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After The Shock, A Humbling Lesson and a Hidden Jewel

November 16, 2016

I find myself, here a week after the election, grappling with having been dead wrong about so many things. I thought I understood politics; and my country. Wrong on both counts. I’m struggling to make the best of it, to understand what the lessons are. To look for hidden gifts.

I’ve come up with three: A feeling of belonging; a humbling lesson in humanness; and also something that brings me true hope, even excitement!

I’ll start with the belonging.

All around the city and elsewhere, people are hugging and consoling each other, like at a funeral.  Because we’re sensing we need each other now. It reminds me of this town after September 11th, only this time it feels as if we were surprise attacked by our own country. There’s that same sense of shock, a need to grieve, a spark of defiance. The same struggle to get our bearings, and to understand what we’re now going to have to get used to going forward.  The same trying to not get swept up in fear or paranoia.

It’s beautiful in a way (“Everything is cracked. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen). There’s this sense of unity, like we’re all in this together. Because we are.

And we, or at least I, find myself asking the same questions I asked after 9/11: Who are these people who would do this against, it seems, all decency, all reason?

Who indeed?

EMPATHY OR ELSE

If I try to imagine being a white dude who’s more culturally straight and also less educated than I – the kind of dude who put Trump over the top – I can begin to sense what it’s been like for him the past 30 years. His status as chief bread-winner all but disappeared, and no one seemed to care. As a result of this and other changes, his position as head of the household evaporated, and there was only joy about it from the culture. His standing as majority stakeholder in the American dream (and the white male as the very symbol of the average American) has been diminished. All these changes were necessary, but no one seemed to notice the downside fell on him.

Then his job disappeared to someone in China or India, and he was told by his old company in the exit interview to be light on his feet and find another career. He soon learned this meant greeting customers at the local Wal-Mart. But his   Republican congressman assured him all this was good for business and the economy.

Then strangers who neither looked like him nor spoke his language started showing up all over his town, and they were there illegally, but if he complained, he was called a bigot.

And maybe he didn’t become clinically depressed or alcoholic, but he probably knew a few others like himself who did.

In the midst of all this, along comes a dude from out of nowhere, an alpha male who seems to possess everything he and his friends wished they had, who tells them, in language no damn politician had ever used, that they had a right to be angry. That he could make America (i.e., them) great again. And this guy touched them because he had listened to them when no one else was. Not the Democrats. Not the Republicans. No one but him.

And then, get this: This dude comes home from his first Trump rally, pumped up like he hasn’t been since he played football in high school. He tells his wife all about it, then with a wink invites her into the bedroom. An hour later, she says, “Well, I don’t know who this Trump guy is, but I’m sure liking what he’s doing for you!”

Once guys like these felt heard, no amount of reasoning was going to change their  minds. Instead of being disdained Trump instead heard their cries, and once he had, they were his. All our preaching and mocking of him and his followers only served to solidify their loyalty.

We – I – failed to listen to, or attempt to empathize with my fellow citizens, and instead I did to them exactly what I accused them of doing: I “other’d” them. Marginalize them. I shunned and secretly felt superior to them, and for decades now. I called them idiots and bigots, and I wasn’t the only one.

It didn’t work out too well.

The past election has been a bitter lesson in empathy for me. It’s helped me realize that unless all of us are taken care of here, none of us are safe.

But it’s hard to empathize with people one feels superior to.

And this is where I need to be honest: I mean really — is the way I and my friends have regarded Trump and his followers really much different from the way they seem to regard Muslims, Mexicans and immigrants? Am I better than them, or am I just sanctimoniously occupying the opposite side of the same coin?

A GIFT HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT

So, when I begin to wake from this partisan political trance, and try to shake myself free of my disgust, I can admit that Donald Trump has done something astonishing.

For in his victory lies a hidden jewel for us all: He has proven that the future of political power in this country is guaranteed to no one. Not to the Clintons. Not the conservative Republican establishment. And not to The Donald either. No one. Some of us may be repulsed by him, but we simply cannot afford to ignore what he made plain last week. The establishment of both parties, who’ve been so cocksure of themselves, have now begun to feel what may only be the first tremors of the accumulated outrage of millions of people who are fed up and hungry for change. I know I am. Aren’t you? We straddle the entire political spectrum from far right to populist to far left. One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter to know the system is rigged. Or to want politics-as-usual disrupted.

And he has done just that.

For if we take a good look right now, we will see that Donald Trump has inadvertently cracked opened a door nobody else even knew was there.  And the door he opened, once you and I recognize it, is a door to this:

Everything is up for grabs.

Because the gateway he revealed to us all is not just one between celebrity and politics; it’s a door of possibility: Between fantasy and reality; between imagination and manifestation. And no matter how dark or disdainful we may think he is, there may now be a portal – or quantum tunnel — opened between you, me and the levers of power. Between our desire to create the future and our ability to do so.

Last I looked, Twitter and other social media were not exclusive outlets for celebrity billionaires with household names. Anyone who’s savvy, charismatic, and knows how to attract media attention, can get ours, overnight.

There are many of us who can walk through this door now if we dare. Maybe you know such a person yourself. Maybe it’s you.

Donald The Disruptor is showing us we can do the same. That we may not like his brand of disruption should not keep us from recognizing how quickly and effectively it can be done.

I believe there’s a great awakening happening.  And like all awakenings, this is showing itself to be a rude one. And, just maybe, revolution is coming. Whose revolution? What kind? That’s up to all of us. In the meantime, let’s not blind ourselves with narrow-minded partisan muck. Let’s walk through the door of possibility together.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. roy alexander permalink
    November 16, 2016 11:38 am

    Much of what you say is correct and on the money. But, I am still depressed and unable to read the newspaper every morning like I used to. I’m not so worried about T himself since I don’t think he really comes in with any ideology. I worry about all of his appointees who do. I wonder if he realizes just how much the country will be effected by his choices. Roy

  2. Laurie Yankowitz permalink
    November 16, 2016 1:13 pm

    Darn good.

  3. Debra Markowitz permalink
    November 16, 2016 1:57 pm

    Hi, Charley. You most likely don’t remember, but we met years ago, at a party at Laurie’s house. She shared this piece with me. It’s beautifully written and articulated what I’ve been thinking in regards to my own “bigotry.” In response, I”ve been having a very civil discourse with a Trump supporter who was once a neighbor of mine and now lives in rural, western Pennsylvania. (The civil part has been challenging!) I’ve been trying to understand her way of thinking, and of course, trying to gently educate. This, indeed has been a hidden jewel for me – it’s the difficult things that help us to grow. Thank you for reminding me that if the Donald can disrupt, so can we. I’ve been terrified for the future, and I still am; however now that we’ve been awakened from complacency we can walk through that door together! In order to realize the country that we want to have, one of kindness and acceptance, these need to be the tools that we use.

    • November 22, 2016 8:25 pm

      Hi Debra, of course I remember you! And I thank you for your response to this. “It’s the difficult things that help us grow”. Indeed! Take care!

  4. Russell Mollot permalink
    November 16, 2016 3:08 pm

    Old fellow-citizen, I think you’ve hit upon something when you note that many Trumpers are “less educated” than you (not being too sanctimonious, of course). Our institutions of “higher” education (high in more ways than one) are dominated by “progressive thinkers” whose “thinking” consists of parroting the drivel from the Left. Any would-be professor who won’t conform to that line does not get hired. Any student who dares to dissent is labelled a fascist, a nazi, or other vile categorization. So all we learn about is how evil capitalism is, and how the progressive elite should control everything for the good of the world. Fortunately, those who escaped this form of “education” and its years of brainwashing, still understand that if America is to remain a free and sovereign nation, we need to have the kind of leaders who are working for The American People and not for “the good of the world”. Without defined and enforced borders we are not a country but a ten-course banquet for locusts. There are still citizens who want opportunity, not hand-outs; who want to work, not “redistribute” wealth; who want to keep the fruits of their labor, not have their government tax it away from them to support a “progressive” agenda that includes the slaughter of infants, free education and healthcare and housing for people here illegally, and a monstrous beaurocracy to regulate every breath we take. Thank G-d for the “uneducated” — unbrainwashed folks with enough common sense to know the difference between an “alpha male” and a soon-to-be-convicted felon who sold America’s top secrets for “donations”. Stop your crocodile tears. You are not sad for our country — you are sad that your vision of a politically-correct (i.e. don’t say anything that I disagree with), world of happy, unthinking sheep, has not yet been able to destroy free America. Deal with it.

    • November 18, 2016 9:54 pm

      Russell, you sound to me as if you might feel you are losing, or have lost, your country, your home. If so, I can understand why you might be freaked out.

      Perhaps this is why your words — not the political beliefs you express, but the way you speak them — not the words, but the music — rattle me so. The vitriol, it scares me. It has the feel of bitterness to me, even hate, and I know you’re not a hateful person! You’re one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever known in my life, and I love you like a brother and always have.

      But it’s like we’re living in two different worlds, and this makes me sad.

  5. Ed D'Angelo permalink
    November 16, 2016 6:05 pm

    Exactly right Charlie. The reason we all got blindsided by this election–besides the fact that the entire establishment from left to right told us it shouldn’t and couldn’t happen–is that we failed to listen empathetically to the white working class. The Democrats have been making this mistake since the mid-70s when veterans of the New Left entered Congress. It began with the schism between the New Left and organized labor in the 1960s. The Clintons epitomized this trend in the Democratic Party. We often blame the Republicans for splitting the white working class off from the Democratic Party by appealing to their racism or cultural conservatism. But Democrats need to take a look at themselves and ask what they also did to alienate the white working class.

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