Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: History will judge us not just on Trump’s election, but by how we react

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. The Associated Press

My wife’s birthday was Wednesday, the day after what certainly felt like the most important — and surreal, and deranged — presidential election of our lifetime.

We celebrated last weekend.

It was part of a running joke we had.

Better eat cake now, before the world ends.

Ha! Get it? Because Trump …

And then Trump won.

Bigly.

OK, that’s a stretch. Technically, Trump lost the popular vote. But bending the truth, or selling downright fabrications, or making up your own facts, is all the rage. It’s no longer frowned upon. In fact, it’s to be celebrated and rewarded. If you play your cards right, and spin your own hateful yarn, it can win you the White House.

Tremendous.

Just tremendous.

The complicating factor is, the world did not end last night, with Mark Shields and David Brooks squirming on PBS, struggling to comprehend what was happening. That would have been easy. It didn’t end when Trump delivered the victory speech no one — and especially the insulated, obviously clueless and out-of-touch pollsters — saw coming.

It didn’t end Wednesday morning, when Hillary Clinton — a candidate with too much baggage, too many question marks, and too many FBI probes (not to mention too many qualifications and too much experience, apparently) — took to a stage in New York and delivered her concession speech.

To all of the little girls ... Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Hillary Clinton

“To all of the little girls,” Clinton said, as I and my kids, including my 9-year-old daughter, listened on the car radio. “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

I’ve lost my composure a few times since my country’s choice for its next president became clear, but that moment wrecked me.

How did this happen? How did we come so close to electing the first female president of the United States, eight years after electing the first African American to the office, and instead pivot to the exact opposite — a man steeped in misogyny who built an entire platform on fear, insults and division?

A man who mocked the disabled.

A man who alienated Latinos, calling many immigrants rapists and criminals.

A man who led the birther movement.

A man who bragged of the pass his celebrity gives him on sexual assault.

A man who promised to “Make America Great Again” by openly rejecting so many of the core principles of basic human decency that this country is supposed to be built on.

I don’t have all the answers to those questions. No one does, yet.

But one thing, in the aftermath of what can rightly be called the most shocking political outcome in modern history, seems clear:

Our politics are broken, and the problem is rooted in tribalism. The rhetoric is too divisive, too detached. As Stephen Colbert told the crowd during his aptly titled “Live Election Night Democracy’s Series Finale,” “So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it’s because we overdosed — especially this year. We drank too much of the poison.”

Now, we have the hangover to prove it.

It’s easy to point the finger — deservedly — at Trump on this one. But the truth is that both sides — left and right — have turned elections, and governing, into high-stakes football games. And it didn’t start this year. It’s not about finding middle ground, or the battling over competing ideas, it’s about demonizing the opposition to the point of annihilation. To the left, Republicans have been cast as ignorant racists. To the right, Democrats are pinko elitists.

We are fractured like never before. And the stakes we’ve driven between ourselves have now resulted in the previously unthinkable. How we walk this division back is one of the most pressing questions we face. It must start immediately. And we all have a part in it.

Wednesday night, after I picked up my kids from school, we headed home to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We ate cake — again. And our conversation with our 9-year-old daughter turned toward the future, and what the election of Donald Trump means for it.

The world didn’t end Tuesday. In reality, one of the most consequential chapters of our experiment in democracy began.

What we do from here is also part of how we’ll be judged.

For my kids and yours, we owe it to them to react with purpose and get it right.

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