenario out. A wall along the Mexican border would now heighten foreign tensions between and Mexico and the United States, while also creating more racial tension between Hispanics and people of other races. So, now that you have that problem to deal with, what do you want to do about it? The rest of the world is looking for you to answer, so what will you do?
Take economic policies into account for a second. You don’t like the way the Obama administration has acted, but Donald Trump’s economic policies seem in flux most of the time depending on what stage of the campaign he’s in. So, if you hate what you have now, what would you want instead? What should our tax code look like? How should we regulate our banks? Who do you want advising Trump?
Finally, consider foreign relations with the middle east. You more than likely support either a ban on Muslim immigrants temporarily, or at least believe in a better background check for immigrants coming in, but what would those policies actually look like? Trump, himself, has never fully established what he wants, so maybe you know the answer to that question. Do you really know what kind of relationship you want the United States to have with the middle east? If so, have you considered the ramifications?
These are just a few of the questions we, as the rest of the voting population, have failed to ask you. I take responsibility for my own reticence to do so because I was, honestly, to angry to engage in conversation about Trump’s candidacy, but I am asking now. I am not only asking for myself though, but also for you. If you want this man to be the president, then it’s time you start handling the responsibility of that presidency is going to mean for you, as it is our responsibility to ask you. We all believe that what we hold valuable, politically, will eventually put us on the right side of history one day, but in order to solidify those values, you sure as hell better be able to articulate them. Donald Trump has never been that type of person, but you can. If he wins, and he doesn’t have a clear plan for this country, that burden is going to lay at your feet to decide what you want his plan for America to look like and, god dammit, you better be ready.
Campaigns are fun. They are energetic, and when you find a candidate with charisma, no matter who they are (we have to give Trump that), the feeling can be intoxicating watching them rise to the forefront of politics. However, that fun doesn’t last forever at some point we as Americans need to understand the gravity of this election, none more than those of us who vote for Donald Trump. So, think about it for as long as you want before election night. Imagine that America that no one has truly given you the time to think about before. Whether we agree with you or not, you still have a right to vote, and with that comes a power you may have never really considered before. However, do not do the American political system the disgrace of walking into that voting booth with the unformed, vague, and potentially dangerous principles Donald Trump has never been asked to define for you. Walk in there and think about my question, and walk away with at least the notion that you knew what you really wanted, or otherwise you are wasting our time and putting people’s lives in danger.
So, let me ask you one last time. What do you want?