NEW YORK – As I watched the returns at Donald Trump’s celebration here Tuesday night, the hardest part was trying to reassure my seventh-grade daughter at home, via phone and text, that she would be OK.
She had expected to be celebrating the election of the first female president, but instead, this man she had been reading and hearing horrible things about had won, and she feared her own world could come apart.
Here is what I’m telling her:
My wonderful daughter,
This is a sad day for our country. I want you to know that I did everything I could to prevent this from happening. My efforts and those of many others came up short.
I’ve written about the dreadful things Trump said and did during the campaign, and about the still more terrible things he could do if elected. I won’t lie: I am deeply worried for the nation.
But I am writing because I want you to keep those fears in perspective. We will be fine. Your daily life won’t change. You’ll go to school, go to parties with friends, enjoy the same activities and come home to a loving family. Next week, we’ll celebrate your bat mitzvah.
It’s important, on one hand, to accept that Trump won, fair and square. As Americans, we respect the office and we salute him. Honoring elections is the bedrock of democracy.
But his election, by itself, doesn’t mean America won’t be a safe place for immigrants, black people, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, gays and lesbians, or a place where women aren’t treated fairly. There has been a lot of talk about how the political professionals misunderstood the electorate. But that’s not entirely true. Hillary Clinton, as of now, is leading in the popular vote. More Americans wanted her to be president than him. It’s possible, as exit polls of voters suggest, that the FBI director, by causing the country to spend the final days of the election talking about her email, handed Trump victory. We’ll never know for sure, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
What this means for sure is that Trump has little support to do the things he talked of. The exit polls show people supported him because they were bothered by Clinton’s emails or because they were worried about the economy and terrorists. CNN’s exit polls show that:
Seventy percent of voters, including 29 percent of Trump voters, were bothered by his treatment of women.
Sixty-three percent, including 20 percent of Trump voters, said he doesn’t have the temperament to be president.
Sixty-three percent, including 21 percent of his own voters, said he’s not honest and trustworthy.
Fifty-seven percent, including 14 percent of his own voters, said they would have a negative view of Trump’s victory.
Most Americans don’t want a border wall, and only 25 percent of voters want him to deport illegal immigrants. They don’t support ending Obamacare or free trade.
So what do we do now?
First, we must try to help Trump succeed. I urge Republicans of conscience to join his administration, to temper his worst instincts. Six years ago, the top Republican in the Senate said his top political goal should be defeating President Obama. I hope Democrats don’t act that way. If Trump drops the crazy talk of the campaign, he could easily find compromises on the economy and immigration. Trump reinvented himself for this campaign. He’s capable of remaking himself again into a practical leader.
But if he doesn’t, if he governs as recklessly and as divisively as he campaigned, there will be checks on his power. Stock markets will crash and a recession will come if he gets us into trade wars. If he doesn’t change his views about foreign policy, he’ll get no support from allies.
If he uses the federal government to prosecute and jail his critics – well, then we would have a crisis. If he starts rounding up Muslims or inflames the anti-Semitism he stirred up in the campaign, I and many others – including many Republicans – will fight him with everything we have.
People joke about fleeing to another country, but America remains the greatest country on Earth. You are rightly scared that a man who talks about women the way Trump does was elected president. But we all know a woman will be elected president someday. Maybe it will be you.
At your bat mitzvah next week, we will end the service, as always, with a prayer for our country:
“Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance.
May they govern with justice and compassion.”
God bless you, my daughter, and God bless America.
All my love,
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.