It is often said that suffering is the greatest motivator for change and that it can induce everlasting peace and equanimity. Perhaps the outcome of the 2016 presidential election is just the suffering that this country needs to help shake it out of its complacent doldrums and bring about impassioned activism uniting us all for good. Who knows, maybe even the President-elect will see the divisiveness that is the result of his vitriolic rhetoric and a shift will occur in his own perspective. Certainly, there have been some signs that he has backed off on some of his dangerous campaign promises. Admittedly, this is a very idealistic scenario that one can only hope will ultimately rule the day. It has been very difficult for me in the last few weeks to discuss the results of this election or to write down my thoughts and share them with anyone who is willing to read them. As time has passed, I have attempted to find hopefulness in the beauty of the changing leaves during the picturesque autumn season. I am trying to find hope now that the election has ended. I am optimistic that the anger and distrust that has been palpable for these last several months will transmute into something more cooperative and caring so that we can mend this great breach that has divided our country.
For me, the outcome of the presidential election has been personal. It has rattled my sense of security and grounding in this world. Out of necessity, my attention has been forced away from nightly news programs pitting argumentative pundits against each other and has directed my focus toward more calming pursuits like listening to music, reading, and meditation. It has also caused me to rethink a philosophy that has been at the core of my being for most of my life. It has always been my strong conviction, that in life, with few exceptions, there is no wrong or right ―- there are just differing perspectives. That viewpoint has, on occasion and rather ironically, drawn me into too many debates with individuals who believe that life is filled with only absolutes.
Nonetheless, there does seem to be a propensity for human beings to take the complexities of life and reduce them to a simplistic conclusion that can fill a 140-character tweet. This election season has been fraught with such one-dimensional thinking. For example, we have been inundated with polls suggesting that only the uneducated voted for the Republican candidate and that they alone are the sole possessors of the bigotry and xenophobia that have become pervasive this election season. The analysts seem to imply that somehow a person who lacks a college degree is more prone to such hatred. Certainly, the college experience or for that matter any experience that exposes one to differing cultures, religions, and ideas can help foster open-mindedness and acceptance. However, such generalizing can be extremely dangerous. As someone who has experienced the sting of anti-Semitism on the campus of a very large university in a liberal-leaning city and who has seen the generosity and kindness from many who lack a diploma while volunteering at the local soup kitchen, I can tell you with certainty that hatred and love are not the sole dominion of a group of people but rather the characteristics of each of us as individuals.
So, it seems that the confluence of my aversion toward All or Nothing thinking and the election of a man whose ideals are in stark contrast to everything I believe, has created a rather challenging conundrum for me. In the past and particularly from a political point of view, it has been simple enough for me to calmly and openly listen to those with whom I disagree. I could rationally, yet passionately agree or disagree with my opponents on the effects of monetary policy or tax cuts as an intellectual and hypothetical exercise that would often end with a simple, “We can agree to disagree.”
In the days after the election I continue to be challenged in keeping an open mind and to listen non-judgmentally as our country moves in a new direction. That request has come from those pleased with the results of the election and also from my own not so loyal conscience. Now, besides this call for objectivity, there has also been a request that those of us unhappy with the election results, to accept them for what they are; for this is the will of the people. One can certainly argue that the result of the election is as much about the will of the people as it is a reflection on our imperfect electoral college system. I have also been assured in a seemingly patronizing manner not to worry, for nothing bad is going to happen. That statement does not ease my wories but instead conjures up the lyrics from the apocalyptic song, “The Road and Sky” where singer songwriter Jackson Browne warns us, “Don’t think it won’t happen just because it hasn’t happened yet.”
Still, these are fair requests for isn’t it just a differing perspective that each side of the political spectrum holds? After all, don’t we all need to all come together for the good of the country? Can’t we just push aside the separating labels of right and left, conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican, and remember that we are all Americans? I can certainly embrace that approach from an intellectual perspective, yet something is still gnawing at me.
As I reflect on what has transpired over the last year and half of presidential campaigning, I realize that there was something different about this campaign. There is a danger for us as a country if we simply call this game over and expect the two teams to converge on the ball field to shake hands after a well-played game. We can’t pretend that differing political views on immigration and criminal justice reform are equal to a call for a ban on Muslims or the normalization of misogyny. The former are policy platforms that one may believe are harmful for our country, while the latter are a philosophical approaches that promote separation and hatred that is not only dangerous for our country but could cause irreparable damage to the world.
While it might be necessary for us to look past our idealistic differences and accept a new approach on how we intend to make health care more affordable for all, we must first agree to our overarching common goals that all of us believe in as Americans, because it is these agreed upon and shared beliefs that will ultimately reflect on who we are as a country. It is critical that before we can move forward from this divisive election and implement policy, we agree on a set of governing principles. Politics and policy are just the nuance and approach on how we implement our shared purpose. Therefore, I reach out to those from both ends of the conservative and liberal spectrums to step back and recommit this county to what is at the core of our American values. Let us pledge to re-read and embrace the words that are stated in our most revered document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
I throw a gauntlet down to the President-elect and to all who truly wish to unite the country and ask them to put aside policy discussions and begin first by denouncing all talk of divisiveness and hatred. I plead with them not to just simply disassociate themselves from the rhetoric but to vehemently and unabashedly condemn all individuals and groups that would promote racism, homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or any other form of hatred. We can no longer claim that these forms of hate are simply alternative perspectives that deserve the same voice as a discussion around how we reduce our budget deficit.
I do wish for cooperation and support for our new administration but if its members continue to promote hostility and rancor then we cannot simply sit back and accept the outcome of the election because doing so would be detrimental to our country. I don’t promote violence or suggest we disrespect an office that is far greater than the person who occupies it, but I encourage all to speak out and protest any policy or statement that is in direct contradiction to our fundamental beliefs as Americans. It is time for all of us to stand up and let the world know what we believe in. A good place to start is on January 21st in Washington, D.C. where the Million Women March will take place as a statement of solidarity for all people in this country. I, along with my family and friends will be attending this important gathering and I encourage all to joins us. I will be joining this peaceful march because I want the world to know that while I can tolerate different political views there is one thing that I will never ever tolerate, and that is intolerance.