My daughter cried when she heard about Donald Trump’s victory in the election. She said, “I can’t believe such a hateful man is going to be our President.” It is an understandable response. Were I not trying so hard to be a “big boy,” myself I would have cried too. This result is stunning. It is stunning not because it was heartbreakingly close, nor because it was so unexpected given the two years worth of polling, nor even because a few votes in a few small states can shift power in this country in such a dramatic and perhaps draconian way. It was painful and traumatic because it revealed to me something I perhaps didn’t want to know about my country and about, specifically, my neighbors and friends.
Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance – Not Necessarily in that order
I have a file on my computer that I have labeled “Letters not sent.” I highly recommend that everyone make one like it. The file does not consist solely of letters. It is also filled with essays and blog posts and emails which I wrote in the heat of the moment when my emotions were raw. I wrote them and I put them in the file. I let them sit in the file for no less than two days; that’s a rule. And then I took them out and read them. Most, the vast majority in fact, were put back into the file and stayed there. A small number were rewritten, edited, and sent or published. Some I open from time to time in moments of self-indulgence to wallow in their righteousness. And then I close the file again and leave them in there.
Such a blogpost, about Donald Trump’s victory, now resides in my “Letters” file. As of right now I feel like it is one of the best things I ever wrote. It is titled “This Election Means What I Say It Means.” It’s too bad you guys will never get to read it. Did I say it’s really great? Man it is good. It is thorough, clever, insightful, and devastating. And it is mean. It is vitriolic and divisive and bitter. It appeals to the worst instincts of my fellow Liberals and my own sense of moral indignation. It sat in the file for two days before failing my test.
Still a Bone to Pick
Wikipedia says that since 1990 there have been 70 civil wars in the world and 69 coups. Sometimes the violence in these unfortunate countries has lasted for years. Angola’s bitter, bloody conflict endured from 1975 to 2002. Children of my generation born there knew nothing but war and heartbreak all of their young lives. In a violent unstable world we are the exception. Informed by the example of George Washington we have routinely transferred power from one President to the next, sometimes from bitter rival to bitter rival. Our democracy has weathered wars and depressions and political turmoil for 233 years not because of luck or even a superior Constitution (although I think ours is pretty good). The reason our democracy has persevered where others haven’t is because of our forbearance and tolerance and devotion to our form of government – when we lose.
Of the many profane, cruel, narcissistic things Donald Trump said and did during the campaign one stands out as particularly harmful to our republic. Bigotry, of course, can be overcome by love (read your history of the freedom riders in Alabama in the 1960’s). Cruelty can be overcome by kindness (Read about the Truth and Reconciliation Committees set up after the fall of the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa). Narcissism can be overcome by parody and humor (and what a rich target Donald Trump is for parody and humor. He is the joke which writes itself.)
The thing Trump did which worries me the most is that he undermined, publicly and unabashedly, that fragile, but so far durable, notion that our system works. Whatever candidates might say or scream at each other, they should never imply, without powerful evidence, that our system of elections is rigged or invalid. They should never suggest that they or their followers shouldn’t or won’t accept the outcome in a peaceable and respectable way. They should not incite their adherents to violence. They should never suggest “2nd Amendment remedies.” We are not stupid. We all know the note of that dog whistle. And there are dogs out there who hear that frequency.
Our devotion to our country and to our constitution and, ultimately to our leaders, is sacred and precious. It is the fabric which holds our system together. That tolerance and forbearance by the losers is what Angola lacked. Do we want to be Angola? For a candidate to tear at that precious fabric with unsubstantiated offhand comments and throwaway lines in the service of short-term political gain is, okay I’ll go ahead and say it, unpatriotic.
This election was quite obviously not rigged. There was never any credible evidence that it was rigged. There was no serious or statistically meaningful voter fraud. There never has been. Trump, the man who whined like a baby that it was rigged against him – WON! He won the “rigged” election. He should apologize and, just as publicly, say, “I was wrong and I am sorry. Our system is sound. Our elections are fair. They are administered by good people across this country from county clerks to neighborhood poll workers who volunteer to do this work out of devotion to our country.”
I still love Walter Mondale – It will be OK
I will admit that all of my vitriol has not dissipated. I am still angry about this election and, at times, fearful for our future. But I am making progress. I remember 1984. I remember the impassioned defense I made, in our eighth grade history class, of Walter Mondale’s candidacy. I delivered my speech with gusto, extolling the virtues of this plain-spoken, honest midwestern man who believed in the little guy and worked for peace and had the guts to say we were all going to have to pay higher taxes to address Ronald Reagan’s deficits. And then we lost. We lost big. The heartless, faux patriotic, war monger (my thoughts at the time) wiped the floor with us and in the next four years cynically used his popularity to make the noble title Liberal a bad word. It still hurts a little to hear jokes about Mondale. (Homer Simpson: “Where’s the beef! Ha! Ha! Ha!. No wonder he won Minnesota.”)
What I learned from 1984 was this; We will be okay. We survived eight years of Reagan. We survived eight years of George W. Bush. We will survive four years (please) of Donald J. Trump. And, for the Conservatives who have predicted the end of the world to me so many times in the last eight years; you are ok, too. You survived eight years of that Muslim, Socialist, anti-christ called Barak Hussein Obama. You survived eight years of the philandering, back-slapping huckster from Arkansas. You survived four years of the ennui-peddling peanut farmer. We will all survive. This country is too resilient to be brought down by one man, no matter who he is or what he tries to do.
What to do next
So, according to me, what are our respective obligations at this point in history?
To my Conservative friends: You have much to atone for. You, who frequently use the word “patriotism” as a cudgel to beat down Democrats and Liberals, have done a very unpatriotic thing. You, who knew better, cynically put your party above your country. All through the primaries I listened to the Republican echo chamber (Fox News et. al.) rail on and on about how bad Donald Trump was and what a catastrophe he would be for this country. And then ….you voted for him. You lied to the pollsters and voted for this man you loathed. It was almost funny and surreal to see Paul Ryan and Reince Preibus and Chris Christie and Ted Cruz kiss the Donald’s ring on or just before election night. The cacophony of Republican throat clearing since the election has been gratifying, too. I will give exoneration to a few of your number who held to their principles: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Colin Powell, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, and the Bush family (most of them.) To the rest, enjoy the spoils of your victory, folks. They have cost you a great deal in reputation.
To my Liberal friends: Well, old friends, this is tough. But here is what we need to do. We need to lay down our protest signs, give Mr. Trump his due respect as our President, and get back to work. There is still a lot we can do to help the poor, care for the environment, work toward economic fairness, improve education opportunities, and protect the rights of every citizen, whether black or white, gay or straight, male or female, immigrant or citizen by birth. We are weakened and out of power now, but, despite the headlines, the people are with us.
Not only did Hillary Clinton win more votes than Donald Trump (2.9 million more at last count) but in states all over the country ballot measures calling for an increase in the minimum wage passed by landslides. The Republicans shouldn’t be too proud of the victory they sold their souls for – it was Trump’s victory, not theirs.
Finally, my fellow Liberals, failure is cathartic. We do have much to learn from this defeat. Some of our fellow Democrats (including the lady at the top) failed to recognize the suffering of a generation who has not seen a meaningful increase in their wages in thirty years while the rich got richer and richer. Bernie Sanders tried to warn us about this. My pet theory is that he or Elizabeth Warren would have cleaned Trump’s clock. A wise man learns from his mistakes, though, and failure makes that kind of introspection possible. Let’s do a little psyche-spelunking as a party and figure this thing out.
Finally, To Mr. Trump: SURPRISE US! Show us that the caricature of you we saw during the campaign was not the real you. No one is that bad. Show us that you possess empathy and humility and pity. Demonstrate by your actions that you are not a demagogue. We want badly to believe what you said on election night; that you want to be President for everyone. American’s are a very forgiving and tolerant people. We want you to succeed. Even many of us Liberals will give you a chance, if you give us a chance.
All Together Now
There is a quote I like very much from a politician I did not much like during his time in office. His clever turn of phrase did not quite convince me of his actual tenderness but did express what many of us on the left believe and, I suspect what many on the right believe, too. It goes like this:
How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?
Ronald Reagan – first Inaugural Address
It will all be okay. There is still a lot more that unites us than divides us.
P.S. Thank you to good old sane, thoughtful Minnesota, a state I dearly love. You were with us again this year, as always. Some things you can count on. Walter would be proud.
by: Dustin Joy