Like millions of people in this country, I stayed up into the early morning hours of November 9 to watch election returns. The most frequent descriptions I’ve heard in response to the results of this presidential election: shock, stunning loss, despondency, frightened, heartbroken, confused, angry, disbelief, tragic. From the victor’s side, a great victory for the forgotten man and woman, a vindication of beliefs, the first step in making America great again.
During his campaign, our president-elect has promised to do the following: gut regulations in the business sphere, repeal the Affordable Care Act, dismantle the EPA, cut federal funding for education, deport millions of illegal immigrants, build a wall between our country and our neighbor Mexico, defund Planned Parenthood, place a temporary ban on Muslims (from specific countries) on entering the US, create a database of Syrian refugees, watch and monitor mosques, plus a host of other harmful and unconstitutional acts. This is whom we have elected to lead our country for the next 4 years. He did not win the popular vote, but he did win the Electoral College vote.
Where do we go from here? How do we, as people of a large and diverse nation, proceed? If our beliefs differ from the president-elect, as so many of ours do, how do we respond to the threatened/promised attacks that our country and its citizens may soon face from its newly elected leader?
The optimistic view: Give him a chance. Some of his campaign staff have said that most or all of his histrionic statements, threats, and promises were nothing more than bluster and ‘campaign talk’; the implication being that he will not act upon them. There is, also, a chance that he is unable to engage his Republican opponents in support of his ideas. If the congress and senate dissolve into fighting and continued inaction, some of the progress we have made during President Obama’s 2 terms will stand. If our president-elect is unable to act on his threats and promises (as often happens with bullies), he will be ineffective and voted out of office at the end of his first term.
A more realistic view: he will succeed. He will proceed to dismantle environmental protections and regulations put in place over many decades to protect our shared public lands, and open these lands to mining, development, and destruction on an unprecedented scale. He will repeal, bit by bit, the health care of millions of Americans who had no health insurance before the Affordable Care Act and put in its place a system designed to enhance and increase the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. He will seek to elect to the US Supreme Court a judge intent on overturning Roe v. Wade, and other progressive rulings from decades past. He will cut federal funding to education and place the responsibility of educating our country’s children directly in the hands of each state. This is just a very small sample of what he has promised to do. All of his promises are available to anyone who cares to read them.
All of the above are bad enough. But most harmful, most damaging (in my mind) is what he will do to our national personality, to our collective attitude towards our fellow citizens. During the preceding 8 years, we have seen hateful attitudes come to prominence that minorities have lived with on a daily basis, but that a large number of Americans had refused to acknowledge. Now to the existing racism is added sexism, xenophobia, making fun of people with disabilities, and general mocking of attitudes different from his. In short, the attitudes of a bully. Most of us have had at least one experience with a bully, and we know the damage this particular form of cowardice can cause. A common tactic a bully uses is to pit one person (or group) against another. This causes distrust and erodes common ground among people quickly and efficiently before the parties involved realize what has happened. It is more effective than most other tactics a bully may use. This is one of the tactics our president-elect has used during the campaign, and I would be surprised to see it stop now that he has achieved his goal. But it can be overcome.
Often I have advocated walking away from a bully and letting him/her burn out on their own. This time, however, I will not walk away. I promise to fight back using every legal, moral, and ethical means available to me as a citizen: write letters to representatives, join demonstrations, work for candidates who have our country’s best interests at heart, volunteer on a greater level than I do now. But most of all, I will speak up and speak out at every opportunity that comes my way.
This is not the country we want our children to inherit. This is not the country we want immigrants to see when they arrive. This is not the country I want to grow old in. This is not the country I want America to become.
We can do better than this. We are kin – all of us. And we can stand up to a bully by using grace, intelligence, and compassion.
And we will win.