Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Today, I Mourn. But I Will Not Linger Here.

I was not going to write anything. Especially not today, when it is all so fresh. What if I feel differently once emotions have tempered? (And, of course, I will. At least to some degree.) But writing is what I do. It's how I process and it's been that way ever since I learned to spell. I wrote a blog post the day after the elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012 (and after prior elections I'm sure I wrote a journal entry or passed a note in class or something). So I decided this occasion should be no different. And what I have to share is this . . .

I'm giving myself permission to take a couple of days to mourn. I cannot pretend that I don't need it. I ache for our country today.

I mourn that I held one child tightly in each arm this morning as they cried, after staying awake all night and wondering what I would say. That I had to tell them, "The president does not get to define who you are or what you get to do. Don't give him that much power. He is one man. You are kind and strong and worthy of respect. You will continue to be kind and deserving of respect and you will be strong for others. This family is going to show love more than ever. You will keep playing ball and running around with your friends and being a kid. None of that will change. I am sad, too. But I love America and the people who live here and I know that goodness is going to rise from this."

I mourn that I almost lost it when I held my daughter's face in my hands, looked her in the eyes, and made sure she understood that what our future president thinks of us means that she must all the more loudly proclaim the intelligent and powerful young woman that she is.

I mourn my belief that our national security is now at greater risk. That we now face more danger from threats both domestic and abroad. That our nation just voted for a greater chance of war. That we voted for an authoritarian regime.

I mourn that as a Constitutional conservative who values small government and liberty and the beautiful system that is federalism, I am struggling to figure out where I belong in this political landscape.

I mourn what this election appears to say about our nation's character -- that understandable anger at being left behind or ignored or used by the established ruling class for so long can justify voting for someone with a long track record of thinking very little of his fellow humans and who has shown a frighteningly minimal interest in, or knowledge of, policy issues.

I mourn that I have heard from black friends and Asian friends and gay friends who feel like the country they are living in today is different than the one in which they fell asleep last night.

I mourn that some people are gloating or laughing about how the election turned out. I mourn that some others would have done the same if the results had been different.

But I'm not going to stay in my grief. I'm leaving my points of concern in this post and then moving on. And I promise I won't be a sore loser or engage in name calling. There really is no part of me that wants to do so. I don't have any animosity toward Trump specifically. I recognize that he is just a symbol of a country with some hurdles to face. Besides, grief and anger create a helpless place to be and certainly do not lend to going forward. I've already been encouraged by so many today speaking up and proclaiming that love is still going to win, that this election must be countered by kindness. As one of my friends said, though, "This must not be just words. We must put our words into action."

With that in mind, here are some actions that I pledge to take --

Have a conversation with anyone who disagrees with me on any of the points for which I have written that I mourn today. I promise to listen.

Plant a flower garden in my backyard that will bring me great joy when it blooms next spring.

Make even more of an effort to talk with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially those with whom I assume I will disagree.

Visit different houses of worship with my children.

Celebrate that we live in a country in which I was allowed to vote for president without fear of persecution and that every four or eight years we witness a peaceful transition of power.

Put all the carts back in the holding stall at Target when I see they've been left scattered across the parking lot.

Wish for Mr. Trump to surround himself with wise counsel.

Build closer relationships with the growing number of refugee families who have come to call my church their home over the past couple of years. 

Let a driver in front of me when I'm on I-440 at 5:30pm and he comes zooming down the I-24 lane and cuts over at the last moment. However, I can't pledge not to honk at people who throw cigarette butts out the window. I'm not there yet and need some outlet for my driving aggression. 

Talk to strangers.

Choose one of my many friends who voted for Trump and buy her a drink while we sit and not talk about politics at all. 

Put at least one handwritten note in the mail every week.

Be more committed to attending the weekly meetings of the leaf collecting club started by a sweet second grader across the street from me, particularly because I'm the only registered "grown up" member and these kids are counting on me!

Stay engaged in in the political process from the local to the national level and speak up for causes in which, and candidates in whom, I believe. But . . .

I will not let politics consume me. No more talk radio and no more clicking on shared "news" links on the internet -- they are both poison. No more ending one election by starting a conversation about the next. 

Find more reasons to compliment people.

Spend more time playing basketball and board games with my children.

Hug more. Laugh more. Listen more.

There are Clinton supporters and Trump supporters and "Other" supporters who I love dearly. And I truly think we have more in common than we have to separate us, if we get past the labels and the assumptions and instead really get to know one another. I tell my children that most people are good, and I believe that sincerely. So that will be my focus. My kids and I are going to (try to) be the good, to look for the good, and to reinforce and thank the good whenever we see it. That will be our mission.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Our Collective Soul (Not the 90s Band)

I have a habit of listening to talk radio every day at my office until I feel sufficiently irritated or sad, then I put on some Tracy Chapman or Sarah McLachlan or Indigo Girls and relive my Lilith Fair days for an hour or so, and then I go back to talk radio.

Earlier this week, Dan Mandis, a host on Nashville's conservative 99.7 talk station, invited the owner of a gas station on the outskirts of the city onto his program. Why the interest in this local entrepreneur? He recently had gained some national notoriety when he chose to use the electronic sign outside his store to proclaim "#TrumpThatB**ch" and "The only pu**y Trump ever grabbed was Paul Ryan." So sweet. These messages were a long line in a series of political statements the owner made on his marquee, but this time Shell decided to pull its gas from the store. Understandably, the company did not want to be associated with such vile language.

Dan Mandis saw things differently than those liberal America-hating Communists at Shell. He brought the owner on his program to offer support, to encourage his listeners to patronize the restaurant that is connected to this gas station and that (sadly) already was serving a record number of customers in the wake of the controversy.

This gas station proprietor presumably wants to "Make America Great Again." Can you IMAGINE this type of sign being considered acceptable in the society of the 1950s or any other time in our country's history that the owner thought was "great"? No way. (Side note -- America is great. And was great. It was founded with flaws and continues to have them, but it's an amazing and beautiful experiment.)

There was not enough Natalie Merchant on my playlist to wipe my mental palate clean after that interview.

Where has the civility gone?

If this gas station owner has a daughter . . . or a son . . . or basic human kindness . . . how can he find it acceptable to call someone a bitch? How are there customers laughing about his sign and supporting him with their dollars while also proclaiming Christianity as a cornerstone of why they vote like they do? It doesn't make any sense to me.

And there is certainly blame to be had on both sides of the aisle in this twisted election. I'm not a Trump supporter. The thought of him being president with access to the nuclear codes keeps me awake at night and troubles me for my children. (To be fair, I don't get that much more sleep with the thought of Clinton being president.) But, I would never call him an "orange baboon" or a "f**king Nazi" or an "a**hole" like I have read from his detractors time and again. Because why does that make sense? How does this forward any kind of useful dialogue? For me, any constructive arguments you may have get lost in the name calling.

It is clear that this campaign has allowed the ugliest parts of both the left and right to come bubbling to the surface and the view is terrifying. I'm sure we all could provide dozens of examples of the ugliness of this campaign, so here are just a couple.

I visited Governor Kasich's Facebook page this morning and read his post thanking the Cleveland Indians for a great season and congratulating the Chicago Cubs. The comments section (which, I will give you, is widely accepted as the home for the worst our computer keyboards have to offer) was filled with statements calling Kasich a traitor and a pu**y and a douche and a lying sack of s**t. So you disagree with his decision not to support Trump. Fine. But this is how you express your objections? (By the way -- Kasich/Hogan in 2020. Let's make it happen.)

Juan Hernandez of Santa Clara, CA earned a broken nose and mild concussion back in June after getting attacked and beaten by protesters simply because he had decided to attend a Trump rally and learn more about the candidate . Many dismissed his injuries, saying that it's Trump's fault that his supporters are getting hurt because he encourages this violence. Isn't that victim blaming? And isn't that a bad thing?

A 62-year-old man was hit several times with a crowbar outside a Friendly's (ironic) restaurant in New Jersey. The perpetrator was a passing motorist who felt the need to get out of his car and confront the victim, who was wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt. I don't like who you are supporting for president . . . for that reason, I'm going to hit you with a metal stick. Makes sense.

At a rally last month in Virginia, a Trump supporter held up a photograph of Clinton with a bullseye painted over her face and the words "Killary Rotten Clinton" written underneath. At a Trump rally last December in Las Vegas, people in the crowd yelled out "Sieg Heil" and "light the motherf**ker on fire" as a protester was being removed by security. Just sit with those sentences for a moment. If they don't make you at the very least uncomfortable, I don't understand you.

I think these examples and the hundreds more like them speak to a problem much greater than any election but one that this campaign has exposed like never before. The root cause is the same as the reason that populations who have been dismissed or ignored for generations are protesting and sometimes rioting in our cities. The same reason that teenagers are beating one another and putting the fights on the internet. It's the same reason that reality shows in which people argue or hurt one another or fill their hours with the most mindless endeavors receive such high ratings.

Our collective soul is hurting. We don't know how we fit together anymore.

I believe that humans are naturally wired to crave community, to build relationships and to share their talents and interests for the betterment of others. There is a selfish motive behind our charity and our hugs for someone crying and our decision to pay for the coffee of the person behind us in line and our time spent building houses with Habitat . . . it feels good to do good, to have the sense that we are needed. I like how helping someone else makes me feel. I think it's OK to admit that is sometimes part of my motivation.

But, instead of fostering that community, our society has driven full steam ahead to isolation and walls and lack of human interaction. We no longer need to have a conversation with the cashier at Kroger; we just use the self checkout line. We don't have to see our neighbors while out Christmas shopping; we just order through Amazon and everything arrives at our doorstep. We build bigger homes with fancier gadgets and technology that make us need others less and less. We carry on more of our conversations through the screens of our computers and smartphones instead of while looking someone in the eye. We are left feeling alone and unappreciated and disconnected. We are losing the ability to have compassion for our neighbor because we are so out of practice. And the result, I believe, is what we are seeing in this election.

People are angry because they are not being heard, because they are not being respected, because they are not being loved, because they are not told of their worth or to respect the worth of others. I think every story that I shared in this post starts there.

Am I being naive about this? Do I need to stop listening to my Lilith Fair collection?  Why do you think this election cycle is so ugly and violent?