So the unthinkable happened. A shallow, venal, vindictive, mendacious, unprincipled demagogue has won the presidency of the United States, and many of us are disheartened and crushed and fearful and angry and just aching to emote.
So we do, and it is good and necessary. We howl to the heavens to release our outrage and frustration. Our sadness for those most vulnerable to the fiscal machinations that lie ahead—the poor, the elderly and infirm, and even the untold numbers of ‘Regular Joe” working class types who will see tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals but likely precious little flowing into anything that will benefit them.
(This will be but one of Trump’s betrayals of the working class voters who made him president. His feelings for them are best exemplified by his six bankruptcies that, among other stiffed creditors, fell on carpenters, plumbers, electricians and hod carriers, et al.)
I sincerely hope I am wrong about all this, but nothing coming out of his entire campaign and now his early appointments suggests I will be.
So we are dumbfounded that this could have happened, in the 21st century, in what is supposedly one of the most advanced countries in our advanced human history, a shining beacon of hope and liberty and relentless progress.
We weep and we grieve.
Watching the returns on election night, I began to get a sickening, hollow-stomached sensation at about the time Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina were obviously trending in the wrong direction. I sat with that feeling for probably an hour, trying to absorb the beginnings of what lies ahead.
And then something almost visceral happened.
I felt my stomach settling and apparently, my backbone stiffened along with it, and I told myself, “So this is what is.”
Among the cascade of media commentary in the aftermath, this one is notable from Norman Fischer of the Everyday Zen Foundation:
“I usually don’t completely believe what I think, so when Trump won the election I was, like everyone else, surprised, but not that surprised. Bodhisattvas are committed to their practice, which means to sit, to get up, and to sweep the garden—the whole world, close in and far away—every day, no matter what. They have always done this, they always will. Good times, bad times, they keep on going just the same. Bodhisattvas play the long game. They have confidence in the power of goodness over time. And they know that dark times bring out the heroic in us.”
So we get up in the morning and we sweep the garden—literally, should we be so fortunate as to have one, but most surely our metaphorical garden. My own metaphor of choice the morning after on my personal Facebook page involved the tides:
“The tide comes in, the tide goes out…The voters speak, and sometimes they yell…They yelled tonight. That’s democracy. Don’t have to like the result, but do need to heed it.”
So we don’t have the country we want. But the only persons who have ever had the country they want are the dictators.
For all those in a democracy, their country is a compromise at best and an albatross at worst. This is simply the way of an imperfect humanity and competing opinions and the hurly burly, fractious bustle of nation-building in a free country.
Particularly as it relates to progress in civil rights and the pursuit of a just society, we take a few steps forward, not all of them perfectly rendered (they never are), the change can be unsettling (as it always is in humans), there are winners and losers along the way, there is reconsideration and almost inevitable retrenchment, a reaching for the homeostasis that is our eternal (and eternally delusional) dream, and then we take a few more halting steps forward.
The dialectic at work, the arc of the universe bending, in all its zig-zaggy ways, toward justice.
Faith in that is the only thing, in the end, that can get us up to greet the new day.
I would like to make a case here for the moral imperative of hope. Not in the context of rose-colored glasses that turn the worst sorts of tragedies into “God’s will” or “lessons we needed to learn” and other empty phrases from the religiously infantile or New Agers turning a glazed eye to the world as it is.
I am not a graduate of Pollyanna University, and I possess no degree in Happy Foolishness.
I’m thinking more along the lines of Old Testament hope, such as it is, a book I have largely regarded (or disregarded) through my life as a curious relic, projecting as it does a God who seems relentlessly belligerent and jealous and seriously in need of a therapist.
But those prophets and their cries and wails in the wilderness, their abject waiting in a land not their own, their hope upon hope that God yet remained with them, that the good will once again be theirs, however long it may take, however patient they must be, however much they need get up daily and offer their prayers (or their hope; same thing…) for relief and renewal—they’re the ones.
Those prophets are suddenly (finally?) beginning to make more sense to me now, eight years after the watershed election of Barack Obama and just 12 days after the waters-reversing election of Donald Trump. He’s not even inaugurated yet, but very little of the news is good, and there is a long road ahead.
“How long, Lord? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalms, 13:1)
Four years at least, and very possibly eight. We must gird our loins.
“Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding.” (Lamentations 3:10)
And then there is the example of African Americans, their ancestors but from a few generations ago brought to this country in chains. Singing in the fields. Mournfully, but singing all the same.
Not slitting their wrists. Making babies and music. Persevering, hoping, checking their despair at the door of tomorrow. Looking out and seeing (still), in their endless fields of toil: a mighty God of eternity, which is another name for Hope and the River of Time Flowing Always Forward:
Keep yo hand on dat plow,
Hold on! Hold on!
If you wanna get to heaven
let me tell you how,
Just keep yo hand
on de Gospel plow
Keep on climbin’ ’n don’t you tire,
Every rung goes higher ‘n higher
And it occurs to me: I got no damn right to go dark and give up.
In his Talking Points Memo blog, the writer and historian Josh Marshall framed the issue this way the morning after the election:
“Optimism isn’t principally an analysis of present reality. It’s an ethic. It is not based on denial or rosy thinking. It is a moral posture toward the world we find ourselves in. If everything seems great, there’s no need for optimism. The river of good news just carries you along.”
Sure, genetics plays a role in our basic personality endowment. Some little strappers just bounce out of the womb gurgling away, delighting in the world (so long as that world is friendly and loving in return).
Others emerge more pensive or even dour. But ultimately, barring a dreadful upbringing with abusive, distant or absent parents that stacks the deck mightily against cheerfulness, we all must decide on how we are going to meet the world, and how much we will forgive it for the injuries it causes us. (Which will be substantial, even in the most fortunate lives…)
In a bow to the incalculable hardships and hope of our ancestors, and a nod to the gods who shone the sun upon them every morning along with all the toil and travails, we are obligated, it seems to me, to get up every day and resolve to move forward, despite the news that greets us not so kindly from our daily paper or laptop.
In this country, let us not forget, we still get to talk back to that news and shout our opposition from the rooftops of our buildings and on countless Facebook posts excoriating the opposition at every turn. (Talk about an endlessly flowing stream…)
After the election, my daughter, bless her engaged and caring heart, posted a photo of herself holding her first ever “I Voted” sticker proudly aloft, along with the statement:
“Because I don’t want to live in a country where you have to be a white straight man to feel safe.”
She ended it with a hashtag that was, shall we say, less than complimentary to our president-elect.
An 18-year-old, waxing scurrilous toward arguably now the most powerful man in the world. That’s hope.
And a still free and wonderful country.
Not that I’m a paragon of unyielding hope myself. But it is all in the struggle.
It is all always in the struggle.
In this second weekend after the cold hard fact of November 8, I am finding my moods still fractured between an almost giddy impulse to march forward with unbounded new resolve, and a countervailing mood, often descending in those wee dead-of-night-staring-at-the-ceiling hours, of feeling zombified, shell-shocked, doomed to wander the streets in search of my lost country.
Mostly though, it’s been my resolved and energetic self winning out. As I get older, I am finding myself less and less inclined to wallow in sadness and despair. More inclined to heed the maxim of an elderly couple I engaged with for a newsletter article long ago:
“Do, don’t stew.”
I am not a young man anymore myself. Time grows shorter and wallowing feels like an indulgence I cannot afford—either for myself or the world I am charged with doing my part to help move along.
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” (Jeremiah 6:16)
That’s my four-year plan as the loyal, patriotic, deeply concerned but ever-hopeful opposition.
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Andrew, I appreciated your post. I think we in our country have some lessons to learn, not simply reducible to the notion that many of our fellow American citizens are clueless/deplorable but something more along the lines of all men are slaves till their brothers are free. I hope the astounding fact of a Trump presidency is a wake up call to the pain of our disappearing middle class, however that pain is expressed. Trump will not give us what we want but I don’t believe the Republican or Democratic parties at this point can either. I will support any candidate who makes an additional year of kindergarten compulsory prior to granting the right to vote so that we can all learn to share better.
Yes, I voted for Bernie in the primary and Hillary in the national election. I know we’ll have better choices in the future.
Al, I think we are so often blind to that noble (and true) notion of all being slaves until everyone is free, but we get snagged and become small for our want, our fear, our insecurity. In our best moments, we know that generosity of heart trumps all. We’re getting there, but we’re young, and we lapse, and I think Trump is a perfect evocation of the fear that can still rear itself as we turn inwards in self-protection. He’s hardly a solution, but he is most certainly a symptom that we suffer still from a less-than-perfect union, and we do well to try to grapple with the implications of that as best we can. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Oh, thank you for the balm and light. Onward through the fog!
So much to say, so much; I think I will just offer this additional, brief perspective from another wise writer:
That’s perfect, Angela; what a voice in that E.B. White, enjoyed it greatly!
Let’s all pull out the map of the USA and look at the election results and we will find a sea of red. Let’s next turn off the negative news and keep an open mind and please give our future POTUS a chance.
Hi Lisa, that sea of red across the heartland is more than equaled, given the popular vote, by a sea of blue across the major population centers along both coasts. Trump is president by virtue of an antiquated electoral college system that I would oppose regardless of whose advantage it worked out for, because it’s plain wrong, on a number of counts. (But that’s another post…)
In any case, as the entire thrust of this post is to live in hope, I sincerely do hope that Mr. Trump succeeds and takes the country to new heights of prosperity and equality. I really do. Country first, politics second. It’s just that nothing in his scorched earth campaign and precious little in his early appointments leaves me feeling very optimistic. But as I stated, I hope I’m wrong, and time will most certainly tell. Thanks for speaking up!
Can I ask what you mean when you use the term, ‘The Moral Imperative”?
Job/Jon! You certainly may; you can ask anything, and I’m glad you did here. It means we have a moral obligation, in my view, to live in hope and do what we can, in whatever infinitesimal way, to leave the world better than we found it. And we can’t do the latter without embracing the former. It doesn’t mean we live as happy idiots (though I’m considering it till 2020) :-) but that we try, to the extent we can, to sift through the noise and negativity and anger and opinions that rise up in us regular and natural as the rain to something more fundamental and salvific: the pursuit of happiness (thank you, Founding Fathers!) and the commitment to live in the hope of better days. All the good things that happen in the world flow from that hope. It’s humbling, in the broad scope of things, to sit on the shoulders of our countless ancestors who have made everything we are and everything we have possible.
Accompanying President Obama on a diplomacy trip to the Philippines during the first term, Rahm Emanuel described his bewilderment at Obama’s casual approach to talks with his Philippine counterpart as they chatted by the seaside in open-collared shirts. Emanuel reported pacing anxiously and wanting business to begin. He later reported a breakthrough in understanding his President. Questioned about his casual approach, Obama explained to Rahm as he gazed at the sea. “The tide comes in, the tide goes out; and then it comes in again, and then it goes out.” I think there are many things, and ways of being to be learned from our outgoing President. The best, the most heroic, and the most compassionate in us all has been summoned. Many thanks my friend Andrew.
Yes, the difference, in every conceivable quality of character, could not be more stark between the outgoing tide of the president we have and the incoming tide of the president we are getting. Four years of low tide ahead, I fear—but low tides do reveal treasures and life forces we would never otherwise have seen; I am banking on that. Time to put on our waders!
I like that ebb and flow idea a lot Jay. Perhaps this Trump era is the necessary step our country has to get through in order to reach the next set of breakthroughs. Perhaps we have to give the Trump constituency some time in the sun while we get ourselves organized and focused enough to carry out our own goals/values. (I was in NYC just recently and I swear it seemed like the people of different races were being more kind and polite to each other (including us). We spent extra time with non-white strangers, and them us. Offering us a seat, or a subway tip, complimenting someone’s funny-looking dog. Sharing a place to charge our iPhones. These were the days before and after the “Hamilton”-Pence affair.)
I’m thinking maybe we need to cultivate/support some kind-hearted, brilliant leaders from the middle of the country who understand that world better than us and yet embrace a diverse, respectful America.