After the Fall

November 10, 2016

The morning after the election, my daughter who works at the coop food store in Tucson, Arizona reported that customers were coming in in tears. Women and ethnic minorities felt fear and despair. In my email box was a communication from Jewish Voice for Peace, expressing fear of a resurgence of oppression against Jews and giving thanks for people who support them. Schoolteachers across the country, including New Hampshire, are reporting fear and anxiety among students of color or from families with different national origins. A Muslim expressed grateful thanks to a friend pledging to stand with him in this threatening atmosphere. This is the first election in my memory where such despair over the results has been so openly expressed. What is different this time?

Since the results of the presidential election have been announced, essayists, op-ed contributors, TV and radio commentators, bloggers, and twitter voices have flooded our attention with assurances that the future of our country is going to be OK. We are being told we shall get through the political intrigue, the economic uncertainties, and even the controversies like abortion, climate change, and job creation. I do not remember a time after an election when so many felt it was so important to assure people that they had nothing to fear from the results.

Most of the commentary is speaking to people in privileged positions. I, myself, am a white male with family roots in America that reach back to before 1776. It is easy to seduce me with the rational idea that government leaders come and go but our democracy will endure, as it has for almost 250 years. We just need to teach civics in every school and participate in the workings of our government and our economic system. We must continue to advocate for ideas that will strengthen our country, our standard of living, and our relationship with the nations of the world.

However, these assurances have the effect of normalizing the results of the election. Yet the climate of fear that has surged among women, people of color, people of different national and cultural origins, in the GLBTQI community, and among people of diverse religious faith expressions is not normal. It is not normal for a presidential candidate to win an election by espousing bigotry and hate. The tragedy of the election results is not a change in political policy but the perception that demonizing others is a winning strategy. Healing will not be accomplished with rational assurances that the system of transfer of power can be trusted. Healing will begin when we publically reject that putting others down is an acceptable or successful way to win.

Harry Reid recently wrote, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump…” However, it may be that all of us must take responsibility for the tragedy of broken relationships in our country and the resulting fear. We cannot wait for President elect Trump to decide to change his rhetoric and his attitude. This is particularly true for those of us who are privileged white males. Where we have been silent we must speak out. Where we’ve been complicit we must acknowledge our abuse of power. We must say loudly and clearly that our strength does not depend upon the weakness of others. It does not depend upon the color of our shirt collar, our education, our physical prowess, or our choice of beverage. Our strength is measured by our determination to stand with any group of people who is depreciated or denigrated. Our nation will gain strength and integrity when no bigoted action, statement, or joke by a politician or a stranger on the street goes unchallenged.

With the results of this election, we’ve stumbled into a situation of fear, suspicion, bravado, and uncensored attitudes. However, if the results of this election have done anything, they have brought to light the worst of our human nature and inclinations. This visibility can open us up to face into, name, and overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other attitudes that divide us. This experience can energize us to call out these attitudes and discourage them wherever we experience them. Such actions will create a new normal of hospitality, empathy, understanding about other cultures and religious faiths, and resisting any generalizations about a particular group of people.  Now that’s a difference with which we can live and thrive.