November 15, 2016
I am used to waking up from a nightmare but on Wednesday I woke up to a nightmare. The American voters elected Donald Trump, a quixotic narcissist, as President of the United States. Not only will we have a self-absorbed political neophyte in the White House, but also one who has disparaged the efforts of millions of Americans who have worked for tolerance and understanding in an increasingly diverse nation. I am sure that this brings uncertainty and some degree of fear to many members of the Dominican community. Perhaps we should observe a national day of mourning.
I have lived through several disappointing elections including those of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush – each of them twice. There is no doubt that the social and economic damage that they did to this country remains with us, yet we have managed to survive them. And we will survive Donald Trump. For most Dominican students, this has been their first presidential election and it has been a very disappointing one. Let me offer a few words to each of you as you go forward.
The best candidate for our country does not always win. Those candidates who appeal to fear and intolerance often are seen as the safer choice. This is a lesson that the voters of each generation frequently fail to learn. Although you live in a very liberal social and educational environment, America is still a very conservative nation. Your university, your community and even your state are not microcosms of the entire country. After you graduate and move to other places, you will meet people with opinions and attitudes that you will find unfathomable and objectionable. We are less of a melting pot than we are a stew where you still can see each of the parts that we add to it.
America is in the middle of significant changes. The nature of the economy and work is changing. The high paying, low skilled jobs are gone forever, as we become more integrated into a global economy. A college degree has become essential to being able to live the American dream, and most people are either incapable of earning such an intellectually challenging distinction, or do not have access to the resources necessary for a college education. As such, many people will feel left out and unconnected. There is no going back to the way it was, and those left behind will demonstrate anger and frustration, and will want to blame someone or some group. A leader who appeals to these primitive feelings will have an attentive audience. A college degree always will be earned by far less than half of the voting public. As a college educated person, you will be a member of a political and economic minority. This will shape your values, your social group and your voting habits. Those candidates who best represent your position will not always win.
One of the great challenges for your generation is to find meaningful work for everyone who wishes to work. That will not be easy because we are in an increasingly technologically based economy where post-high school education is essential to finding a good job. You will be swimming against a strong current, as you try to find a place for everyone to participate in our society. Being successful in this effort will be absolutely essential to political stability and economic equity. Failure is not an option.
Another change is the changing complexion (literally) of the American electorate. At your age, you can take the long view. Within a few more elections, the population of our country will become much less white and more diverse. This will have an effect on elections at the national and local level. Within a couple of decades, every group in the U.S. will be a minority group. We can either learn to live together, or we can break apart into tribal groups concerned with our own group’s interests. Our collective freedoms are at stake. Working together to find common ground is essential. National suffering is optional.
The worst thing that can happen as a result of this election is for you to turn your back on the political system. Get involved at the local level and help to build the kind of government that you want from the ground up. Make your corner of the world a better place. We need more involvement from people with the kind of values that we strive to demonstrate to you at Dominican, so that the country that you and your children inherit will come to resemble an America that you can be proud of.
America is great. We do not need to make it great again, but we do need to make it a great place for everyone.
Daniel Beach, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Interim Dean, College of Health Sciences