Something To Believe In
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
— Abraham Lincoln
But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they’re mistreating you. Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perhaps America works like this. Presidencies swing, as reactions to each other, like a pendulum. My optimistic belief is it is how we keep our country in balance. In my lifetime: Carter to Reagan, a stutter step of the centrist elder Bush to the centrist Clinton, and then the swing of the righter wing junior Bush to the clear left of center Obama. Now the massive swing back of Obama to the populist Trump. Each candidate feels like a counter balance, even an antithesis, to the last. The further from the center the President, the more the next one seems to be a counter-reaction to the opposite extreme. What other way would we follow up our transformational first black president than a ‘working class white America strikes back’ Trump? From a President at his worst criticized as professorial, to one that is as non-professor-like as you can imagine? I’m not saying you have to like it, but if you love this country, it may entail accepting this is the nature of things — that this dualism may be the engine by which this country, lurchingly and eventually, moves forward.
The people that elected Donald Trump are Americans. They are every bit as entitled to weigh in on who should lead as any of us. The fact that they disagree with the values some of us hold dear is the point — America has always been about a battle of ideas that plays out over time. While I don’t have empirical evidence, my instinct in my New York City bubble is Trump supporters across the country are far from the stereotype they are assumed to be from their worst elements. If we don’t want to see the “otherization” of minorities, then we shouldn’t paint a diverse group of people with a singular brush and do the same to them.
My heart believes in America, in a weird and circuitous way, *because* of how much this outcome runs counter to what I personally was hoping for, and values I hold dear. Half of the country is always upset with who the new President elect is, and if you’ve been a happy camper the last eight years, it’s an unpleasant reminder that you likely live in the availability bias soup of people who think like you do. The shoe is now on the other foot. I’m not naive enough to believe it’s in our nature to step outside our comfort zones. But if we do not, we should expect to continue— every four to eight years — to be entirely mystified by each other.
This morning we will tell my niece that we live in a country where sometimes you disagree with your leader. It’s hard to remember, for me, that there are wide swaths of the country who have been disagreeing with our current leader for nearly a decade. They have been stewing for these last eight years. The world now inverts, and the losing team begins plotting for the next four years on how to block Trump’s policies and ultimately regain control of the chambers and the Presidency.
The illusion when things are going your way is that it’s gonna just keep going. But it never does. It’s those checks and balances, those fits and starts, that make us who we are, maddening though it may be from any individual perspective. So the story goes, the pendulum swinging, the democracy lurching slowly backwards and forwards, towards what we must believe — collectively and cumulatively and ultimately — is progress.
No matter how dim the light may seem to many today, perhaps paradoxically it burns brighter when we consider the benefits of living in a country where what just happened can in fact happen. That we can have as fierce of a debate as we just had, and then move forward under a President who greatly differs from the last. As much as we may want to, we actually don’t want to live in an America where we always win.
Dr. King believed.
His words from Loving Your Enemies — a magisterial, life-altering, divine sermon — are needed to soothe our wounds right now.
Abraham Lincoln believed.
His words from The Second Inaugural Address — maybe the most healing words in American history — must be remembered, indeed cherished, now.