[Trigger warning: If you feel the election of Donald Trump is a wonderful turn of events for the future of the nation, you might want to take a pass on this. I don’t and I have trouble getting inside the mindset of those who do, with all due respect.]
Throughout the campaign, though I watch little TV and could name few of the pundits who shape/massage/feed whatever passes for public opinion, I couldn’t imagine that a man who systematically gave offense to women, black people, Hispanic people, disabled people and Muslims, and who was cozy with white supremacists and neo-Nazis propagating racial bigotry and unabashed antisemitism, could put together enough votes to get himself elected president of much of anything, let alone the United States of America. I watched the polls, snagged snippets of mainstream messaging from social media, and stewed not so much about whether Hillary Clinton would win, but about what sort of Congress she’d have to deal with. For no clear reason, abruptly this last weekend I found myself suddenly wondering what I would do if Donald Trump were elected, got a serious sinking feeling in my gut, and began speculating about what might happen should that come to pass. Nevertheless, I went to the polls yesterday, reasonably confident Hillary Clinton had done what needed to be done to make it first across the finish line.
As the evening went on last night, the clouds began to gather as Trump kept leading in electoral college votes, though I still thought she’d pull it out in the end. However, when international financial markets started plummeting, I decided it was time to try to get some sleep. Unlike media smartypants, those guys, with their billions on the line, don’t miss much, I generally believe. I didn’t get much sleep, up two hours early for me, at least, to learn that the worst possible scenario had been fulfilled, with Trump victorious and both houses of Congress secured by the Republicans. Hope for a Supreme Court configured to meet the needs of the nation in its present configuration was out the window. Like kindred spirits across the land, I had great trouble simply taking it in. Fight or flight? Flight was all could think of. GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!! Or at least give me a great big rock to hide under. I felt personally betrayed by the Nate Silvers of the world, who had led me to formulate such bogus expectations and assumptions as I went to the polls with. I was grateful when a friend posted a link (here) on Facebook, reminding me to breathe. So much for my yoga practice: it actually seemed like a novel idea.
I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that I should do something productive with the day, like do the work I get paid for as an independent contractor. For the most part, I stayed away from the media, not really wanting to know what the same smart people who so badly misread the mood of the country might have to say about the new state of affairs we find ourselves in. I communed with my beloved, puttered away on a creative project I have in the works, and generally let the feelings have their way. I’m glad I did. I am clear we all have a great deal of grieving to do. We need to allow space and take time for our depression, our anger, our outrage, our shame at being American, our bewilderment, our feelings of hopelessness and betrayal, to rise and ebb and flow. That being the case, for some people, what I have to say here may be premature. If it is, bail out and come back another day when you feel better. You will feel better, I promise, at least if you care for yourself and let yourself. Personally, I know I am not out of the woods by a long shot.
I should be grateful for that cloud that passed over me last weekend. It gave me a head start on reflecting about what we do if the worst case scenario should be fulfilled. Two things become clear: 1) We have to fight. Washington is not going to fix this. Consider how little the finest President I have seen in 55 years, since I became grown up enough to pay attention, was able to fix, and his successor is proclaiming his intentions to undo as much of that as he can. 2) We need to make it our business to open our hearts and our minds to the half of the electorate who think Trump is their guy and said so, where and when it counted.
These two things are actually related. Take the second one first: I’m not sure what the smart guys are saying, but I have a strong conviction that Hillary Clinton’s greatest liabilities were not that she is a woman or blew it in Benghazi or was too sloppy with her emails. Her greatest liability was that she was perceived as part of The Problem by people for whom the problem is all the insider baseball played by “liberal” mainstream media, Washington big shots, elected and appointed, and their corporate backers – all the insider baseball where “political correctness” is promoted, while jobs are outsourced to China and wage scales are driven down by immigrants flooding in illegally, who don’t even speak English or worship the God We Trust. For such people, it wouldn’t be hard sell to suggest that the only way they were going to get Washington to pay attention is by sending someone to the White House who is not a Washington insider. Trump may have used the language of bigotry and misogyny and nationalism to get and command their attention, but the reasons that messaging worked go deeper than personally wanting to hurt black people, assault women or drive people from the country. 59 million people don’t get up every day thinking about how they can mess over black people and immigrants and women. They do get up every day feeling disrespected, neglected and short changed. Washington is never going to fix that, even with their guys in the White House and controlling Congress; but a warmer embrace from people like me and most of the people I think of as kindred spirits, people who honestly do hold them in varying degrees of disrespect and contempt, might be a start.
We may not subscribe to their analysis and we may think that they will soon be sorely disappointed by The Donald’s inability to meet their expectations for reasons both systemic and personal. However, the people who voted for Trump are my fellow citizens. Their well-being concerns me. Even if I dislike them, I can hardly appeal to them in the name of the general welfare and having a livable future for our children to care about the people they despise, while despising them myself. We truly are in the same boat, cruising through space on the same planet.They may be misguided, ill-informed and bigoted, but few of them are psychopaths, even if they may have voted for one. And I actually believe, their sense of grievance and resentment may eventually offer a point of contact for change-agents tuned in to the deeper drivers. We write them off at our peril.
Which brings me back to my main point. The fight is on. The future is ours, but it is our responsibility to claim it. For reasons only partly related to the campaign, in 2016 overt racism, homophobia and misogyny rose to levels of public awareness unseen in decades. It is not that the levels of abuse increased, rather our tacit tolerance of it reached breaking points.
Police officers randomly killing black males is not news. Having it recorded and broadcast in real time on social media is. As a result, #BlackLivesMatter is now an active factor in our civic life.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign alone has unleashed numerous initiatives to take on misogyny in all its forms, from employment discrimination to sexual assault. Those initiatives are following the lead of the National Organization for Women and a raft of other organizations that have been fighting for equal rights for women, going back to the days of women’s suffrage.
Having made great headway with marriage equality, the LGBTQI community ran up against fierce resistance by local officials unwilling to recognize its hard-won rights, overt bigotry from the now newly elected Vice Presidential candidate, and the hateful law passed in North Carolina regulating who uses what bathrooms. Yet, the community’s rapid, intense, and concerted resistance led leading corporations, trade associations, sports leagues and others to change or cancel plans to do business in the state, so long as the law remains in effect.
So: Once we have caught our breaths, how ever long it takes, the game plan is clear: Whichever issue is closest to home for you – race, gender and orientation, the environment, access to healthcare, employment opportunities and livable wages – join the fight, recruit others, form alliances, and don’t give up or run. If showing people how to breathe, come home to themselves, love themselves and others, feel peace, is what you do, do it with an open and trusting heart. If you are a person of faith, of whatever denomination or tradition, reach out and care for the strangers among you, and prepare to offer sanctuary when need arises.
Whether Trump and his cronies and supporters like it or not, the nation’s future is not going to be white, straight, male-dominated, native-born or Christian-only. It is not going to be addicted to fossil fuels. It is not going to be permanently in hock for such essentials as healthcare and education. Nor is it going back to the employment patterns people like me came of age and went to college on. But we will be fighting to protect what we have achieved in the last decades with respect to equal standing for all, equal opportunity for all, and sustainable living and environmental action on behalf of the children and the future. We will make it a priority to attract more allies and more supporters. We will make it our business to educate others who don’t know or understand or believe. We will write off no one, no matter where the dialogue begins, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. We won’t assume “any reasonable person”, or “any moral person” sees things the way we do or is a defective human being because they don’t.
Frankly, I find this a hopeful scenario. I wouldn’t have chosen for history to deal us this hand of cards to play, but I believe it is going to give us an opportunity to grow up, get comfortable living in the real world, to discover neighbors we are suspicious or distrustful of, and to get unhooked from the idea that somebody else – Washington, Wall Street, the boss, the Superintendent of Schools, the hospital CEO, the president of the university, the head coach, the teacher, the priest, the rabbi, my neighbor, my mother, my father, my lover, my spouse, whoever – is going to make it good for us.
I have long felt that we in the United States, with our mere 300-plus years of (Euro-centric) history under our belts, frequently behave like adolescents compared to people in most other parts of the world, where thousands of years of shared history are not uncommon. We have the energy, imagination, dreaminess and ambition often found among adolescents. We also have the irritability, self-centeredness, comparative ignorance, and general immaturity about how to handle ourselves among ourselves and with others, that go with the same territory.
Thinking we could blow into Baghdad, of all places – Baghdad in Mesopotamia, where the oldest cities in the world were formed 6,000 years ago – take care of business in a few years and take our leave at our convenience, was the height of folly. An informed grown-up would have known better. Destroying Obamacare with no alternative plan for addressing the healthcare needs of the third of the population who can’t afford to pay going rates and of the Baby Boomers slowly moving into those costly last decades of their lives is at best foolish and at worst cruel: unbecoming of that “Great America” written on the bill of goods Trump sold his supporters. Do the numbers and come up with a plan. It’s what sensible people would do.
This is our time. It is time to grow up. The work is now ours to do. No mommies or daddies are going to do it for us. Let us be positively surprised if the next President actually does something we are on board with. But let us not expect, even tacitly, inwardly, that such will be the case. We know we are right, where our issues and aspirations are concerned – right to fight for equality across the board, for a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren, and for rewarding and gratifying opportunities to make a sustainable living. Back in the day, I learned a lot from reading Karl Marx – the real deal, not the caricature promulgated by Cold War propaganda and alt-Right foolishness. His measure of a humane society was this: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” Sounds good to me. But we’ll only get there by going together.
And ready to go.
The fight is on. For real.