For my morning “devotions” I read two articles and tried to deal with the sense that I need to do something but I don’t know what it is. It is very frustrating, I feel not quite smart enough, a feeling I’ve often had in the past when dealing with huge, intractable problems like nuclear weapons and climate change.
I’m wondering whether the role I have to play has less to do with being smart than with being honest. Honest about how my fellow white Americans scare me. Honest about my anger at the Democrats and Hillary for blowing it. Honest about how stupid I feel for being so wrong about my country. Honest about my despair that it is all too late. Some people count on me for wisdom but I haven’t written much in the last month because there is nothing there. If wisdom is insight, that is. Maybe it isn’t.
For insight, here is one of the better analyses: Everything Mattered: Lessons from 2016’s Bizarre Elections. David Roberts, too, is honest and he articulates my own agony. It is one of the articles I read this morning and it triggered these thoughts and feelings.
I am still in the majority, if you go by the vote. But Roberts makes the point that the country is so viciously and evenly divided along partisan lines that the vote could go any way in any given election, and what matters is not the candidate but the partisanship. I’m not going to forgive reasonable people for voting for Trump but I will recognize that many of them simply could never see themselves voting for a Democrat and especially not that Democrat. And I am guessing that more than a little resentment was involved. Against elites, against liberals, against political correctness and, yes, a lot of subtle and outright resentment against blacks, immigrants, gays, and other manifestations of “changing demographics” that now put straight white folks in a minority position. There goes Our America. This is white resentment, and it makes me angry to see it laid bare.
It makes me angry partly because it makes me feel like a failure. I have moved steadily and comfortably into the world of diversity while leaving others behind. Persuading is hard work. I haven’t tried hard enough, just gone ahead and formed my own opinions and operated on my own values. I have progressed. I am comfortable with progression and change. I am a progressive. I’m not just going along with cultural change; I believe in the direction of this change. I believe eventually it will become the norm but I have not been prepared for how long it will take, how far out ahead of approximately half the country I have raced, and how that widening gap itself stirs fear and anger on the part of those who have not progressed. And how this resentment can translate into intransigeance, putting your foot down and voting for any a–hole as long as he’s not a progressive. And how even writing this–saying my beliefs and values will eventually become the norm–is likely to stir some people up because it implies that others’ beliefs are invalid, that I know better, that I am ahead of you and that you, or if not you, your descendents, will eventually come around. That history is on my side. But I have committed myself to honesty, especially in these times, and that is what I must say.
And in saying that, I am also acknowledging that the gap between what I believe and what I imagine going on in the minds of the other half of the country scares me. I am scared of my Michigan neighbors who voted for Trump and of my family members who spewed hatred for Hillary. I am frightened that so many people can be manipulated by lies and propaganda. I am discovering for the first time what it means to feel like I have enemies (even though nobody has threatened me directly). I guess it’s white privilege that has taken me this long to find that out. And that isn’t even getting to how much Donald Trump scares me. But really, even if he could be removed through recount or electors changing their vote or some arcane constitutional procedure, we would be left with this scary, deep national division that’s been building up over the last decade, and the scary ugliness that his campaign and election have unleashed.
But I’m thinking that if everything mattered in making this election a Perfect Storm, a potentially tragic disaster, everything also matters in how we respond from now on, though there are no guarantees. I do believe each of us has something to do, but what that is may not be clear ahead of time because we are heading into unknown territory. Today I feel I must write, with absolute honesty, about my fear and anger.