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Michael A. Cohen

I was wrong about America

The American people, in a historic call for change, elected Donald J. Trump to become the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday, sending shock waves around the world and a divisive and disruptive leader into the nation’s most powerful office
The American people, in a historic call for change, elected Donald J. Trump to become the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday, sending shock waves around the world and a divisive and disruptive leader into the nation’s most powerful office

I was wrong.

For 16 months I believed, and confidently predicted, that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump and become the first woman elected to the American presidency. I looked at the demographics of the race, the polling data, Trump’s manifest lack of qualifications, and his sky-high unfavorable ratings, and I came to one unshakable conclusion about how this election would turn out.

I was wrong. I failed, and I am sorry.

But deep down there was another, more implicit reason that I believed Clinton would win. I could neither contemplate, nor conceptualize, the possibility that this great nation would elevate a man as disreputable as Trump to the presidency. I steadfastly refused to believe that Americans were even capable of making such an appalling and tragic decision.


I was wrong.

Now, I must consider the likely grievous toll of my mistake and the voters’ decision.

Obamacare and the 20 million Americans who have received access to health care because of it — gone. Roe v. Wade — likely to be overturned by a Supreme Court shaped by justices that Trump gets to nominate to the highest court in the land. The social safety net — almost certainly will be further cut to shreds by a Republican Congress that has no interest in the plight of the same working class that elected Trump Tuesday night. Climate change — unaddressed as our planet becomes increasingly uninhabitable for millions of people. What about criminal justice reform, gun control legislation or voting rights reform? One can expect to see an expansion of gun rights, more efforts to suppress voting rights (seeing as it worked so effectively for Republicans in 2016) and no federal effort to eliminate the scourge of police shootings or the structural racism that is endemic to our justice system.

For Muslims — a ban from entering the United States; for undocumented immigrants — deportation and untold suffering for millions; for Jews, Asians and nonwhites, in general, a now-palpable fear of being targeted by Trump’s menacing supporters and even the president himself. For journalists, we’ve lost the security that the First Amendment can truly protect us from a vengeful, embittered, and authoritarian-minded leader.


Internationally, the consequences could be catastrophic. For starters, a resurgent Russia unchecked by the United States and a now suddenly neutered NATO, incapable of fully protecting the Baltic States on Russia’s northeastern border. Next, a global trade war that could spark a global economic recession, the scrapping of the Iran nuclear deal, and perhaps even a rollback of improved diplomatic relations with Cuba. The liberal international order that has sustained American power — and global peace and security — for decades is more at risk than any point since the end of the Cold War.

It’s almost impossible to fully appreciate or contemplate the damage that a Trump presidency — and Republican control of Congress — can wreak on the United States and the world.

But beyond the instability, suffering, torment, and fear that Trump’s election will unleash, I, and many millions of other Americans, have lost something more essential — our faith in America.

When I attended Hillary Clinton’s final campaign rally in Philadelphia on Monday, I was deeply moved by the enthusiasm and passion of the crowd — and the palpable sense that her supporters were about to make history. These were young and old Americans, black, white and brown, gay and straight, all of whom embraced the tolerance, the humanity and the enduring ideals that lay at the heart of Clinton’s campaign message.


That simple and powerful belief in the idea and the promise of America has been irrevocably shattered. How can Muslim-Americans, Jewish-American, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, disabled Americans, female Americans (at least the large number who didn’t vote for Donald Trump), gay Americans, or simply any American who believes that all people should be judged by the content of their character, look their fellow citizens who voted for Trump in the face after Tuesday?

How can they still believe that in America the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward progress? How do they process the fact that tens of millions of Americans — with eyes wide open — voted for a man who openly espoused racism, nativism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, bragged about sexually assaulting women, and openly and maliciously mocked the disabled?

How can they believe in an America that would elect such a man? How can I?

I love America and I’m proud to be a citizen of this nation, but I was wrong about America.

And today I don’t recognize America. I fear that I never will again.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.