Light crept through the broken blind, worked its way across the bedroom, and eventually settled on a stale cup of water where a dead mosquito like thing (surely it is too late in the season for an actual one?”) floated and waited. Of course, that begs the question: do the dead wait? And really, how in the world can light creep – it moves at the speed of light. Finally, can water get stale, or does it just get nasty with dust and the corpses of insects?
In my defense, while the light does indeed move at light speed, the pace at which it rises above the horizon is infinitely more slow – add in the plethora of trees and shadows and angles, and the past tense of the verb “to creep” seems appropriate.
Stay with me for a moment.
It is morning. I slept little the night before. Up too late. Two glasses of red wine did not help. Luckily, when it became clear (at least to me) what was happening, I closed up the bottle and switched to water and dark chocolate – the supersize Special Dark kind from Walmart. Two dollars a bar.
This would be my third post-election morning on campus since taking my position at RU in 2008. The first two times I had stayed up even later, soaking in the victory of a candidate who I believed had provided a chance to change the rules of politics as usual. And symbolically, that was certainly the case. For eight years, my boys were able to look to the office of the President and see someone who looked like them. That is something that they will forever have. Globally, many people from many nations were galvanized by the fact that our nation elected a black man – a country that up until a mere 50 years earlier had just entered civilized society as it struggled, at times kicking and screaming, into the Civil Rights era.
However, over the next eight years, something happened: nothing. I don’t mean this as an indictment of President Obama. He carried himself with such poise and respect for all Americans over his eight years, despite an increasingly open and hostile Congress who had the audacity to claim that their biggest concern was seeing him Not succeed. It was the system itself, however, that was too far broken. That is broken. Moreover, the election of the first black president, over eight years, while doing all manner of things for equality (including remarkable advancement for the LGBT community), also unearthed a good deal of resentment and fear – resentment built up incrementally and over time in a country built on slavery.
As such, one might assume I am ranting and raving about the current election result. That I am wringing my hands and waving my arms and watching in fear as the sky falls. That I am horrified at a President Elect who rants via Twitter because he does not like being made fun of on SNL and that protests against him are just unfair.
But I am not. In fact, I am thinking a lot recently about James Baldwin and The Fire Next Time. And if I am to heed his words from nearly half a century ago, then it is not for me to want Trump to accept me; rather I have to accept him, and do so with love.
But I am not. In fact, I have many friends and family who voted opposite of how I voted. And I know these people to be loving, thoughtful, and certainly not racists, sexist, or anti-foreigner. And while I could never imagine for myself voting “for” Trump, I certainly understand not voting for “Clinton” and the establishment and all it represents.
But I am not. In fact, the more I think on it, the more I am beginning to understand the so-called “populist” revolt. While the manner in which the revolt came about (electing someone as vulgar and immature and un-Christian as President Elect Trump disappoints me greatly), I understand the frustration and desire for a change of direction. Both parties have let us down, again and again. Nowhere is this more evident than in the gridlock of my current state – Illinois.
Here is my understanding: Gridlock and the increasing gulf between those who have and those who do not started with Reagan, who in the 80s broke the unions. It continued with Clinton and NAFTA and the outsourcing of jobs (enabled by the breaking of the unions). Republican and democrat.
Here is my understanding: The conservative movement has been challenged and, it seems, at times usurped by the far right and its angry/reactionary rhetoric: reduce the world to simplistic either/or thinking, reject nuance, and pander to fear and rash, emotion-based response while vilifying intellectual thought. The liberal movement, on the other hand, has been complacent and self-righteous: and never has this been more evident than in the weeks following Clinton’s loss. The complete disregard to middle-America is troubling. And by reducing the election to Trump’s obvious and unrelenting flaws, a group that considers itself inclusive and tolerant is acting about as mature and responsible as the Tea-Party and Hat wearing individuals who shouted profanities at the Trump rallies.
Here is my understanding: We are all (or at least most of us) better than this. For too long we (“both” sides of the political spectrum) have allowed media (tv, social, radio) to define and inform us that we are a divided nation. That we are faced with two choices. What we need to do is speak to our neighbors. Speak to our co-workers. Speak to our friends and family. And then remember that maybe more than speak, we need to listen.
There are issues that divide us in myriad ways. And they always will. But they do not fit into two categories: liberal and conservative. The majority of Americans believe in equality of the sexes, of the races, and even of the classes. Consider gun control and abortion: it is impossible to split those issues into two sides and label them liberal and conservative. Consider welfare and social justice. Consider views on military and global involvement. Consider taxes and corporations. There are about six to ten “sides”, or perspectives, to each of those issues. However, if we were to watch the tv, we would assume that each is divided into two sides, and one fits neatly with each ideology. It seems to me, that in part, the election of Trump is a repudiation of such thought; or, maybe more likely, the election of Trump may have the unintended result of finally moving us toward seeing that difficult and messy truth.
The anti-intellectualism that has been propagated by the far right is harmful, sad even; however, I would argue that the movement is not so much anti-intellectualism as it is anti-pretentiousness – and the pretentiousness put forth by the far left is harmful, sad even. And the media, by simplifying news, actually reinforces an anti-intellectualism but nothing to address the real problem.
I am saddened by the fact that we elected Donald Trump to be president. I am. But not for the simplistic and reactionary reasons so many have stated – not that they are without merit. The “alt-right” is pathetic. I don’t find them terrifying; I find them pathetic. Because I know in my heart that many who voted for Trump have no connection whatsoever to that small, angry, fringe element. But I also know that the media, and those who are reacting only to the fringe are giving those pathetic souls a voice that they should not have. But they have now been outed.
So I offer a few challenges:
- To my friends and family (and anyone else reading this) who voted for Trump: it is on you to shout out above all the noise and distance yourself from these fringe “alt-right” views. If you have legitimate reasons (and I know that you do) for casting a vote for such a man, then tell your stories. Share why you looked at the system, decided it was broken, and then demand that the man you voted for step up and represent your concerns. Because the worst thing that could happen would be just another conventional GOP administration. That, I believe, was not the vote that was cast. Moreover, it is on you, the good, thoughtful, not racist/sexist Trump voters to call on your President elect to denounce in no uncertain terms the pathetic element who have been given a voice. Don’t let them represent you.
- To my friends and family (and anyone else reading this) who voted for Clinton: it is on you to listen to those who did not vote for your candidate. Look beyond the fringe, beyond the pathetic minority, and seek out understanding and tolerance for those who do not think like you do. Take a deep breath, tone down the reactionary Facebook posts, and imagine for a moment: how would President Obama respond. Ask yourself how Trump got elected, move beyond the easy response of racism and sexism, beyond the concern about Roe Vs. Wade, and consider what is broken about the system – a system that both the Clinton’s and the Bush’s represent and had a hand in breaking. Try to see this as an opportunity to reach out, build bridges, and engage in what could be an invigorating challenge to politics as usual that President Obama wanted to accomplish, but was denied both by a belligerent GOP and an incompetent Democratic party.
- To the nearly 50% of Americans who did not vote (and I imagine many of whom are not reading this), get off your ass and join the game. Not the fight. Not the struggle. The game. In the end we are damned lucky to live in the nation that we do. It is bad enough to vote and then only complain (which too many of us do), but to not vote and then complain is simply un-American.
And here is the thing that has me somewhat jazzed: I think it started with the election and reelection of President Obama, and has continued with the election of Trump: we are finally saying as a nation that we are fed up with politics as usual. Eight years ago we elected a young, black man named Barack Obama to lead our country. We wanted a change. Last month we elected a Billionaire Reality Show celebrity to lead our country. We still want change. But rather than look for change at the top, maybe it is time we started with ourselves. I like to think that even if we don’t know it, we are tired of seeing the world in black/white, in either/or, in liberal/conservative. We want something different. Something new. Something that fits this new global world in which we find ourselves.
Let’s look at this as an opportunity. Not to celebrate the win of a certain party – a certain ideology. No. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to explode the system and create something new. It began in 2008 with the rejection of the Bush administration, which stemmed from a rejection of the Clinton administration, which began with the rejection of political powerhouses. It is messy, imperfect, and at the point, as ugly as it has ever been.
Remember, however, that the room is at its messiest before it can truly be cleaned and transformed.
Taking into account all that I have written before on this blog, I realize that I am standing squarely on my soapbox. It is not a comfortable place for me, but I am hoping that on some level I have earned it – at least for a moment. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what is really happening or how we can fix it. What I do know is that we have to talk to one-another. That we have to tell our stories. That we have to listen.
We have to (and here I use a cliché that just seems to appropriate) agree to disagree. Not about the obvious: women and men are equal. Period. People of all colors and religions are equal. Period. Recognizing that the world is a complex and nuanced place is necessary. Period. These aforementioned statements are easy and need to be the basis by which we all proceed. If we can do that, then the rest will still be incredibly difficult, but at least it will be slightly less so, and we can continue to move forward.
So back to that morning, and the light creeping in through the shudders. I open my eyes for another day. Another chance. Every day we wake to light. Every day we begin again. Who do we want to be? A year ago this blog would not have been possible. A year ago I was mired in self-doubt and unsure how to proceed. Nothing has changed necessarily in my life, except the fact that I now know: I cannot control what happens, but I can control how I respond. I can look at the stale cup of water with the floating mosquito thing: I can suck it up and drink it, because it is there; I can complain about it; I can feel sorry for myself that I do not have a better cup that keeps the water fresh; I can even knock it over in anger. Or, I can get out of bed, take the cup upstairs, empty and clean it, and fill it up again while the sun still lights my way.