I felt a death on November 8 I did not expect and which shook me to my core. It has frankly taken my breath away. I was stunned by the racist, misogynistic and zenophobic language of the campaign and level of bullying I have never seen before. Nonetheless,I expected that most Americans love their country and so would understand the important benefits of inclusiveness and generosity that create a viable social commons. I did not expect to be so wrong.
I understand grievance and feelings of injustice – I have experienced both too often. It makes me sad. But having had a mother who grew up in Nazi Germany and who had considerable negative baggage from it that cost me dearly, I have firsthand knowledge of how wrong hate is. It cannot fix any injustice ever. It also cannot create a culture that opens people to shared problem solving. It destroys goodwill.
Neal Gabler wrote on Bill Moyers website:
“America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.
Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:
“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”
I hunt for that affirming flame.
This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.
We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.”
Denial Does Not Help
I have noticed how often people have responded to the stunning election results by saying that they will be the light and I fully understand the idea and need to do so. The pain is enormous and the need to find good in ourselves at a minimum cannot be measured. We cannot afford to throw our goodwill under the bus because we are heartbroken.
However, being in denial will not help. Hate does not go away quickly. The damage done has been so great, so many are rightfully traumatised that the remedies will not happen quickly. Hate does not go quietly into the night and the trauma it creates does not heal quickly. Hate needs to get over its misplaced sense of rightness before it goes away. It may take a long time.
I personally think that what many have not yet recognized is that the United States marches to several narratives that are not sustainable and which are creating division:
The first is American exceptionalism which according to Wikipedia stems from three ideas:
- The first is that the history of the United States is inherently different from other nations.
- Second is the idea that the US has a unique mission to transform the world.
- Third is the sense that its history and its mission give the United States a superiority over other nations.
I am not a political scientist so I cannot go into all aspects of that. Suffice it to say that our self-view has been challenged and I think this election was an attempt to reclaim American exceptionalism. Unfortunately people are hurting each other over a narrative that does not work, was created a long time ago and does not fit a world where there are many great and knowledgeable people of all nations and races. Our myopia and nastiness has destroyed trust at home and overseas. We are being looked differently now and should be.
The second is the ideal of limitless growth which our culture of positivity encourages but which has been failing us. In a world of more than 7 billion people and a deteriorating environment this is a destructive and disappointing ideal. Seeking quality of life for all people at least offers the possibility of people working together so that everyone gets their needs met. The growth ideal has not run its course yet and will result in more damage to people and the environment.
So what do we do? We cannot stop living and supporting a hate agenda is a non starter.
I am a natural optimist. Most problems can be solved with some willingness and ingenuity. But both those things need to be present for any problems to be solved. Right now they are not so each of us has to find a way forward that honors our grief, our goodness, our gifts and the reality that we do not control the process we are living through. It is important not only to avoid denial but also to take the time to grieve. I read how Pema Chodron on hearing about the election result became unbearably sad and went into the sadness and was with the feeling. It is important to honor our feelings of hurt and sadness. They are our goodness speaking to us.
It is also important to realize you do not know how this is going to play our and how long. None of us are in control. I have read that we have a cyclical process of opening up to me more inclusive and then regressing. If this is true we need to be more aware of this tendency and get beyond it.
Each individual has to take stock of where they are and what they can do. There are people who are uniquely equipped to fight back. Attorneys in the ACLU and activists, journalists and groups organized to effect environmental and other humane objectives are some. Wherever your skills are useful you can contribute. Not everyone has those skills and is equipped for that part of the cultural need for pushback. I certainly am not gifted in those areas.
Since I have no control of events or the process I have decided to assume the role of someone who plants seeds for a future yet to come. There are lots of different seeds I can plant: seeds of kindness, seeds of perspective, seeds of hope and seeds of generosity especially with those who are most negatively affected by the election results. Whether a new and better time comes in my lifetime or not, helping our world become more humane has always been and will continue to be the greatest priority in my life and work.
I am very grateful to the real goodness in people expressed through their shock and pain at the outcome of our election. We lift each other up and will need to continue to do so.
Rock on, fellow seed planters!