That sinking feeling election night
Who do we blame? And what do we do now?
Unless you're someone who voted for Donald Trump—in which case you're likely ecstatic (or queasy)—these questions have likely been on your mind, possibly costing you sleep. Let me address them.
We're blaming the media—for not letting Trump voters know the same facts we Clinton voters knew (thanks to the media, of course). We're blaming Hillary Clinton—for not being Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party for nominating such an imperfect candidate—the irrefutable proof of those imperfections being that she lost. And we're blaming those voters who didn't vote for her. They should have known better, we say.
Trouble is that nothing is easier to Monday-morning quarterback than an election, which is a lot like the national anthem as sung by 120 million people who can't carry a tune. No individual vote comes across as anything more than a visceral outburst; but collectively, they're voice of the people.
That's what's so demoralizing about last week's election—America spoke. And now we have the worst of all worlds: a frightening message of discontent, and a frightening new president to react to it.
As for what to do? I garnered some ideas from members of my daughters' generation.
"This morning, I am ashamed to be American . . ." a cousin wrote on Facebook Wednesday. "As a woman, a journalist, and the daughter of an immigrant—I'm angry and I'm terrified. I'm embarrassed and heartbroken that many have once again placed their own privilege and ideals over the safety and rights of our other citizens. . . . We have so much work to do."
Another cousin posted Wednesday, "Never experienced a day like this before. Streets empty, Whole Foods deserted, everyone avoiding eye contact with strangers, including me. I was so grateful to be dealing with dogs. Every old white guy I passed, I considered how he carried himself, wondered if he was quietly triumphant. Everybody of color I passed, I wondered if they imagined I was celebrating."
But a little later in the day she was quoting Carl Sagan:
"In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped."
As far as I'm concerned, this generation can't take over the world soon enough.
As for my own cohort, resolve and generosity both seem a little harder to come by. The election brought us hard against the ultimate question: Then what was the point of our lives?
Progress is incremental, and there's always slippage, but we could remember Jim Crow and that age's stunted views on womanhood. So when we totaled up our lives, we thought we'd had a hand in some decent gains. We're aware that Martin Luther King Jr. asserted that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," and we never questioned the sentiment.
But the gains my generation made now stand in mortal peril, and Trump's election reminds us of a proposition we might have first heard argued in a college seminar room: teleology
is wishful thinking. "Onward and upward" is bunk. Our lives delight us, then they screw us. They lead us nowhere certain but to the grave.
Long ago I spent a year on the crew of a navy ammunition ship
. We carried enough explosives to send us to kingdom come—and wipe kingdom come out too. But there were safety precautions, and they worked. And when our captain had a mental breakdown, he was relieved of command as soon as our ship hit port.
I stood a watch over a "special weapons" hold with a loaded .45. Whatever horrors filled that hold, the president's arsenal dwarfs them. But we just elected a president who's temperamentally unfit even to handle the .45, and the only way to relieve him is impeachment. You can't do that to someone just because he terrifies you—and besides, Trump's congressional base seems to look on him gleefully—as a witless tiger they think they can ride. Aside from some sort of rebellion within the Electoral College, all I can think of to mitigate the menace he poses is a Congressional coalition of Democrats and sensible Republicans who might impose a little sanity.
I don't sleep better for this thought. It's too vague and slight. The nation just made an awful choice, floundering around without its mind made up and then doubling down on the candidate of upheaval. History simply doesn't unroll so irrationally! Except that, yes, sometimes it does.