This piece was written in the aftermath of the election and set aside as I hoped to cultivate a more balanced and less emotionally laden view of the nation and its future. I publish it now because I am even more aware of the privileged cocoon within which I lived for most of my life. My political preferences have not changed, but I have a greater understanding of how my notions of good government are attached to the particular experiences I have encountered.
So, November, 2016:
I can’t tell whether I’m caught by grief or bound by fear; it probably doesn’t make much difference, particularly because I am beset by other equally powerful and confusing emotions as well.
At the top of the undigested emotional inventory is a profound sense of loss. The sun continues to come up, football games are still broadcast five nights a week, the stock market has not imploded, but I feel a stranger in this land. The world has changed in a moment; up is down, right is wrong, all bets are off.
I don’t belong.
The pundits can dissect and analyze election results state by state, group by group, but in the end, I simply feel foolish; I’m a sucker, a bozo who spent the last fifty years happily knitting blankets for the deck chairs on the Titanic. I enjoyed an adult lifetime reading the Atlantic and the New Yorker, listening to NPR, watching PBS and assuming that modernity, good sense, good will, and the march of progress would inevitably pull the nation to increasingly inclusive and compassionate citizenship.
Seriously. What was I thinking?
I have been obliquely grateful for the opportunities life has presented me, occasionally considering myself relatively privileged. As I consider myself now, however, I take stock with sharper focus. I always expected that I would go to college, that my kids would go to college, that I’d own a house, and then a better house. I found a rewarding career and thought most folks could too. My kids would be safe, find good jobs, and take up meaningful lives. I counted on savings and pension to support me and my wife in retirement and expected that access to quality health care would always be near at hand.
I assumed the many of the great battles had been fought although some remained to be won, that while much work remained to be done, prejudice of all sorts would give way to understanding. I spoke to no one who did not celebrate diversity; we all saw the danger of Climate Change and assumed we’d convince the world to work with us to check it.
The families I know accepted whatever identity their children were born to assume and loved them without condition. Globalization had its perils, to be sure, but working globally to address global issues seemed infinitely more productive than looking across a great divide at nations struggling to survive. I knew people of denominational and sectarian faith, but they too believed that an enlightened planet demanded spiritual comfort rather than dogma.
Yes, I knew that partisan squabbling had paralyzed government; I blamed that on obstructionists in the other party, clinging to the hope that dissension in their ranks would cause them to crumble as my political banners flew high.
And that was the world I lived in.
I feel both grief and fear as acts of hatred follow the election; we are an uglier nation than we were only a year ago. I am a dark-skinned person with a Spanish name; even in my privileged world, I was on guard to some degree, wondering when the trapdoor would open and my ethnicity would determine the ways in which I was seen. My children look less Hispanic, but they carry my name. I live in a blue state, but Klansmen have become bold, even in my small town. When I pull into a gas station outside of the liberal cities, I worry.
I was obtuse when the Trump campaign caught fire, completely minimizing the conviction held by so many that their country had been taken from them. It never occurred to me that what I saw as progress others saw as loss. I’m ashamed of my hubris and saddened by my powerlessness to help bridge the divide.
In better times, I was fond of quoting Edward Everett Hale, an Unitarian minister and author who said, ” “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” I find comfort in that quotation and will work to find what it is that I can do.
I also admire Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the jurist, not the autocrat, who said, “Beware how you take away hope from another human being.” I do feel myself implicated in having taken hope away from other human beings, and believe my work may be in trying to restore hope where and when I can. It was also Holmes, the Supreme Court Justice, who wrote, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
That principle is very much as risk in these troubled days, but it is just that task that I feel compelled to take on, even as grief and fear threaten to reduce me further, to a shadow person, merely hiding in a world that changed.