Coping with the Unimaginable - Don't Lose Heart

By Storer H. Rowley

EVANSTON - In a popular bike shop in the People's Republic of Evanston, employees in recent days were working their way through the stages of grief, posted on the back of their workshop door. They were a long way from acceptance.

Not surprisingly, some supporters have taken Donald Trump's election and campaign rhetoric as a green light now to abuse others and express openly their anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-Muslim and other repugnant sentiments, according to more than 200 reported incidents to the Southern Poverty Law Center by the end of last week.

"Should I be afraid?" asked the Mexican child of a friend. "People are going to die," a bright, young Lesbian woman confided to me through her tears. "I've never been more ashamed of my countrymen and women," my daughter wrote a concerned Australian friend, apologizing to her and the rest of the international community on What's App.

At Northwestern University and elsewhere, psychologists and others made suggestions on how supporters of Hillary Clinton should try to cope with their version of the unimaginable, the election of Trump to succeed the first African American president.

One idea for managing anxiety and distress, according to Mark Reinecke, Northwestern Medicine chief of psychology, is to "have a beer summit" with one of our opponents to try to understand their views. It's true. We're evenly divided. Those of us living in the blue America bubble must work harder to understand the red America--and try to push past the demonizing on both sides.

For me, neither alcohol nor denial, nor moving to Canada, is the way to go. I did consider lying in the fetal position, eating dark chocolate and watching Star Trek reruns for the next four years. But for forlorn Clinton supporters, and I confess I am one, the only thing to do is to stand and fight for the dream in whatever ways we can during the next four years in the wilderness. Follow Clinton's lead and don't lose heart. There's work to do.

Dejected Democrats need to look within and figure out what went wrong this time, look without and listen to the reasons why fellow citizens voted for Trump's America, congratulate the winners and keep an open mind. That's how democracy works.

The morning after the election I texted the Trump supporters in my own family: "This isn't my America, but he's now going to be my president, too, so I will give him a chance and pick myself up and keep fighting for my dreams. Within the system."

That said, people like me need to advocate more strongly for the things that more than half the country voted for--justice, diversity, economic fairness, health care for all, a safer environment, racial equality, a path for immigrants, promoting a judicious foreign policy in a complex world, and yes, overcoming the grievance, vengeance, vilification and hate that fueled this election.

I have to stop saying, "This is not my America." Tragically, half of it is - and my half has to face that fact and keep slogging, championing the values that do represent our America while trying to address grievances of the other half: an older guard of mostly white, often forgotten, sometimes angry, populist voters outraged by gridlock in Washington and the perception that an elite, ruling class has left them behind while enriching themselves.

Let's be clear: Clinton was the most qualified person to be president in recent times. Yes, she was an imperfect candidate. But look at the arc of her life and the 40 years of public service she has accomplished. Even though Clinton lost the electoral vote, she is the first woman in U.S. history to be named the nominee of a major party, and she is the first woman in our history to win a majority of the popular vote for president. More than half of the people who voted chose her.

Stop for a minute and give credit where credit is due. Think about that achievement. For 240 years we have pledged allegiance to a flag and nation that stood, in principle, for all people being created equal, but fell way short for so long when it came to African Americans and women in particular, but countless others, too, along the way.

Hillary Clinton had baggage, to be sure, from her propensity for secrecy, her private server, questions about the Clinton Foundation conflicts and her inability to inspire enough young voters, white voters, minority voters, working class voters and others to put her over the top in the Electoral College.

But I supported her completely. There was no moral equivalency between her and Trump--not even close. He embodied, by his own words in the campaign, a toxic mix of sexist, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, homophobic, authoritarian, tribal and mean-spirited values that, to my mind, shred our Constitution, degrade our reputation and embarrass our republic. But half of America seems ok with that, which is deeply troubling.

Clinton blazed an incredibly difficult trail. She won more than 61 million votes--hammering yet another glass ceiling since the 18 million cracks she put in the same ceiling in 2008 in her failed primary run against then Sen. Obama.

Eight years ago, she lost, suffered, healed, got back in the game and then joined his team. Now it's our turn.

The losers of this election - all of us, old and young, men and women in both parties - should thank their lucky stars that she fought as long and hard as she did. She didn't just move the bar, she redefined it.

Millennials take it for granted that a woman can and will be president one day. Older Americans realize that the barrier isn't really shattered until it is gone and a woman is presiding in the Oval Office. That time will come, but we will have to wait awhile.

Perhaps no speech Clinton ever gave was as eloquent, heartfelt and poignant as her concession speech last Wednesday. Even Trump was gracious about its power.

For my mom, who was born the year women got the right to vote in 1920 and who died at 96 this year; for my wife, who is still leading the way and breaking barriers; for my daughters, who can do anything they want - and usually do, and for my friends and relatives who discount this line of thinking, I believe we owe Hillary Clinton big time.

While being lied about, denigrated and vilified, she kept going and broke through almost every record you can imagine for her gender--and the rest of us--except the final glass ceiling. She cleared a path for the next woman who is the most qualified candidate for president. History will remember her for that and many other things.

It's a shame, a heartbreak and a tragedy our country wasn't big enough and progressive enough or wise enough to elect her. We let her down, and so many others who picked the Donald seem to have voted against their own self-interest.

We Hillary supporters need to recommit to carry on that struggle now even harder for a nation that represents our best values, noblest principles and the dream of real justice for all our citizens -- and demonstrate that through our lives, our voices, our loyal opposition, our acts of community service and our generosity of spirit as we work toward a more perfect union, now and next time.

As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said long ago, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."


Storer H. Rowley is a former national editor and foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He lectures occasionally at Northwestern University on journalism and communication. These are his personal views.