Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Romano: America has spoken, but is anybody listening?

America screwed up.

Not on Election Night — that actually went exactly the way it was designed even if the result was not what you would have preferred.

No, America's leaders screwed up long before that when they failed to recognize just how much anger and frustration had come to exist behind the picket fences.

Suburbanites were angry. Soccer moms were frustrated. Blue-collar, middle-class citizens were tired of feeling as if nobody was sticking up for them.

I heard it described on TV as white backlash, and I suppose that's an accurate description. But the analyst seemed to be using it in a pejorative way, and I don't think that's fair. Or helpful.

The average working stiff has every right to feel left behind. Jobs are being automated and outsourced, employer benefits are shrinking and disappearing, and the American dream feels as if it is drifting farther and farther from our grasp.

For a lot of people, life today is a greater struggle than it was in 1996. And the only certainty is they are 20 years older.

So you'll have to excuse them if they weren't feeling the pain of immigrants. Of Muslims. Of the victims of racial profiling. Of gay bashing. Of tree huggers. Of the poor souls embedded in poverty.

You could say their empathy is lacking, or you could argue they are just tired of feeling as if they have been blamed for problems they are not personally responsible for.

And so, right or wrong, they cast their votes for the candidate they believed was finally appealing to them instead of special interests or corporate overlords or political machines.

You want to scream that America is divided this morning?

Go ahead and shout. Of course, it's divided. Any election short of a landslide proves that point.

And if Hillary Clinton had won Tuesday night, the country still would have been divided. It just would have been a division the country has grown accustomed to on the liberal side.

But this time it was conservatives who spoke the loudest. The silent majority, to use a former president's term.

And they were so starved for attention they were willing to overlook a litany of remarks and insults that were unbecoming of a presidential candidate. Or of any dignified 70-year-old American.

Republicans learned this hard truth in the primaries.

And Democrats were too blind to see it coming in the general election.

Yet I don't think the election of Donald Trump is indicative of an abundance of hate or intolerance. Yes, there are those on the fringe ready to lash out at anyone of a different culture, color or religion. And, yes, it is insane to suggest that racism — both individually and institutionally — does not still exist.

But I refuse to believe that Trump's victory is a giant step backward for civil rights. I refuse to believe that nearly 60 million Americans harbor ill will toward the community down the road.

They may be misguided if they think their problems are equivalent to those living on society's edges. And they may be mistaken if they think the enemy is the opposing political party, and not the billionaires who pull the strings in Washington.

But the ballot box is the most effective way for their voices to be heard, and on Tuesday night they shouted louder than most of us ever anticipated.

Just don't think this was a Rust Belt or backwoods phenomenon.

It happened here, too. Between Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas counties, Trump drew about 705,000 votes, compared to 661,000 for Clinton.

That means there's a good chance your neighbor voted for someone different from you. Does that mean you were right and they were wrong? Of course not.

It means, in America, we are free to disagree.

It means, like it or not, democracy worked again.

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