The morning after

The morning after Donald Trump was elected our president, I gave a talk at a women’s leadership conference put on by Thomson Reuters. During the Q&A, the highest voted question was “How do we think about what happened last night?” This is the answer I gave.

There are a number of ways to approach the election, and I’m sure there will be both scientists and pundits who comment at length in the coming days. So let me speak from a personal place.

I love Hemingway, and particularly For Whom The Bells Tolls. There is a quote that has always stuck with me: “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for…”. At the end of the movie Se7en, Morgan Freeman’s character shares this quote, adding “I believe in the second part”.

I still believe the world is a fine place, that people are essentially good, and that we will continue up and to the right in the long term. But if you cannot convince yourself of that, remember that the second part remains true. Good or bad, this is worth fighting for. This is not a time to flee to Canada; we need fighters, here and now. We need you.

Republicans used to say “Love it or leave it”. I love it. So I’m staying.

This doesn’t mean I’m giving up my right to be opinionated. To note that we elected (not they, we) a man who makes openly sexist and racist comments. To not be OK with that. To be angry.

But I’m reminded of the story of C. P. Ellis. I grew up in rural Oregon and though I have been away these many years, I am indelibly a country person in ways that are difficult to describe. Across race and class and gender last night, no demographic was so important as where you live: cities voted for Clinton, everyone else for Trump.

They are not idiots. They are not all racist, or sexist. They are a part of my family (both metaphorically and in actuality) that deeply and powerfully feel that they have been marginalized. They are experiencing the pain and loss that comes from that. And they voted accordingly.

C. P. Ellis was an avowed racist and head of the Ku Klux Klan in his town. When his town desegregated the schools, he was invited to co-chair the committee, alongside a black woman named Ann Atwater. And because she did not reject him but embraced him, because she treated him as intelligent and worth talking to, he left the Klan and eventually became a labor organizer. And her lifelong friend.

One of my friends texted me this morning and said “Just scary to think how we have no idea who our neighbors are.” Maybe that needs to change. Maybe it is time to find out. We need to get to know each other at a deep and personal level, and to take the extraordinary step that is empathy and compassion.

That’s easy for me to say, as a white man with wealth. I am probably better off, individually, than I was yesterday on lots of measures, if much poorer as a husband, father, and member of a civilized society. I recognize the gall of saying to those who now face an even more uphill battle against racism and sexism “Open your arms and embrace they who have put you here”.

I also know that if we want change, short of bloody revolution, compassion is our greatest hope. The Ballot or The Bullet. I cannot abide the bullet. I want to live here. So we elected Trump together – now what? Who will we be? What will we do? We get to decide, each of us, today and tomorrow and for the next four years. Love it or leave it. Understand or reject. It is a decision we must all make carefully.

Side note: Today reminds me of power outages. Or 9-11. Or any of the other events, both large and small, that cause people to rally together and to recognize the common human decency that lives in most everyone. I have this amazing little boy that I love; not one given to prayer, or God, I pray we all do the right thing. Oh, how I pray.