Sabbatical Dispatches: Post-election thoughts

The neighbors celebrate with pot banging and dancing in the streets. I join for a time, to be neighborly and because I share in the collective relief, the lifting of an incalculable weight on the spirit. We have earned a break from gratuitously callous comments, actions, and policies; from chaos for its own sake; and from self-aggrandizement posing as accomplishment. I sigh.

That morning, before the race was called, I noticed an internal shift. An unacknowledged tension lessened, replaced by feelings of expanse and possibility. Is that hope? I did not realize how subdued my hope had been until it started to rise. I had been braced, afraid, defended against another four years of damage to the body politic, real people, and apparently, my own body. Now, with the announcement, I and others could take in full deep breaths. We could let go habitual anxiety. We had a reprieve from marshalling our bodies and our spirits against attacks.

I listen to the disbelief of Trump supporters and their commitment never to consider Biden as the legitimately elected next President. I remember my own disbelief that Trump had been elected. It felt like a personal attack, a heat-seeking missile detonated in my body. As a Black woman immigrant who has worked for social justice and celebrated its advance, the 45th president was a repudiation of inclusion, belonging, shared prosperity, mutual respect, and pursuit of justice for all. Do they feel a similar disorientation? If so, I am not glad.

My relief at the results of the election is tempered by a recognition of how much work exists to mend the fabric of our culture. Indeed, mending our culture may not even be a shared goal. Nor what a mended culture looks like. Yet, here we are. Two major camps and several smaller ones, contesting the political terrain as though it is a war to be won. These days, politics feels like a tug of war game, two teams almost evenly matched, each pulling harder, trying to get the other off balance. One slip, one trip, one extra voter on either side and the game is over. We declare victory and proceed to enact the policies we want.

Perhaps that is our greatest mistake. When we play democracy as a win/lose game, we only create the incentive for the temporarily vanquished to regroup and redouble their efforts to win the next time. Any victory is, by definition, temporary unless there is a larger consensus that includes the minority. What is the listening to and for today’s losers?

I yearn for a real conversation, without jargon or labels. Not a debate to win or score points, but a dialogue to learn and understand. What is at stake for each other? How do we coexist? Is there a consensus lurking beneath our unwillingness to listen? Or are we headed for another civil war? Are we in it already?

I confess, I am in a bubble. I do not know (or know I know) people who think Trump is the best president, who want to make America “great” “again” or who are willing to overlook his normative transgressions because they prefer his policies. I am beginning here, small and, I hope, meaningful. If you are willing to engage in such a conversation, please add your name to the Engagement form and let’s see what is possible.

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