On the New Presidency

Blog, On Writing, What I'm Thinking


Here we are on the other side of this heavily contested and deeply divisive election. Civil discourse jettisoned. Threats made that should never be a part of our democracy. Insults and mockery thrown at people based on gender, ethnicity, race and religion. And that’s before we even get to the positions the candidate in question has proposed, positions antithetical to who we strive to be as a nation, and economic policies that have been roundly criticized by economists red and blue.

How do I talk to my daughters and my granddaughter and my young nieces about a country that could elect such a man as president? And how do I explain to the young men I know who might have voted for him, why I’m so horrified at his election?

How to explain that the Supreme Court will be changed beyond recognition? That Roe vs Wade is likely to be overturned, taking away from women the right to make personal decisions about their bodies?

How to explain to those who believe Trump’s promises that they are unlikely to be honored? Not, perhaps, because he doesn’t want to honor them but because the premises upon which he’s made them are wrong. The promise to bring jobs back to America, for example is an empty promise. Some of the jobs may have left, but the vast majority have disappeared because of technology. They’ve been made obsolete. What was never discussed during the election—by either candidate—is the fact that we’re in the midst of a technology shift greater than the industrial revolution. There will be consequences to the labor force that no politician can remedy, at least by conventional means. But Trump is not a conventional politician.

We still have much to be thankful for in our lives and in our world.

Thankful that Trump is not a true Republican; that he will potentially run afoul of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and will need Democrats to get his policies through Congress.

That perhaps he will do something to reform campaign financing, because he made a big deal of how important it is to not be beholden to special interest groups.

That he’s unconventional, and, hopefully, that he will come up with unconventional ideas.

That a Republican president with a Republican House and Senate has to take full responsibility for what happens in the next four years.

That, for the first time in living memory, we might end up with changes to an immigration policy that is dysfunctional and unenforceable.

That governing is complicated and nuanced, and that we still have three independent branches of government.

These are the things we need to remember, as we grieve over this lost election.

Remember that this is not the first venomous election, where the disdain between candidates and the disregard for particular groups of voters have been almost as bad. The country has survived them all.

Remember that presidents come and go.

Remember that historically, the political pendulum swings too far in one direction, and then in response, too far in the other. Always within a relatively narrow range, considering how far it might swing.

Remember that even with our sophisticated technology and polling techniques, the prognosticators can be—and often are—wrong. The lesson we’ve learned this election is never, ever to trust the pollsters.

Remember also this: our founders recognized that in a functional democracy, the highest good is compromise. Not because compromise in itself is good, but because it is the best way to come to an agreement that all sides can live with, even if no one gets all he or she wants. We will soon have in the White House a man who claims to be a master negotiator. Perhaps he’s the man to remind the right wing of the Republican Party that the idea of compromise, which they’ve fought tooth and nail since coming to Congress, is really the way things get done best in Washington.

We are an optimistic country, believing that the best is still ahead. Regardless of the “make America great again” slogan, we live in the most powerful democracy the world has ever seen. The peaceful transition taking place now is evidence that our democracy will withstand even this awful election season.

We are always modeling behavior. Someone is watching—someone younger or more impressionable, or someone who might be altered by seeing another way to be. Show them that the wise way to deal with an election lost or an apparently deplorable President-elect is to remember that it’s just an election, in a democracy, for four years. The people have spoken. Now we have to give the newly elected President a chance to make his vision real. Some of his promises will come to be; others will not. Like every president, this one will be faced with unexpected challenges and crises that put some parts of his agenda on the back burner. Four years from now you will be four years older, while he will have aged a decade. The time will pass in the blink of an eye. And in the meantime, we have to continue working for what’s important, making our voices heard.

Now go out and live your life. Love those close to you. Be kind to those different from you. And believe, until proven otherwise, that the awesome responsibility of the Presidency can bring out the best in anyone.

Photo: Tom Lohdan/Flickr CC 2.0