By Karen Ocamb, contributing journalist
In a terrible irony, the lasting image of President Barak Obama’s two term-legacy may wind up being the moment he placed the office of the presidency over personal rancor and partisan politics. On Thursday, Nov. 10, in an unimaginable feat of courage and self-restraint, Obama welcomed President-Elect Donald Trump to the White House for the beginning of the peaceful constitutional transition of power. Obama said the hour and a half meeting with the man who came to political power through the “birther” conspiracy to delegitimize America’s first black president had been “excellent.”
“If you succeed, then the country succeeds,” Obama, the former constitutional law professor, told Trump.
“I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel,” Trump replied, calling Obama “a very good man” for whom he has “great respect.”
It was a moment expected to calm both Americans and global observers shocked at the alt-right wing earthquake the world’s most powerful nation experienced on Election Night. And, in that quirk of U.S. democracy, defeated LGBT ally Hillary Clinton leads Trump in the popular vote and is projected to eventually win it by up to two percentage points, with more absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted. Four years ago, after Mitt Romney’s defeat to Obama in 2012, Trump tweeted: “The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy.”
It will be a long time before pundits, pollsters, the media, and the broken Democratic and Republican parties figure out how the unwieldy, Twitter-happy, bigoted reality TV star beat the woman more prepared to shatter the glass ceiling and win the presidency than any politician in recorded history. But two salient points are already evident: there was an unexpected Tom Bradley effect among Trump’s angry Silent Majority, resulting in unexpected poll numbers and incorrect assumptions; and with 231,556,622 Americans eligible to vote—only 131,741,500 showed up to actually vote. That, too, must be examined, along with voter apathy, sending a “message” to the “Washington Establishment”, and the effect of GOP-imposed voter ID laws, more voter restrictions and fewer polling places.
The LGBT vote should also be examined. According to the New York Times exit poll, LGBTs turned out for Clinton by 78 percent, with 14 percent going for Trump. However, in their pre-election preview, the Human Rights Campaign said: “There are 9.4 million LGBT voters in the United States. Turnout among LGBT voters is also reliably high. In 2012, an astounding 81 percent of eligible LGB voters nationally cast a ballot, compared to just 58 percent of all eligible voters.”
National exit polls showed that Obama received 76 percent of all LGB votes in 2012, earning roughly six million LGB votes in an election that Obama won by just under five million votes. This year, polling showed Clinton’s support among LGBT voters projected as even higher than Obama.
The Trump Election Night earthquake has left a country starkly divided, with half the country feeling jubilant and untethered to even a modicum of civility and political correctness and the other half deathly afraid. But, since Trump has been both adamant in his policy pronouncements and yet so unpredictable and unflappable in his freedom to flip-flop, it is unclear what he will do next or if he will follow through with his plans.
At a news conference Monday, President Obama discussed his meeting with Trump, saying the president-elect is “coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don’t think he is ideological. I think ultimately, he is pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and has a clear sense of direction.”
Obama refused to talk about Trump’s newly designated chief strategist, Steve Bannon, head of the alt-right media outlet Breitbart News. The announcement sparked an immediate backlash from groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center that point to Bannon’s loose ties to white supremacist and other right-wing groups.
“In his victory speech, Trump pledged to be the president for ‘all Americans’ and to ‘bind the wounds of division’ in our country, ” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “Appointing someone like Bannon, who will have the president-elect’s ear every single day, makes a mockery of that pledge.”
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people—probably two million, it could be even three million—we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said. “But we’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.”
DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, are terrified who Trump’s “deportation force” might sweep up. Many DREAMers came out of the shadows under Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program and, because they trusted their government, the Department of Homeland Security now has the names and addresses of 728,000 DREAMers enrolled in DACA, many of whom are LGBT or HIV positive and fear harm if deported.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, confused the issue, telling CNN on Sunday, “We are not planning on erecting a deportation force. Donald Trump’s not planning on that.”
Meanwhile, the LGBT community is alarmed at the names being floated by the Trump transition team, headed by ardently anti-LGBT Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the Family Research Council , designated a hate group by the SPLC.
“Ken Blackwell is a proponent of ‘conversion therapy’ who blames LGBT people for what he calls an ‘attack on the natural family,’” says Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “Not surprisingly, Trump’s current ‘short list’ for cabinet picks reads like a who’s who of nationally-prominent homophobes. Sam Brownback, Ben Carson, Jan Brewer and other anti-LGBT ‘usual suspects’ round out the list.”
The LGBT community now fears the upcoming roll-back of LGBT rights and protections.
“It’s difficult to put a positive spin on the results of the election. If there were ever any question about the direction in which Trump intends to steer LGBT civil rights, his pick for vice president dispelled any illusions,” Zbur said.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence has promised to be anti-LGBT, using “dog-whistle” terms about children’s “safety” and “privacy.” Executive orders by President Obama up for repeal include regulations protecting LGBT people in health coverage, housing, family-leave benefits, and mandating public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
Indeed, Pence may be the key reason evangelicals turned out in greater numbers for Trump than in any election since 2004 and anti–LGBT groups are salivating at the assumption of being rewarded. The resurrected National Organization for Marriage issued a four-point plan last Wednesday:
“We will work with President Trump to nominate conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, individuals who will adhere to the words and meaning of the Constitution. Such justices will inevitably reverse the anti-constitutional ruling of the Supreme Court imposing same-sex ‘marriage’ on the nation in the Obergefell decision, because that decision lacked any basis in the Constitution.
We will work with President Trump to rescind the illegal, over-reaching executive orders and directives issued by President Obama, including his dangerous “gender identity” directives, attempting to redefine gender just as he sought to redefine marriage.
We will work with President Trump to reverse policies of the Obama administration that seek to coerce other countries into accepting same-sex ‘marriage’ as a condition of receiving US assistance and aid. It is fundamentally wrong for a president to become a lobbyist for the LGBT agenda, and we are confident that will end in the Trump administration.
We will work with President Trump and Congress to pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which Mr. Trump supports. FADA is critical legislation to protect people who believe in marriage from being targeted by the government for persecution.”
Election Night also provided some bright spots for the LGBT community. Bisexual Kate Brown won big in Oregon as the first out LGBT person elected governor in the United States. The Victory Fund announced that 87 of its 153 endorsed candidates won.
And California remains a shining city on the hill for LGBT equality. Equality California reported that 110 of its 137 endorsed candidates at the federal, state and local levels won, with nine races still too close to call. And with the victory of such candidates as Georgette Gomez, elected to the San Diego City Council as the second out councilmember and from a district outside the gay Hillcrest area—the LGBT community is deepening and widening its bench of LGBT representatives.
“Today more than ever, we must not lose hope,” said Zbur. “We must continue to fight for inclusion, acceptance, respect and for full equality for LGBT people in California and across the country.”
“Despite the very disappointing result of the presidential election, there are elements of hope in the results of the election in California,” Zbur continued. “Those include the victory of a pro-equality U.S. senator, Kamala Harris, and the apparent election of four exceptional LGBT leaders to the state legislature, State Senators-Elect Toni Atkins and Scott Wiener and Assemblymembers-Elect Sabrina Cervantes and Todd Gloria. While our LGBT allies are indispensable, there is no substitute for having representatives with authentic, lived LGBT experience in the state legislature. The rapid advances in LGBT civil rights over the past few decades clearly illustrate the crucial importance of ‘having a seat at the table.’”
One lesson from the Trump earthquake and its anticipated aftershocks is the often-overlooked adage that vigilance really is required to keep hard won civil rights. Blinking through one election can result in a whole new political ground zero.