Moral People, Immoral President

It has been two weeks. And damn it, I'm not feeling much better.

I went to bed just past midnight on election night having watched and listened in disbelief. It was a familiar kind of disbelief, connected in some way to many years of watching the Minnesota Vikings snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But it was entirely unexpected on this night, in this place, under these circumstances, and with these stakes.

Without question the hardest part of the evening was watching my three daughters - - ages 16, 13, and 10 - - watch the returns, and seeing their hope turn to anxiety, then desperation, then sadness. I wanted the world to change for them on election night, even more than it already has. Instead it lurched in a different direction and called for a different conversation than the "have faith in your fellow citizens" line that I had been crafting since the noir pageant that was the Republican convention.

Having failed at sleep as completely as I failed at election prognostication, I got out of bed at 5:30 the next morning and decided to go for a swim. I believe in the power of ritual, of familiar activity, especially when the world seems unfamiliar or broken. And so I had half an hour in the water to think about what to say to my daughters - - these amazing and brilliant young women - - now that the grown ups in their world had looked past ignorance, insensitivity, abusiveness, and deceit, and seen hope, or vengeance, or something.

On the topic of talking about the election with our children, Seth Meyer's post-election monologue was, no surprise, spot on. Regardless of party affiliation, parents of girls and young women face a particular moral challenge in the coming months, and the stakes are not minor. Chances are that our daughters will never be seated next to Donald Trump on an airplane or endure one of his reported surprise visits to a dressing room. But his sins against women are common, and are an ugly reminder that we live in a society that requires women to be on their guard, and that does not see violations of their bodies as incompatible with the presidency.

We have a short drive to school every morning and it was on the post-election day drive, forty-minutes removed from the pool, that I told my girls what I had been thinking: that losing an election does not change what is good and right and true; that there are valuable lessons to be learned in defeat and that wise people look for those lessons and grow from them. And as they probably already knew, that there are men in the world - - powerful, successful men - - who believe that they are entitled to women's bodies and that our president-elect appears to be one of those men. Which shows us once again that status and decency are not related in any consistent way. So in place of "Come on girls, say it with me: Madame President!" we talked about sexual harassment and objectification. Exhilarating stuff.

We are only now starting to talk about perhaps the most important thing for them to know. The men and women who supported Donald Trump for president are not all, or even mostly, amoral ruffians who embrace simple answers, pine for dictatorship, or would ever say or do the things that he has said and done. In fact, I know many who are undeniably decent and relentlessly generous. They are some of the women and men who came in a steady stream to sit with my father while he was dying, who drove hundreds of miles in the four months of his illness to be with him and my mom, who brought food for our family, who said prayers and held us when he was gone. They are among the people who still show their love for my mother every day. And they have been this way for as long as I have known them, which is my entire life - - feeding the hungry, sheltering and adopting refugees, traveling to bring aid to those who are suffering. They are, in almost every way, moral Olympians - - more decent by light years than the man for whom they voted.

I need to keep this in mind and to keep it in my daughters' minds as well. It is hard to talk about because I am angry and disappointed, and because I am struggling to reconcile the moral strength and instinctive empathy I have experienced from Trump-voting friends with the president-elect's own vacuity on both fronts. But I don't want my girls to live in a world where bad political choices obscure lifetimes of good, or where sin and virtue are colored red and blue. Life is always more complicated than that. Those who deny this truth, on the left and the right, are being reckless with the very things we will need most in the years ahead.