This inaugural post started out as a letter to my family, letting them know I was okay after the election. I went out for my morning six-mile walking loop. Once I hit the trail, something unusual began: I started dictating what began as a short unedited email to my family in Canada. I thought nothing of it at first. But as the day unfolded, I couldn’t help going back to the initial badly-machine-dictated message. I spent the day revising as the thoughts kept flowing, and turning it into what became this extended essay.
Of all the artifacts of citizenship in the United States, one that has often puzzled me is the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly one of its clauses gave me great heart.
I was thinking that regardless of the election outcome, United States remains one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I’d felt apprehensive as I dropped off to sleep on Tuesday night. I was comforted, just a bit, by the idea that the constitution that protects fundamental rights and freedoms remained in place.
Awaking to hear the news of the election outcome, and once again sorting through emotions, I realized the opportunity this outcome brings for people to come together.
The Republican House and Senate now have a greater responsibility than ever to safeguard fundamental freedoms, and somehow surround the new president with wisdom and compassion and guide his ability to hear all voices.
It will be challenging.
This is a time for exquisite civility.
I awoke wondering whether the half of the population that voted to support Donald Trump had spent the past eight years feeling as much fear and discomfiture about the America they move in as I now feel this morning.
For those who now represent the Contrary-minded, there is plenty of work to do. It is simply more challenging to stand up for the under-represented, the marginalized, and those who need protection when we see a new leader who gives us little or no suggestion of standing up for those people himself.
Just as I had become incredibly disaffected by the polarizing effect of a great deal of media coverage in the lead-up to this election, I am keenly aware that media can continue to be an incredibly divisive force now. If so, that’s not going to help Americans come together (not that encouraging unity has ever been the responsibility of the press, but fostering polarization ought not to be either).
No matter what else, the constitution remained in the same place it was when I went to bed the night before. Nobody’s rights and freedoms had been changed. Exercised, yes, indeed. Changed, no.
The election is a reminder that no freedom ever seems fully won, and every freedom needs to be constantly defended – even those that seem utterly self-evident truths.
For those who now represent the contrary-minded, there is plenty of work to do. It is simply more challenging to stand up for the under-represented, the marginalized, and those who need protection when what we see in place is a new leader who gives us little suggestion of standing up for those people himself.
Just as I had become incredibly disaffected by the role of media coverage in the lead up to this election, I am keenly aware that media can continue to be an incredibly divisive force now. That’s not going to help. Many reporters and those with wide followings on social media encouraged thousands of people to post and re-post hurtful and thoughtless presumptions about people they had never met based solely on the candidate they supported.
We need to learn better than that. We need to do better than that, no matter how we voted. We can’t know anything about the lives, and fears, and experiences, and visions for America, of people who voted differently than we did if we don’t TALK to them. That dialog is simply essential to moving forward. We cannot fear each other. We need to KNOW each other.
There are an awful lot of Americans who have felt for eight years, with increasing horror and fear, and often dreadful change in personal circumstances, that they neither recognized nor wanted the America that was unfolding. They didn’t like where it headed. Did we end up where we are by misunderstandings on both sides?
A constantly-growing proportion of the contrary-minded population of 2009 – 2016 chose to withdraw from civil discourse, and not participate in shaping the direction of society. How did those who supported the Administration in power fail to sufficiently engage them? Would reforms like same-sex marriage or Affordable Care have gotten more buy-in if they’d been moved more slowly? Or would no amount of patience and collaboration have brought both sides together?
Is change that is pushed through by definition doomed to be repealed? Or is the lesson that we MUST have the courage to dare and push things through while we can, AND the determination to defend these hard-won rights in perpetuity? The Civil Rights Act is still in place. So is Social Security, for now.
I am grateful for the wave of outrage that the President-elect sparked by his freewheeling comments on how he had grabbed women without their consent. I am grateful for the surge in public discourse over the idea that anyone should ever consider sexual assault, on anyone,“okay.” I sincerely hope that issues of consent of respect remain front and center.
So much seems uncertain. Will we lose health care? Will LGBTQ rights be rolled back?
Not if I can help it.
It has been a long time since two nations warred in the bosom of a single state. Whatever else happens, that’s not happening in the United States right now, and there’s not going to be another civil war. Does it mean that people will have to work together? Maybe, but in ways none of us has ever seem before.
I remember being disturbed by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. The only prediction I had at the time was that he was going to make Americans feel good about America again, and I was unsure of whether that would be a good thing. In the end, the sky didn’t fall, and Reagan was surrounded by a lot of people who help keep the good ship America afloat and on some kind of course. Were the world’s darkest fears realized? In the end, likely not.
I remember the weeks of uncertainty waiting for the outcome of Bush vs Gore, and having weeks to get used to the idea that Bush might become president, even though I was dismayed by the prospect. This time, there was no such soft landing. It was just a hard cold shock for a lot of people who thought Trump could never be elected.
The shift in world order becomes an interesting question to me. Just as the post-World War II world was twilight for the British Empire, I mused that the election of Donald Trump might presages a similar phase for the United States if America moves to global isolation rather than alliance.
I am part of a family of thoughtful and articulate smart people who post extraordinarily well crafted thoughts on social media and speak with equal eloquence. One of my family members noted the diversity of his family. It was only in reading his list that I remembered that I am an immigrant here, albeit now a naturalized citizen (and, for the record, retain my Canadian citizenship as well). I might not look like the immigrant that Donald Trump speaks about some negatively, but it is the first time I have felt uneasy since my arrival here almost 30 years ago simply by virtue of the fact that I wasn’t born here.
Speculation about the future of America, or the Administration policies, or the presidential appointees or the fate of the Supreme Court, is fruitless at this point. Vigilance, civility, cooperation, and seeking places to begin to build a shared vision for the future are the work ahead for America now.
I asked my friends outside the United States to please not universally revile Americans for the choice that voters made and the way that choice was expressed by the Electoral College. Not only did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote, but the overall choice of a presidential candidate does not represent the choice of every citizen in the country.
I remember being disappointed by America’s choice of George W Bush. Twice. I remember at the time reminding especially my Canadian friends and clients that the presidential choice represented the will of just slightly more than half of those who voted. We will never know the will of those who did not vote. But please, I told them, it is important to remember that there is an approximately 50% chance that the American citizen you were talking to is just as deeply disappointed, and even more fearful as a citizen in her own country as you are to be a citizen of yours watching what just happened in hers.
The work that remains ahead is mammoth.
Is it better to throw up our hands and give up for four years, or to settle down and make sure that those populations that are most at risk still have a voice, despite the challenges they now face?
Not everybody has the legal option to move to Canada. I do. I’m not ready to give up on the United States just yet. How much of a difference can I make as a single individual here? That remains to be seen. Today, I light the single candle rather than curse the darkness.
Come and join me.