The sun came up this morning.
It did yesterday, and it will do so again tomorrow. The world hasn’t come to an end. These might be difficult times, but we’ve had worse, and will do again. Here are some thoughts about how to work through the current political divides, both in your own personal life, and also as a nation.
But first let’s begin with a couple of cold truths. It’s important to come to terms with these, because if we don’t, it’s hard to move on.
Trump IS Your President Elect
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that America is a nation in shock. Very few people I have spoken to, regardless of political persuasion, believed that Donald Trump would win the election. But he did. The process to be elected president of the US is grueling, and against all odds Donald Trump ran the gauntlet, first to win the Republican Party nomination (do you remember the furor in advance of the Republican Convention?) and then to win the presidential election. Once the shock passes, we need to recognize the legitimacy of the election and move on.
Recognizing the legitimacy of the election is of primary and fundamental importance. You may loath Donald Trump and you may despise all he stands for, but your chance to achieve a different outcome is over. Whether you didn’t vote, or you wish you hadn’t cast a protest vote, or wish you had been more active in the process, that is all past history. This is one of the realities of a democratic process. The important thing now is to move forward together.
The Electoral College
It simply doesn’t matter by how much Clinton won the popular vote. The Founding Fathers, in Article Two of the US Constitution, established that the president should be chosen by Electors, and it delegates to the states the methodology for selection of those Electors:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The US Constitution, which is revered by Americans in so many ways, was intentionally written to establish “a republic, if you can keep it”, rather than a direct democracy. The president is to be elected by votes from the states in proportion to their representation in Washington, and not by popular mandate. This nation is constituted as a union of states.
It doesn’t matter who won the popular vote. To claim “foul” on losing the election but winning the popular vote is like losing a football game and claiming foul because your side won the greatest yardage. In any contest, whether applying for college or playing a sport or running for office, you need to know the rules before you start, and not expect to have them changed after the fact for your convenience. Running for president is no different.
Talking To Your Neighbors
One of the more remarkable features of this election was the tiny number of yard signs and bumper stickers.
Elections are normally colorful times, with reds and blues displayed prominently and a lot of excitement. Not so much in 2016. This was probably in part a reflection of the lack of excitement about our two candidates, but it was also surely a sign of fear: fear that those who oppose your candidate might become violent or vindictive.
In the neighborhood I just left, an in town, middle-class liberal enclave, I remember seeing just two signs, one for each of Trump and Hillary (and yes, the signs said “Trump” and “Hillary”). The Trump sign was abused during the election process and eventually the home owners, wonderful people and personal friends of mine, took it down. Now, after the election, they are finding themselves pariahs, snubbed and treated with contempt by neighbors who six months ago would come and hang out in their front yard to chat. They have mentioned to me that they occasionally reflect on the possibility of violence against their property.
If your neighbors see the world differently than you, don’t take this as an excuse to leap to divisive judgment and act out of hate or contempt; rather take it as an opportunity to learn. Go and talk to them. Ask them why they voted the way they did, and listen to what they have to say. Listen with curiosity and not with judgment. Over 47% of the voting population voted for Trump, and among them are almost certainly members of your family, some of your friends, and work colleagues. Don’t you want to know why? Aren’t you interested in learning how we became so divided and figuring out how we can heal? Surely this is an opportunity for safe conversations to help you. These are people you deal with regularly, many of them daily, and many of them are people you love and who have a great influence in your life. Why should you let this one thing define them? Particularly if you have never listened to the story behind their choice.
Stand Up And Get Involved
The presidential election should be a call for all of us to reflect on what matters in our lives and in our vision for America, and to make decisions about getting involved. This applies equally whether you are troubled by the outcome of the current election or are wildly happy. But mostly, right now, this point goes out to those who are grieving and hurt, for you are the people who don’t know where to turn or what to do, the people who fear that everything you believe in is about to be taken away.
So take some time, reflect on what you care about, and get involved.
But make sure you are focused and that you engage in productive activity. For example protesting against Donald Trump per se is not productive. Quite the opposite: it is divisive. Do you remember how upset you were when Donald Trump indicated he might not accept the outcome of the election? So how can it be okay, now the shoe is on the other foot, to protest the outcome of the election, to protest against the candidate you don’t like, to protest for a change in the rules?
But that is not to say you should lie down and passively accept what happens. Quite the opposite: politics is a full contact participant sport, since it is no more and no less than the rules of human engagement and the society in which you live. And beyond that, democracy by its nature requires us all to be actively engaged. If you oppose misogyny or racism or intolerance of other faiths, then it is not just your right, but your duty, to stand up for the rights of others. One of my favorite religious symbols, which I wear faithfully, is the Sikh kara. It is a metal band worn on the right wrist, a residue of the protective sheath worn on the sword arm by warriors, and a symbol of standing up and fighting for the rights of others.
Beyond that, get involved in local politics. This week’s #NewBusinessMindset podcast was an interview with Georgia state representative Matt Dollar, and he talked about not just the impact that local politics has on your life – far greater than national politics! – but on its accessibility to every one of us. If you care about anything, reach out to your local politicians and they will listen. Matt also made the point that whatever you care about likely already has an organization in which you can get involved.
If you are a minority and you feel that this is not your problem, this is not your president, and you will just sit it out, my suggestion is that you rethink. I am not a minority, so I speak on this with caution, but I do believe that we are all in this together, and I want you at my side, regardless of your beliefs and political inclinations, so that your voice is heard in the shaping of our future.
The election results will still be raw as families assemble for Thanksgiving, and many Clinton voters are fearful of spending time with relatives who voted for Trump. They are afraid that conversations will get heated and harsh words will be exchanged; that as a result they and others will get hurt and have a miserable time; and potentially that lasting damage in the family will arise.
So here are some thoughts.
First, let’s remember what happened 150 years ago. Slavery and politics divided families, and the result was a grotesque and bloody war. So on the one hand, we’ve been in worse shape as a nation before; and on the other hand, we have a lesson in something we don’t want to happen. To avoid a Civil War, the best practice is to avoid polarizing division, and we accomplish this by being in relationship with each other. So a couple of practical thoughts:
- Adopt the mantra to hate the sin and not the sinner. You can love a person deeply and yet hold a behavior to be entirely unacceptable. The most obvious example is the love of a parent for their child who commits a crime.
- Remember first and foremost that you are spending time with people for whom you have unconditional love. Try to keep that love and your compassion for their suffering as human beings front and foremost in your mind. Doing so will not only make being with them more comfortable, but it might even allow you some insight into the source of your political differences.
- Draw boundaries. Yes, you have unconditional love for this person, but it is not okay for them to make racist or misogynistic statements in your presence. If someone crosses the boundary, state clearly that you are not willing to stay around such behavior, and if they cross it again, feel free to leave.
- Keep Thanksgiving short, and if you must stay overnight, stay in a hotel. If temperatures are high, then long exposure to each other will enhance the likelihood of explosions. Lots of short interactions are the recipe to remember that we love each other and allow us to slowly lower the pressure.
Making America Great
We will not make America great if we continue to fight over the outcome of the election, and if we polarize and take sides based on who we voted for. Trump may have said some horrible things during the election, and it appears that he may have at times behaved abhorrently during his life, but Clinton is no saint, and in many ways she is as offensive to some as Trump might be to you. So listen. How is treating a Trump voter or a Clinton voter with contempt any different than treating a Muslim or a woman or an African American badly based on the markers of faith, gender, or race? It is a prejudice based on political beliefs, and it is just as wrong and as un-American.
We will make America great by rallying around what we believe to be the attributes of greatness, and by truly living them in our lives. We say that what makes America great is that anyone can achieve anything. It is even possible for a businessman with no political experience and deep character flaws to win the US Presidency.
There are petitions underway to encourage the Electoral College to vote Clinton president, based on the belief that Trump is unfit for office. This may be a constitutionally appropriate approach, but would you want to become president of a deeply divided country under these circumstances? And how do you think the 47%+ who voted for Trump would react? No, for me the time has come to work on unifying the nation, on building relationships and bringing people together. Here are some wonderful suggestions on how we move forward to make America great:
- Angel Cabrera, president of George Mason University in Fairfax, wrote an open letter in which he said, “Let me be clear: If you are Muslim or Jewish or Christian, you belong at Mason. If you grew up in Mexico City, Islamabad, or Roanoke, you belong at Mason. If you voted for Clinton or for Trump or anyone else, you belong at Mason.”
- Bill Maher said, ” “He won. He ran a vicious, vulgar campaign and I gave it back exactly in measure—I was also vicious and vulgar—but he won. And he did it his way. Nobody gets to sing that song more than Donald Trump. Everybody told him he couldn’t do this, he couldn’t do that—and he won. He did the hardest thing in the entire world to do: win the election as the leader of the free world…What do you think about the people now who are out there saying, Not my president? Because I scolded the other side when they did that when Obama took over, and that’s not my motto. You know what? The time to rectify that was Tuesday. Either leave the country, or if you’re an American, [realize] we only get one president.”
- And last but definitely not least are the Angels of Portland, who emerged in response to the anti-Trump protests and specifically the vandalism and graffiti in Portland. “I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” 26-year-old computer-science and business major Dahlberg recalled. “I knew there was going to be some sort of need for people to take action.” He searched online for anybody who was organizing volunteers to help repair the damage and saw nothing. “So, I just created an event page that has now gone viral. ‘Let’s clean up this city and show the Portland Spirit. I will be at Tanner Springs Park to offer a hand needed to help clean up Portland. A peaceful protest was hijacked and turned into vandalism and that is not what Portland is about. We will show kindness and love to all and keep Portland GREAT!” He set the time and place to assemble as 8 a.m. Friday at Tanner Springs Park, and a movement that crossed political divides started. Read more here.