Healing After The Election
BY DON PORTOLESE
After one of the most divisive elections in our history, there is clearly a lot we need to reflect upon in order to heal the divisions so darkly carved in our electorate. The election is over (at long last). Donald Trump will be our next president. Flabbergasted democrats are still trying comprehend what happened. A lot of divisions have been lain bare during this election. The chasm between liberals and conservatives has become unbridgeable. Party affiliation and partisanship have supplanted consideration and cooperation. If we really want to heal as a nation, we must look beyond these toward the goals we share in common. And liberals must be the ones to lead the way.
Like it or not, Trump did an excellent job of tapping into the frustrations of many who feel that this country is headed in the wrong direction. There is a large segment of our population that was unable to handle the changes proposed by President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Others felt left behind by our struggling economy. During Trump’s campaign, he hit many raw nerves. He capitalized on the fear and anger of millions of people and has ridden it to victory. It truly hurts when good things happen to nasty people. It reaffirms our cynical belief that good guys always come in last. However, the response to that should not be more nastiness.
As a progressive, I do feel that the America that I believe in is under siege. However, I am not going to lump everyone who voted for Trump into a “basket of deplorables” as many liberals are currently doing. People who voted for Trump did not all do so because they support the xenophobic aspects of his platform. Saying things of this nature betrays who we are as progressives. Being right or wrong has nothing to do with how many people believe what we believe. However, if people in this country elect a certain candidate, we are bound by that decision. We must accept it and move on, lest we stoop to behaviors that we claim to despise.
Protests against Trump are certainly a way to vent our frustrations with the outcome of this election. Many of us are very worried about what a Trump presidency means for this country. However, are these protests really productive? Do they heal the divide? Under the assumption that Clinton was going to be the victor, many friends and I spoke about the possible retaliation of Trump supporters had he lost. It seemed almost certain that angry mobs were going to protest the results of the election in droves. And that is precisely what is happening now, but it’s liberals, not conservatives, who are doing the protesting.
In many cities in the U.S., progressives are protesting Trump’s presidency. There are many here in New York, but I will not attend. Trump has offended a lot of people and proposed some very outrageous things. However, protesting prematurely does nothing but show that we too can be sore losers. Perpetuating these divisions is not what this country needs right now. In short, it’s time to be the grown-up in this situation.
One of the best ways we can do this is by not creating divisions before they exist.
Trump has not set foot in office yet, but throngs of people are already protesting him. Though I too am angry, I think we need to distinguish between what was said to get elected and what Trump will actually do as president. He has already begun backing away from some of his more outlandish proposals. He has even said that he plans to keep some portions of the Affordable Care Act intact. I’m not saying that a lot of what he plans to do isn’t against my beliefs, but, as with any president, we should at least give him time to settle into the White House before we start lambasting him. We should be sending the message that we are mature enough to accept his presidency, and, however tacitly, we are willing to give him our support until he no longer proves himself worthy of it. This is an important step we need to make toward reconciliation. To show our children, many of whom are distraught by this election, how people should behave.
This election has had a serious impact on our youth. Stories of eight year-old children with panic attacks are truly disturbing. Politics became a bit too personal for many of us. Certain families, particularly immigrant and Muslim families, have genuine concerns. However, it was inspiring to listen to a Muslim mother on NPR speak about how she plans to handle this issue as a family. Rather than teaching her children to whine, fear and resent, she is encouraging them to work harder; to be their own person; to hold firmly to their beliefs. She is channeling the negative in positive ways. That is precisely what we should be doing as parents.
Unfortunately, as our country becomes more polarized, politics has entered the mainstream of our households. This is true for both conservatives and liberals. Yet involving or, rather, indoctrinating our children in our political world is neither healthy nor beneficial. We must give our children time to comprehend the world around them. They should have more age-appropriate priorities.
This isn’t just about parenting, though. The internet has increased our children’s access to political information. The tone and sensationalism of this election circus was probably more captivating than anything else on T.V. However, most of it would just be peripheral noise if we did a better job of keeping our political beliefs to ourselves until our kids were able to comprehend them. If we as parents can glean one valuable lesson from this election, it is the understanding that teaching our children right from wrong should not be a partisan issue.
Perhaps it’s good that our children are becoming politically active at a younger age. However, how much of what they say is a product of their own belief system? How many are simply towing their family’s or teacher’s political line? We should be teaching our children to make informed decisions for themselves. As a society, we are clearly losing this ability. This crippling deficiency should not be passed on to our posterity.
Another way we can be the grown-up is by looking for commonalities in Trump’s agenda. Setting term limits for members of congress and barring certain politicians from working as lobbyists are certainly steps in the right direction. In fact, though there are some scary parts, Trump’s agenda for his first 100 days provides some decent avenues for cooperation and compromise.
Another four years of gridlock is not what this country needs. Though I realize that a lot of this gridlock came from republicans, it is up to progressives to restore faith and functionality in our government. We have a system of checks and balances, a protocol that will prevent Trump’s more dangerous proposals from ever coming to fruition. Yet, now we liberals are acting as though these impossible schemes are on the verge of becoming reality. We need to focus on what is really happening, not on what we fear will happen.
In order to heal, liberals, particularly democrats, need to take a long hard look at themselves. Although Trump pandered to the populist tendencies of his supporters, there is no denying democrats could have done a better job of listening to what voters were saying. The U.K.’s Jonathan Pie hit the nail on the head in a recent diatribe. It is progressives’ superiority complex that has greased Trump’s glide to power. We must come down off of our high horses and realize that some people don’t embrace change as well as others. Some people would rather have a job than figure out which bathroom a transgender person should use. Failing to understand your political opponent is one thing, but failing to understand your fellow human being is not what we liberals should be about. The insults and condescension on social media are truly galling. We need to transcend this negativity and put it toward more productive ends.
We can start by examining the role our media plays in dividing us further. News channels have become far too partisan. They have exploited the points of contention between liberals and conservatives to turn people, in many instances, against each other and their own interests. We also need to look at how our very political system has carved these divisions. A two-party system is simply incapable of representing all of us. People no longer fit neatly into the trappings of their own parties. The resulting cynicism and extremism is what has paved the way to Trump’s presidency. The more rational and centrist voices are being drowned out in this “us verses them” dynamic we are trapped in.
Whether you voted (or settled) for Clinton or Trump, there is no reason to crawl under a rock until the next presidential election because your candidate didn’t win. There is plenty we can do to make sure this remains the kind of world we want it to be. It starts with finding common ground and respecting people we disagree with. And that cuts both ways. Rather than reflexively withdraw into further extremism, we must be judicious with our emotions and not allow them to block avenues of compromise.
It is going to take a lot to heal this nation. With so much at stake, I think the time now is for inward reflection rather than insurrection. This won’t be an easy time for many of us, so it’s important that we devote our energies to understanding and fixing what went wrong rather than on blaming people. In order to truly claim the higher moral ground, we progressives must put this election behind us and lead our country toward healing the political divide. If Mr. Trump’s words turn from rhetoric to reprehensible actions, there will be just cause for protest. However, I think it would be wise to wait and see.