I’ve been absent for a while for health reasons. After Nov. 8, there was also the electoral shock into numbness. Finally, I wrote this. I hope to be back on a regular basis now.
In my inbox, I have a newsletter from a writer I respect, whom I won’t name here. It includes the following:
Maybe your candidate won, maybe yours lost. It’s a system. One side has been in for eight years. Another is going in now. If everyone moved to Canada because they didn’t get their way in this country where everyone has a voice, we’d have very few people left.
… Wake up still happy. Continue your days proud to be American. Take the stance that you will continue thinking positive and pursuing your dreams regardless who is President [sic] or who throws an obstacle in your path. You choose how you think. You choose how happy you’ll be. Nobody else affects that if you don’t let it.
If you believe that what happened on November 8 was simply that one side lost and the other side won, you don’t understand what happened. I’ve supported the losing side in elections before; this is different. Much more was at stake, and what we lost may be so great, I’m not sure it will be regained in my lifetime.
Upon graduating from college a few decades ago, I moved to Washington, D.C. to begin a career in public service. I never doubted that I wanted to work on behalf of my country, because I had studied history and different political systems of both this country and others, and I believed strongly in the virtues of the United States, even with all of its many flaws. I wanted to dedicate myself to be part of the centuries-long process of making our system and our world better. I worked my proverbial butt off for months and landed a job in the U.S. Senate. This was back in the days before “compromise” became a dirty word.
I am an institutionalist. I believe in Congress, the presidency, the judiciary. I’ve seen them work beautifully (okay, I’ve seen them work), and I’ve seen them muck things up. Later in my career, I worked as a civil rights and civil liberties advocate, and my job was to persuade Congress and sometimes the executive branch to see things the way that I and the people for whom I worked did. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I didn’t. Often I was frustrated. But this is our system, and I continued to believe in it and its sometimes ragged march toward greater justice.
Then came 9/11. If you were an adult then, you remember the fear, the horror. And I hope you remember also perhaps the only good thing to come out of that living nightmare, which was the very brief sense that we were one nation in the face of an attack against us. Trying to tear us apart Would. Not. Stand.
We are on the other side of that now.
I am a Democrat, but I have seen and worked with many Republicans I respected. I’ve also seen and tried to work with those I didn’t respect. Throughout the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, I disagreed with him on nearly every issue. I couldn’t wait for his presidency to be over. But when people said, “He’s not my president,” I took issue with that statement. Complain all you want, I said, but like it or not, he is the president of all the people until the next election. Respect the choice the people made; respect the institution.
Because never, not once, did I believe that President George W. Bush didn’t care about this country. I disagreed with his approach to governing these United States, I disagreed about his perspective on any number of topics, but I never believed he didn’t care. In the face of all my many strong criticisms of him and his policies, never did I believe that the very institutions and integrity of the United States and the concept of the rule of law itself were at risk because he was president. I never feared the head of the opposing party in that way. Not with President Bush, not with anyone.
For the first time in our nation’s 240-year history, we are installing in the White House someone who is not only ignorant of our founding document and the central role it plays in guaranteeing our freedoms—keeping course where it works, pushing us toward improvement where we are still faulty, and, yes, keeping us arguing all the while—but someone who is also uninterested in learning. He focuses only on self-aggrandizement, and if there is any hope that he is not utterly misogynistic, racist, homophobic, disdainful of those with disabilities, selectively anti-Semitic, etc., then he is certainly comfortable in letting those elements thrive as they serve his purposes. He is deaf to the cries of his citizens who have been attacked since November 8; indifferent to those in this country now living in fear. He has already begun his assault on the freedoms of the press and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and he has promised more.
The President-elect is plainly an autocrat. Initial indications suggest strongly that he is a kleptocrat and his collective pronunciations demonstrate a certain admiration for fascism. His corrupt intent is showing early and loudly; exposed, he shows no remorse, but only demonstrates interest in further corruption. Early appointments exhibit active antipathy for the civil rights of this country’s citizens, and a fondness for men who would cleanse the population of troublesome elements in the name of “law and order.”
Justice is indeed blind, as the saying goes, but now she is blind because actual neo-Nazis are covering her eyes and perhaps soon gagging her as well.
In discussing the outcome of the election on November 9 with my fourteen-year-old son, “Jack,” I debated whether to share the full extent of my feelings with him. He’s in high school, after all. This is when kids transition to adulthood. I let him watch Saturday Night Live during the campaign. I share jokes with him even if they contain bad language because I know he’ll understand and appreciate the humor. I talk to him about certain adult topics because he’s ready for them. But do I tell him that this country just held an election which has actually put the tenets of our democracy in danger?
Yes, I do. A kid going on fifteen is not a little kid anymore. He has to face the world because the world is coming right at him. He will be of age in three years. He is owed the truth. So here, in condensed form, is what I told him:
This is not like anything that has happened in this country before. The ramifications of this election are going to be with you for the rest of your life. We’ve always talked to you about the importance of being a concerned, educated citizen, no matter what you choose to do with your life, and now you see why. This man is going to have the power to pack the courts, very possibly including the Supreme Court, and that may be the most insidious way this will reverberate through your generation and maybe into the next. More immediately, there will be attacks on minorities, attacks on people’s freedoms, and every one of us needs to be on the lookout for that. When we see bad things happening, stand up and do the right thing. This will not be easy. It may be socially awkward, which I know is really hard at your age. I get that, I really do; I remember what it’s like to be fourteen. Or maybe you’ll see something physical. Try to stand up for people. If you ever feel that you are in danger and you just can’t intervene, then you call the police. Do not do nothing. We cannot do nothing. You don’t have to become the biggest activist in the world if that’s not your thing. But you have a responsibility to know what’s going on, to understand what it means, and in some way to be a part of doing what’s right.
What didn’t I tell Jack? The parochial concerns that float through my head, like fears that a thin-skinned president will set off too many wars and re-institute the draft, forcing Jack to fight and perhaps die for nothing more than a president’s bruised ego. I didn’t share that it’s occurred to me that the whole college-planning thing might shift now, as a tanked economy could make our previous affordability concerns seem like a quaint relic. The latter seems like a privileged concern in the face of everything else we might lose, the basic rights that are already threatened for so many. Yet all of these worries are present, all of them whirl in a vortex of the possible along with the scandals that have already occurred, the disdain for our democracy that has already been expressed, the hatred for this country’s people that has already been seeded.
In this election, one side lost, and an authoritarian won. In my lifetime (and my kids will tell you I’m old), no authoritarian kleptocrat with zero understanding of or appreciation for the foundation of the United States of America has ever gotten near the Oval Office. We have never had a president who has cared nothing for this country and only for himself the way that this president-elect does.
This is new. This is different. This matters in ways we have not yet seen. And it matters for our kids most of all, because they’re going to be living with what happens over the next four years even after we are gone.
Uncharted Parent wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. When you’re gathered around your holiday table, please remember to give thanks for the democratic republic in which we live, and consider what you can do to ensure that, as Benjamin Franklin once challenged, we keep it. (See below.)
“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
–Benjamin Franklin responding to a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia, 1787, at the close of the Constitutional Convention