Grief, Fear, Anger, Yes. Guilt, No.

11 11 2016

Nicholas Kristof, who I respect very much and usually agree with, had this to say about the election: “Today, having lost, we owe it to our nation to grit our teeth and give President-elect Trump a chance.” (Full article here.)

Here’s what we owe to our nation. We owe our sick, injured, and disadvantaged access to healthcare. We owe our peaceful, generous, hardworking immigrants a life without fear. We owe it to future generations to care for the planet and the climate. We owe women and people of color the most basic respect as full human beings. Trump’s election is already a blow against all of these things.

Unlike Bush in 2000, Trump won fair and square. There is currently no legal or procedural justification for booting him out (maybe this, but if successful it would almost certainly launch a civil war). So yes, he’s the president. As a civil society, we owe it to our fellow citizens to accept that fact.

But we don’t owe anyone any measure of compromise on Trump’s politics of exclusion. In fact, Democrats (and Republicans of conscience, if such there be) must vigorously oppose such ridiculous and cruel measures as a Muslim ban, mass deportation, and a border wall. We and they must strenuously denounce the violence that Trump has sparked. Real human beings, American citizens innocent of any crime, are fearing for their lives. It’s intolerable. To let it happen without resistance is unforgivable.

The peaceful transfer of power that America basically invented is a rare and precious thing. The institutional framework of our democracy is still worth preserving. In 2008, it was wrong of Mitch McConnell and his fellows to vow opposition to Obama’s every move, just because he was Obama. There is no call for such a vow from us now. But we can and should vow to oppose every move from the coming administration that is un-American. It may amount to the same thing.

If you’re like me, you’ve been in emotional turmoil since election night. I feel like the ground shifted under me overnight, and I’m now living in a nightmare world that I hardly recognize. We on the left are often inclined to look for what part we played in a given event, to see where we might correct our own behavior to improve future developments. That is a mature and healthy attitude. Let’s keep doing that by all means. But it’s also crucial to recognize the limits of our culpability.

I’m angry and scared and heartbroken, but I reject guilt. Could I have done more to avert this appalling outcome? I could have been more active– making phone calls, knocking on doors, donating money. I could have supported Bernie instead of Hillary. I could have recognized the information from pollsters as unreliable. I could have spent the last 20 years trying to educate my political opponents rather than lashing out at them.

But I didn’t vote for Trump. Other people did. Millions of them. People with free will and sound minds. We could have a long discussion about what lead them to do that, but they did it, not us.

Lots of things went wrong and lots of institutions failed in order to put an entitled thug in the White House. This campaign and election upended every expectation, at every stage. So don’t blame yourself. Learn from mistakes, try something different next time, but be clear about where your responsibility begins and ends.

I’m still struggling to understand what happened and why. I think liberals have had a string of victories in the “culture wars” that left large parts of the population feeling under siege. We have run roughshod over their beliefs while we fought to enshrine our principles into law. Right or wrong, there are consequences.

So we do have a part to play in healing the divide in our country. In every conflict, someone has to make the first move toward peace, and it does no good to wait for the other side to do it. But don’t let the troglodytes use your urge to self-examination against you. It’s not compromise and it won’t be peace if we try to meet scorched earth with self-effacing generosity.

Somehow we need to make a space in our worldview for our fellow citizens who don’t share our principles. But that absolutely does not mean we let go of our principles.

It’s easy to feel alone and defeated right now, but we are still half the country. More of us voted for Hillary than they voted for Trump. This statement from the government of California is very encouraging. Harry Reid’s statement is a shocking piece of candor from the habitually spineless Democratic Congress. We are many, and we still have power, and we appear to be waking up to the truth at long last.

What’s needed now is vigilance, resistance, and defense of the vulnerable. Trump has spent months telling us exactly the kind of president he will be. So, no. He doesn’t get a chance. Insanity doesn’t get a chance. Un-Americanism doesn’t get a chance. We won’t heal the divide by letting them walk all over us. Some people very deliberately worked to get us here. Don’t let them off the hook for the hate crimes that have already started.

I would finish by saying we’ll get through this, but honestly I don’t know. This is different than the crises we’ve weathered before. All I can say is, we are called to be the best people we can be, wiser and stronger than we ever thought possible. It’s necessary. Now is the time.




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