After The Shock, A Humbling Lesson and a Hidden Jewel
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?
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.