Cherish the odd thought. The strange notion. The seemingly-impossible idea. For such are the foundations of everything that appears nonsensical in the face of reason – from religious faith to social revolution to hope against burning despair.
Here, on the aching heels of a bruising presidential election is such a concept, sticky with bittersweet irony:
That unity could result from the recent political paranoia used, scythe-like, to separate, isolate and rhetorically dismember entire groups of Americans.
That all of those marginalized and cynically positioned against each other like toy soldiers for political benefit could finally come together in common interest and understanding (actual love and friendship might take longer).
That racial, religious and social unity will ultimately triumph — if only as a defensive response to the inflammatory, demeaning and divisive rhetoric of the President-elect.
Professional punditry has concluded that the President-elect voiced the anger, antipathy and anxiety of the many (mostly poor whites, but others, too) who felt disenfranchised from and ignored by “official” America. Cheated out of their dignity. Unsupported in their efforts to achieve the American Dream.
The President-elect voiced the sentiment, and the voicing was predictably and powerfully shocking and fear-inducing – and, therefore, effective.
Which is not to say that the facts behind the sentiment are in any way false. Sadly, they are very real.
But they were not caused by immigrants and minorities stealing poor white people’s jobs, as the President-elect insinuated. Rather, the so-called “job creators” motivated by the chance to accumulate More and More and More largely caused or exacerbated the problem by first and foremost always seeking to maximize profit. Which is thinly-disguised code for cutting wages, cutting benefits and ultimately cutting jobs.
People of all shades and derivations have come to realize that they were played like cards in a petty, cynical poker game. So in the end, even those who voted for The President-elect are victims as much as those he demonized.
Some will say that they were only words used to stoke a flaming political pyre. But words are important. Words are the speaker’s heart made real. Words lead to action. Words of hate are abuse encouraged.
The President-elect, as nothing more than a transparent means to an end strategically threw entire social, religious and racial populations under the rhetorical bus while simultaneously claiming that he alone could fix what ails our country.
This assertion is flatly ridiculous.
First and foremost, our hybrid Democratic Republic government specifically and purposely is all about the “We” rather than the “I”. It does not grant nor allow such power to any individual.
More to the point, just as simply electing America’s first African American president did not end racism, simply electing a billionaire businessman will not fix America’s economy. Especially one so breathtakingly uninformed, stubbornly self- absorbed and dangerously inexperienced to run a mechanism as delicate and complicated as the United States government.
Worse, appealing to our country’s basest “I-Me-Mine” instincts has hammered yet another unwelcome wedge into American society by giving political credence to fear, ignorance, bigotry and envy.
And now, the President-elect embraces it all as if he invented some new model for political victory.
Let’s be clear: The President-elect is not nearly as clever as he and his supporters believe. Sadly, he merely put old wine into new bottles — then slapped his own name on the bottle and sold it to millions of unsuspecting citizens only too happy to get drunk on his cheap hooch.
Social disunity, to be painfully honest is not a new problem. Humans have built arbitrary walls between and around themselves forever. And America has a long, sad history of systemic, social and cultural prejudice covering every human characteristic — race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity. But after centuries of torturously-incremental progress, the battle against bigotry seemed to be…well, if not eliminated, then at least slowing in recent years.
Yet in the name of vainglorious self-interest the President-elect took strategic advantage of that bigotry. Doors of fear and suspicion that seemed to be closing now appear open again thanks to a brazen political power play intentionally designed to pit Americans against each other.
It seems awful because it is awful…
Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Everyone offended by the recent election and deeply concerned about its results is welcome to continue protesting. Nothing less than our Constitution allows citizens to peacefully protest their government. It is, without doubt one of the most unique, frustrating and vital of the many checks and balances that the founders purposely built into the system. It is one of the ways that we help to defend, fix and propagate Democracy, Public Discourse and Civility. And Lord knows, all three could use some friends right about now.
At the same time, everyone now protesting should remember that the election system worked – if not ideally, then at very least as designed. It ensured that every state (if not every individual voter) was heard. It prevented “mob rule” by forcing the candidates to pay attention to all states, and not just the big ones with the most people. As illogical as the results seem to everyone who has been told to vote because “every vote counts,” the results should not be overturned. Doing so would only create the chance of changing election results down the road. Fight to change the system if the system is broken, but the President-elect won fair and square, based on the system we’ve had since 1787.
Instead, maybe our time would be better spent reaching out to the poor whites — and African Americans, Latinos, women, Muslims, homosexuals and everyone else aspiring to the American ideal and now feeling threatened. Start building bridges, one conversation, one shared principle, one hug at a time.
Offer a hand of friendship and support in the name of the Christian love so often professed, but less often actually exercised. Instead of telling poor people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, be their boots! (Or at least help them buy a decent pair.) Instead of screaming at immigrants (legal or illegal) to “go home”, remember that immigrants of every variety literally built the America we all now call home.
Deny anyone’s efforts to make political hay of your life circumstances. Refuse to let the government – or the media for that matter, whether main stream, Right or Left – limit or define you by who you are, what language you speak, how you pray (or don’t), how much money you make, or who you love. We deserve full recognition, value and appreciation for all that we are.
Keep hope alive. Hope is the foundation of faith and fuel for the spirit. It provides vision and clarity and focus when all else fails.
Most of all, take responsibility for yourself, and for others. We are all part of the same community. The world changes, society’s rules change, the government changes and (heaven forbid) leaders change. But we remain Americans, equal, endowed by our Creator (however you define or worship it) with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
No one and nothing can take those rights away. No one and nothing can divide us against ourselves.
Unless we let them.
We cannot let that happen.
Some may – rightly – dismiss this as a Pollyanna patchwork of high ideals. A crazy “Kumbaya” pipe dream. A vision etched in wet sands of wishful thinking.
These are indeed enormous, almost fantastical goals. But not impossible. Never impossible. It may be hard to remember now. Yet, time and again America has confronted and to varying degrees defeated – if slowly and painfully — bigger challenges born of hatred and fear in the name of diversity, understanding and love.
So why not aspire to Love itself?
Wrenching Unity from the snapping, snarling jaws of Disunity will demand Herculean perseverance. Tremendous faith, optimism, dedication. Sacrifice and counter-intuitive trust in our fellow man. And of course there’s no guarantee that anything would change, or that such change would last more than a day or two.
Such a feat would require heroic courage. But who knows?
To paraphrase the immortal David Bowie, perhaps we could be heroes, even if just for one day. And that moment of heroism, however brief, might lead to many more and make the outcome of this election worth the angst.