It’s an evil snake that crawls between us and takes up the space we didn’t know existed, that turns you left, me right, with our guns pointed at him, at it, at each other. It’s a vicious smoke that rises into our nostrils, fills our lungs with free-based gratification, makes us high on self-righteousness. We exhale noxious fumes into faces we say we love. It’s a vile ideology that turns us on each other, makes an up seem down, makes a fall seem elevating, sends us packing, locked and loaded brother on brother, sister on sister. Haven’t we been here? Haven’t we turned on each other before? Haven’t we gassed and lynched and nailed to crosses those we decided to hate? Is this a never- ending war we’ve all agreed to wage? And now I feel the snake against my skin, the toke in my lungs, the rhetoric in my brain like pinballs of sound bites, and I wonder if doing justice and loving mercy can ever be simultaneous acts. It’s one thing to agree not to spit on your brother. It’s another altogether to agree not to spit on the one who spits on your brother. It’s yet another still to balance the world on your back while you learn to walk humbly with your god. © 2020 Deborah E. Moore, All Rights Reserved
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time wondering why Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States. This is not the kind of “why” that is actually asking “how.” I’m not contemplating what did or didn’t get said by the Trump Camp or the Clinton Camp to Rust Belt workers or West Virginia coal miners or disillusioned Bernie-or-Busters.
No, this is a true why. If every development in life has meaning (and I believe it does), then what is the meaning here? If every event has purpose (and I believe it does), then what is the purpose now? In other words, why?
I believe there are probably scads of answers to the why, maybe one for each of us. I may have landed on one that works for me, though.
There is a concept called “American Exceptionalism.” It is the belief that America’s history (including her world-changing Revolution) and democracy (which the rest of the world needs, of course) place this nation in a superior position. It is the belief that the United States is truly exceptional, truly better than the rest of the world. This belief is so widely held in political circles that President Obama was “accused” by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal of not adhering to it, a claim that might be considered “fightin’ words” to many on Capitol Hill.
This sense of American Exceptionalism oozes from the pores of our society. We see it in the cocky strut of an NFL player scoring a touchdown. We hear it in the chants of “USA! USA! USA!” at the Olympics. Any teacher can vouch for the unearned level of confidence displayed by a student population that ranks unremarkably in the middle of the worldwide pack in science and math.
The truth is we’re not exceptional. This is especially true for those, like me, who believe in the unity and equality of all humanity. Yes, we had a remarkable Revolution and established an early model of modern democracy. I know how profound all of that was; I teach it on a fairly regular basis. But we didn’t invent democracy, the Greeks did. And we didn’t win a revolution on our own; the French helped considerably, as did others. And in the midst of lofty ideas of civil liberties were the more base motivators of taxes, trade, and economy.
No, we’re not exceptional. We’re another link in a long chain of human evolution. We have some truly admirable qualities; we also have many that are not.
In 1630, John Winthrop preached a sermon to Puritans on board the Arbella. The sermon was called “A Model of Christian Charity,” and in it he referred to the society they would form in the New World as “a city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but since Winthrop, it has been synonymous with first the colonies and then the nation. The concept maintains that this “city upon a hill” is a model for the world. It was not merely a 17th century idea. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, yes, Barack Obama all made references to it during various speeches.
And that brings us back to Donald Trump. During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Mitt Romney made this statement about Trump: “His domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgement to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
And there’s my why. We’ve thought we were hot shit quite long enough. We’re not. We sometimes make terrible mistakes. If we can manage some humility, we might learn something through this. At the very least, we can finally put down that heavy mantle of greatness we’ve lugged around for so long.
“It’s really a wonder I haven’t dropped all of my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ ~ Anne Frank
Like so many others, I woke up this morning enveloped with despair. How could this be? What didn’t we do? What does this say about us? Something that seemed so certain slipped out of our fingers as surely as if we were trying to clutch at vapor. And then, along the way, there have been moments of such sweet serendipity that I have been moved to tears in their preciousness.
One of my first acts of the day was posting something to Facebook. It was my attempt to set the tone for how I would respond to our new reality. I wanted to convey a peaceful resolve. A family member from the other side of the political spectrum commented in appreciation for my stance. We sent a few kindhearted messages back and forth. I asked for his help; after all, his party won, and those in my tribe need folks like him more than ever now to hold our new leader to the highest standard. He assured me he would do so. And then he wrote, “Deb, I lock arms with you.”
At first, I admit, I felt the internal confusion that comes from seemingly mixed messages. I wanted to say, “How can you cast your support in the direction of one who promises to restrict and remove my freedoms and then say that you lock arms with me?”
And immediately a new thought fell in line behind that one. I realized that I had a choice. I could chew on the mixed message or I could savor the sentiment of unity. I could focus on the confusion or I could focus on the connection.
In every moment, we are called to be better people. We are called to love each other with a spiritual fire. We are called to shine a light on the best in each other; and we are called to remind each other that everything else is not the truth of us. We are called to inspire and uplift and encourage.
But also in every moment we are given another option. We can dive into the depths of suspicion and discontent. In every single opportunity we have to shine, we can decide on the darkness.
We have to choose.
I gathered my students in a circle this morning and talked to them openly and honestly about this election, about the fear a lot of people have, and about the personal impact it has on me as a lesbian. I told them that nothing about this election can take away our freedom to decide each morning just how we want to show up in our world. I told them that love is still stronger than fear. I told them that love comes a lot easier when your side wins, but the love that you have to reach into the depths of your soul for and muster in the face of defeat is the one that is actually, bygod, love. And I told them that no matter how they feel today, whether joyous or forlorn, we’re all still going to make it through.
In other words, I told them that I lock arms with them. And we all felt a little better, a little safer, and a little more assured that everything would be okay.