Reflecting on the Crossroads Election

You can sense the anger and frustration. People are disgusted with politics as usual in Washington DC. Our politicians have not been working for us, and on November 8, 2016, almost half of America voted to begin the process they hope will “drain the swamp.” Washington Monument

I understand what many of us have been feeling. Huge corporations and the wealthy elite have too much control over politicians, especially those in Washington. For some of us, the nightmare that was the Great Recession has yet to end. For others, the influence our religious beliefs once had on society are diminishing in the midst of a rapidly changing demographic.  Still others are apprehensive of our nation’s national debt, concerned that we have leveraged our future.  It’s not as if all of the people with these concerns have been silent.  On the contrary, they have been loud yet largely ignored.  Trump touched a nerve by doing what politicians rarely do these days—listening to people and responding to their fears.

But we have been just as guilty as our politicians.  We have simply not been listening to each other.  We have not been seeking out and understanding the opinions of others. Until we start spending some time in one another’s shoes we will not take very many steps toward bringing this country back together.

In an attempt to change Washington, we’ve sent a man with no political experience and no experience in public service.  He has no background building political coalitions or getting things done in the snails-pace bureaucracy in Washington.  He’s a reality TV star and a businessman with a checkered past, yet a man with a sharp understanding of ratings and publicity. Sometimes I’ve wondered if the things he’s done and said in the campaign were to just get attention. He’s hard to take literally. The Mexican wall, for instance, would be impractical to build and forcing Mexico to fund nearly impossible.  But I’m not sure that the American public took his ideas as seriously as they took his message.  I do think they were willing to overlook the manner in which the message was delivered in favor of the underlying idea it conveyed.

And that sets a dangerous precedent.  I was as appalled and unnerved as much as anyone at what Trump has said concerning women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and practically any other group that isn’t white Christian men.  Whatever the opposite is of political correctness, Trump takes that and runs with it the extra mile.  I agree with some who believe hate groups, bigots, and racists feel validated from some of Trump’s comments.  They are the basket of deplorables, but, contrary to Clinton’s claim, these people are thankfully NOT half of America’s population.  It is up to us—the vast majority of Americans who are reasonable people that believe in unity, equality, love, and sensitivity in the face of our differences—to refuse that validation.  It is also up to us to challenge the new President, and to do so en masse, if he ever mocks and marginalizes anyone again.  Though the concept of political correctness is controversial, the merits of politeness and compassion should never be up for debate in our society.  That so many Americans ignored his toxic vitriol, and ignored what I hope was their own misgivings about it, says much about the level of our discontent with establishment politicians.

two paths 2In light of all this, Democrats wanting Trump to fail, just like Republicans wanting Obama to fail for the past eight years, would be a decidedly stupid reaction to the election. If Trump fails, we fail and America fails.  Part of his appeal as a loose canon may end up being his undoing.  His party may find him too difficult to manage, or the electorate may very well have voter’s remorse in a few years, but hoping for any of this would not be good for any of us and it may be a disaster for all of us.  The best case scenario, in the interests of the nation, is for Trump to be the unlikeliest presidential success in history.  Democrats must be Americans first and Democrats second.

Trump and the Republicans hardly have a “mandate” from the American public, as I saw in a problematic headline in the past couple of days.  A candidate that loses the popular vote hardly receives a “mandate”.  More people voted for Clinton’s vision for America than for Trump’s.  And surveys show Trump will take office with the lowest favorability rating of any presidential candidate ever.  Most Americans disagree with the Republican platform on many policy issues, from the environment to a multitude of social issues.  If Trump and his party pursue an agenda that’s too conservative, they will likely face a severe backlash in the midterm 2018 elections.  And the Democrats will be highly motivated to recover from a string of embarrassments, from losing the 2010 midterms and the resulting gerrymandering of political districts that handicapped their political power, to being the victims just now of perhaps the greatest presidential election upset in American history.

There are some Trump policies, amongst those immigration and the environment, which are so horrifying as to deserve as much fight as the Democrats can muster.  But there are a few of Trump’s proposals worth bipartisan support—infrastructure improvements is one of them (something Obama has been pushing for years but has been blocked by a do-nothing Congress). And Democrats need to work obsessively to find common ground with the Trump administration on policies where there is mere disagreement. That’s how Washington should work: honest discourse leading to common ground leading to compromise.

Eight years ago an idealistic first-term senator from Illinois electrified the country with a promise of hope and change, and similar to Trump used the message to catapult himself into the White House. He may have delivered hope to many of us, but change has been much more difficult to achieve. I imagine Trump will encounter many of the same obstacles. I hope Congress is not one of those obstacles. I will be livid if Democrats offer the same obstructionism that this country has been suffering from for the last six years. Obstructionism is not an acceptable way to govern, and there is no absolutely no excuse for what the Republicans have put this country through. But their behavior must stand on its own for history to judge.  Our political process is ripe with tit for tat revenge sentiment and it’s tearing us apart.  We must demand Funny signbetter of ourselves and our elected officials.

One man cannot change Washington—that would be a dictatorship. It takes a Congress working together—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—to pass laws. But it takes an engaged population that educates themselves on issues and candidates in order to get the right people in Congress willing to work together.  That doesn’t mean getting our information from only Breitbart or Daily Kos posts on our Facebook feeds, or watching Fox News or MSNBC.  Despite the fact an enormous amount of factual information from reputable sources is a click or two away, I’m astounded at the magnitude of misinformation and ignorance in our culture.  Change doesn’t begin in Washington, change begins within ourselves.

This country just experienced a crossroads election, the ramifications of which will be felt long after Trump leaves office.  His actions and comments have been far worse than anything that has been tolerated from modern American political candidates.  His election has sparked fear amongst ethnic groups that should be unthinkable in a nation considered the world’s beacon of freedom and liberty.  Twenty years’ worth of negotiations on the Paris Climate Agreement, recently signed by the United States and 200 other countries, is now in jeopardy.  This is what happens when a democracy stops engaging with itself, when people stop listening and striving to understand each other.  Resentment builds.  Fear escalates.  Hate billows from the bowels of our society.  It’s hard to imagine this just happened in the United States of America.  But it did.  However, this election will not come to define us.  How we respond to it, and how we move forward, will.

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