The 2016 Election: Facing and Healing a Moral Unease

Like other Democratic voters, I was painfully disappointed by the result of the 2016 US Presidential election. Though the pain may be slowly abating, there is a palpable unease that transcends politics and preferences. It feels as if some sort of decay is festering in the soul of America. The decay seems to have taken root almost without our notice over the course of many years, but in the aftermath of the election we can no longer deny that it exists. Our country is in deep moral distress, and we must wake up and pay attention.

A significant portion of the electorate in this election chose to override ethics and ideals for the sake of political and personal expediency. A number of reasons have been cited to justify this behavior. The ultimate truth is that we have allowed anger, fear and prejudice to override our moral values. This is politics as usual, we might argue. However, the ugly voices of blatant racism, hate, lies, prejudices, misogyny and uncouth behavior were blaring and screaming at us like never before but we chose to ignore them for the sake of personal convenience. This will have consequences. I do not claim to be a moral or pious person, but from my personal experience, I know in my heart that when I disregard ethics for personal advantage, this has karmic effects.

We have voted into power an administration that reflects our fatal flaw: a reckless willingness to disregard ethical principles for the sake of power and convenience. What are some of the immediate dangers?

First, because the incoming administration during its campaign consorted with and appeased hate groups for the sake of votes, they are beholden to them. Whosever approval you seek, you become their prisoner.

Second, in an environment of public apathy, polarization, sensation-seeking media, and an incoming administration that does not value integrity, our democratic institutions are in danger of eroding and declining. When the roots are weak, the sapling withers.

Third, we are regressing into the backwaters of history by wanting to make America great through domination and power. We are like the unthinking man with the proverbial hammer who sees every problem as a nail to be hammered down. Alas, we learn from history that we do not learn from history.

Is there no silver lining in this watershed election? Yes, there is! The shock effect of this election has been galvanizing, Many of us have awakened from our slumber and indifference, eager to take responsibility and become engaged as never before. It is heartening to find so many individuals and groups in neighborhoods, schools, organizations, and houses of worship asking how we can move forward in ways that preserve our ideals of humanity and serve the common good. The cliché "We are the ones we have been waiting for" has become a heartfelt rallying cry.

As an example, some members of Interfaith Community Sanctuary have responded by meeting regularly to determine what we can do in this time of uncertainty. They have committed themselves to practicing five essential steps involving inner and outer work.

Inner work

1. Honor the difficult feelings that have been aroused by recent events. All feelings, positive or negative, are simply energies begging our attention. Embrace with compassion the feelings of pain, sadness, fear and anger. Acknowledge, heal and integrate them. Through spiritual practices such as sacred holding, fear transforms into mindfulness; anger into vitality; sadness into compassion.
Become aware of negative imaginary scenarios swirling in your mind. The collective mental environment is already rife with thought vibrations of anger and anxiety. Don't add to the mental pollution and become overwhelmed or despondent. Diminish the overload of negative vibrations through practices such as Neti! Neti!

2. Let go of self-righteousness. Be humble. Do not let the hellish fires of anger flare up when you witness injustice and prejudice. Stand your ground and speak up truthfully, but guard against arrogance and do not add to the problem by speaking or acting with violence.

3. With humility and compassion examine your own prejudices and stereotyping of the other. Strive to overcome them. As a South Asian Sunni Muslim, for instance, I need to acknowledge and try to counteract several biases that exist in my culture, including the unequal status of women, prejudice against darker skin, and pettiness towards other Muslim sects such as Shia or the Ahmadiyya community.

Outer Work

4. Bond with groups who have been marginalized in this election, and with those who support those groups. All over the country there are calls to gather and unite. Start locally and meet often. Bond in friendship. Personal relationships will cement a united front. Share feelings, collaborate with other groups, and plan necessary action. Make a commitment not to compromise on social justice issues and earth care, and to support one another in times of threat and intimidation.

It is critical to reiterate that without friendship and inner work on self, the united front will crack. Over time, we shall be tested. Will Muslims continue their unity with Jewish groups if a conflict breaks out in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians? Will Muslims move beyond conditioned biases and work with LGBTQ groups?

5. The most critical step in our outer work is to connect with the other, in this case, the Trump supporter. We simply must move beyond our polarization. This work is long overdue. We must learn to bond on a human level, share human stories, and sustain a heart connection with people who do not share our political views. The work requires us to be humble, sincere and persistent as we share the proverbial three cups of tea: listening, respecting, and connecting.

Some members of our congregation have already reached out to Trump supporters. Suspicion and distrust are slowly abating on both sides and subtle shifts in thinking are occurring. Already the tendency to demonize or dehumanize the other has drastically reduced. Differences in political ideologies remain but they no longer loom as a threat. Amazingly, friendship and goodwill create a space where parties can join hands and collaborate on issues dear to both hearts: projects of social justice for instance.

Finally, have faith in the workings of a Greater Being, whether you call it God, Spirit, Higher Intelligence, the Universe, or any other name that your belief system allows. In our human existence of mystery and bewilderment, we are not privy to the larger story. The Universe wants us to learn from the enigmatic turns and twists of life's circumstances. "Never lose hope, dear heart," utters Rumi, "miracles dwell in the Invisible," and "even if the whole world turns against you, keep your eyes on the Friend."

Know that Divinity has a sense of humor. Were we not stunned beyond belief when a man of mixed race with a Muslim middle name was placed in the White House? Did we ever think this was possible in our lifetime? Are many of us not stumped, again beyond belief, that a person who unabashedly spouted prejudice of every kind, a polar opposite in many ways, has been elected President of the US? Did we think this could be possible in the Twenty-first Century? There are some lessons we need to learn through the experience of opposites. Rumi explains this phenomenon through a metaphor: God turns us from one feeling to another so that we might have two wings with which to fly, not one.

Above all, we must not succumb to feelings of powerlessness as we watch many flawed and unqualified personalities being appointed to positions of power. Instead, let us empower ourselves by persisting in both inner, spiritual work and outer, interpersonal connections. It is not enough to just throw up our hands and hope that God will save the day. A Bedouin once asked the Prophet before entering the mosque to pray, "Should I tie my camel to the post or trust in God alone." The Prophet replied, "First tether your camel to the post, then trust in God."