My Friend Died Yesterday; Her Name Was America
It is very difficult to describe the depth of my pain and sorrow this morning. I have long thought of America as an ideal, imperfect, but always striving to be that more perfect union. A land where the petty hatreds that have torn at the fabric of humanity for millennia could finally be laid to rest as all people would be treated equally and with dignity, a land where people could choose to live according to the dictates of their faith (or lack thereof) with the respect of their neighbors, and where people of all races could mingle knowing their differing values and views, traditions and hopes, would be welcomed to the giant melting pot. Where e pluribus unum was more than just an old motto carved into monuments.
And I know that some of those who voted for Donald Trump share that ideal.
For years, beginning when I was in junior high school and continuing through the present, in one capacity or another, I have worked to help further that vision of America and to help bring about the promise of equality and an expansion of civil rights, whether with regard to religion, race, sexual orientation, or any of a host of other categories. And, since the very beginning of 2008, I’ve written this blog. I’m pretty certain that if you go back and read about the issues on which I’ve written, you’ll discover my passion for equality, dignity, and civility has been a consistent theme. I’m sure that from time-to-time, my anger or frustration, have gotten the better of me, but I’ve strived to offer people an opportunity to engage me in civil discussion over important issues, at the core of which are the rights and dignity of all Americans.
I understand that people were angry with how the system was working (or not working). I understand some people felt dislocated by the transition in the economy from manufacturing to services and tech. I understand that some people felt left out by globalization and other rapid changes in our economy. And I certainly understand that many people feel as if their voice doesn’t matter because of the influence of money and special interests in our political system. I get that. And I get that not everyone who voted for Donald Trump did so on the basis of animus for those who don’t look or think the same way that they do.
But last night, I seemed as if nearly 60 million people told me that all of the ideals that I’ve worked for, all of those ideals that I hold at the core of what our country is supposed to represent — supposed to be — didn’t matter. They told me that they don’t care about equality for the LGBT community. They told me that they don’t care about voting rights for African-Americans. They told me that they don’t care about splitting up immigrant families or the harm to undocumented immigrants for whom America is the only home they’ve ever known. They told me that they don’t care about the plight of those fleeing civil war and horrific brutality. And they told me that they don’t care that they are aligning with those who view me as a subhuman who should be led to the gas chambers with my family because I am a Jew. Excuse me, I meant to say (((Jew))).
So when I woke up this morning and reflected on the election, I had to consider something that others have told me from time-to-time: This isn't really my country. I can only wonder if some see this as only as “their country” which they have now “taken back” from “the other” while allowing those who don’t fit into the majority cohort to stay here as something … well, something less. It is a country that belongs to its white, Christian majority that has tolerated the presence of Jews, Muslims, and others, has grudgingly granted something approaching equality to people who aren’t white, and which is reluctantly grappling with the question of what to do with the fact that there are homosexuals (and transgender people) in our midst. But I now understand, more so than I have previously, that the minority communities of America are not, at least to a large swath of the population, “real Americans”.
Please understand that I'm not suggesting and don't believe that all of the people who voted for Trump are racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, misogynists, bigots, or the like. But I am extremely troubled that those people chose to ignore or forgive those traits when they cast their vote. A vote for Trump may not, in and of itself, represent racism and its associated bigotries, but it did validate Trump’s racist views and the views of the alt-right, KKK, and the like. Those votes told Trump that his use of racism and bigotry was a winning tactic and, as such, will likely persist and increase in the American political lexicon and playbook. And it emboldened those who viewed him as giving voice to what they perceive as an embattled white (and, in particular, white Christian) America.
So after this election, how do you look at your gay cousin who must now worry that his newfound equality (still a work in process) will be stripped away, his marriage nullified, his adoption of a baby reversed? How do you look at your Muslim colleague who wants nothing more than to live in peace with his neighbors now that he knows that a huge swath of his country and his President-elect think he is a terrorist who hates America and intends violence upon us? How do you look at your Latino co-worker who worries that her mother may be deported or that she cannot serve as a judge simply because of her heritage? How do you look at your African-American acquaintance who worries that her husband or child will be shot by police for driving without a broken brake light? How do you look at your Jewish friend who heard vicious anti-Semitism from Trump supporters, such as exhortations to put America's Jews into gas chambers?
Perhaps it's because far to many of you have no gay cousins, Muslim colleagues, Latino co-workers, black acquaintances, or Jewish friends, most likely because our society has become so bifurcated and polarized and “those people” live only in the “blue” urban areas that seem foreign and alien to you. Perhaps you don't see those people as being your friends, of being real Americans, of being human and entitled to the same dignity you expect for yourself. I don’t think Donald Trump’s presidency is going to make minorities feel more a part of our society or make you think of them as being more American.
But even if you don’t really care about the gay cousin, Muslim colleague, Latino co-worker, black acquaintance, or Jewish friend, how do you look at your daughter who now knows that you can forgive the admission of sexual assault, use of terms like "pig" and "bimbo", serial philandering, and pussy grabbing? And how do you explain to your son that the things that his President brags about are unacceptable … but that you voted for him anyway?
To me, America was both my country and an ideal; an ideal that I put years and years of effort into making more perfect so that all of us could live together in peace. Last night that ideal was ripped away.
Let me conclude with the hope that I expressed nearly a year ago, when I began to see the rise of Donald Trump as a serious candidate:
It’s time to recapture the idea of America from demagogues like Trump. It’s time to recapture the idea of an America in which competing ideas can be discussed civilly and in which the notion of a melting pot, of e pluribus unum, is celebrated. It’s time to put hate and fear aside in favor of efforts to make friends across barriers and to take the time to learn about others who may be different than we are. We can disagree on policies but recognize that we are all Americans who value the concept of America. We can disagree on those policies but learn to discuss them without hate or rancor, without viewing those with whom we disagree as the enemy or intent to destroy the idea of America.
But our democracy worked as designed. A minority of voters elected a racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic, know-nothing, fascist.
I feel like a good friend died yesterday. Her name was America.