I never thought I’d see the day.
Recent national news warns of civil and racial violence at the polls on tomorrow and after the votes are counted. Some cities, such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Dallas, Texas, have arranged for police presence at the polls due to the threatened presence of those who would intimidate others as they go to cast their rightful votes. It sounds like last year’s Turkish election, or something out the Republic of the Congo earlier this year.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined an America like this.
I grew up in an America that was, largely, safe and respectful of the rights of others. On the surface, anyway. I would read news stories of elections in other countries at which violence broke out and I was fascinated at the concept, with that taste on my tongue of an oppression I would never personally know. It never occurred to me that I might see the same thing right here in America. The home of the free.
I have never seen such ugliness in an election season, but you know what? I said that in 2008, when Barack Obama rode a tide of change to hold our Oval Office, and I said it again in 2012 when he won his second term. I saw President Obama as nothing less than the embodiment of a New Age in this country. We’re seeing something again, with all this election ugliness–from the first black man running on a major party ticket and now, in 2016, we see the first woman doing the same thing.
The unrest is no coincidence.
Over the last few days I have been able to comfort myself somewhat with the feeling that what we are experiencing is not America turning over to expose its ugly underbelly, an underbelly infected with hatred of other Americans because of simple biology–their gender, their race, their sexual orientation (and don’t give me crap about homosexuality being “a choice” – science begs to differ). I am recognizing now that America is experiencing growing pains, perhaps, or even the labor pains that herald the birth of something new, a society where equality is the rule of the day. The birth of a society where, eventually, a black man, or a woman, or a black woman, or a gay man or woman, or a gay trans man or woman of any ethnicity, where anybody truly can become President of the United States of America, not by a lucky accident of birth but because of their education and qualifications, their experience, their suitability of character.
What a day we are working toward!
But it’s not easy. These pains we are feeling are not merely those of labor. They are the pangs that come with letting go of something old. Letting go is tough, even when it’s something that doesn’t work, like a toxic marriage, an addiction to alcohol or cigarettes, a beloved car that doesn’t run more often than it does. The familiar might be bad for us, but we still have a hard time shucking it to bring in something new, even to evolve ourselves. We know this from personal experience. We’ve all been there.
I make no secret of the fact that I love Bernie Sanders and I wanted him so much to be my President, to be our President. That didn’t happen. It’s also no secret that I happily voted for Hillary Clinton and publicly flipped Trump the bird (and was secretly disappointed that he apparently didn’t even notice). But I live in a blue state that is very liberal and mostly Democrat, where I might not see a single Trump bumper sticker for days on end. My mail-in ballot made it even easier. Would I go cast my vote if I had to feel nervous because of threats of violence and the necessity of a police presence? Damn skippy I would.
Women’s Suffrage Parade, Pennsylvania Avenue, March 3, 1913. Photo courtesy of U.S. Library of Congress.
To say this election season has been polarizing is an understatement. I thought I’d seen the limit of that when Barack Obama was elected twice, and am still saddened to see so many who hate him merely because of the color of his skin. I’ve been further saddened as I’ve watched a businessman with zero political experience win a major party nomination, whipping supporters into frenzies of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and racial hatred, and as I’ve listened to people bash Hillary Clinton simply because she is a she whose husband screwed around. (Kindly notice that I have the class to leave Melania out of this.) People are strong in their support for their candidate, and even stronger in their dislike of the opposition. I have seen friendships dissolve and families rift because of 2016 politics.
Yes, I do honestly wonder how anyone can support a candidate who, as far as I can tell, views the Oval Office as just another pussy he can grab and will say anything to anyone to get it. But when I take a breath and step back, what I see is that others are sick of the status quo they perceive, and want change as well. If I take time to consider, I can understand wanting a President who is not neck-deep in a lifetime of political cronyism and has no background of political scandals (let’s put personal scandals aside for the nonce), no matter whose fault they are. He has even said some things I agree with. I agree with term limits for Congress, and I agree with better provisions for our veterans, and I agree with…I agree with…well, those are the only positions Trump has taken that he hasn’t flip-flopped on that I agree with. And yes, I can see people’s reasons for not supporting Hillary Clinton other than her gender. I’ve been paying attention.
However. One thing no one will ever convince me of is that anyone deserves less than equal treatment in the workplace, in the political arena, in health care, in our courts, in our social institutions, at the hands of the police, in their autonomy over their own bodies and lives. Everyone in America is capable of all good things. We have finally–and this is what I’m really excited about–we have finally, in a country with history and laws and social infrastructure that stomped on anyone who wasn’t a straight white Christian male, had a President who wasn’t white. On this day before Election Day, we stand on the brink of electing the first woman to that sacrosanct office. I am gratefully stunned to see this, even as I remember my great-grandmother, who was born before women had the right to vote and helped fight to get it, for me. Even if Hillary doesn’t win, I am happy to have been part of this.
But change is hard. It hurts. We’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go. Black America fought hard for, and is still fighting hard for, equal rights and treatment under the law. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought just as ferociously for my right to vote. One of the principles this country was founded upon gives me the right to tweet profanity at my candidate’s opponent without fear of retribution. These rights come to us through revolutions past, revolutions that are livid with contention and resistance, with bruises and blood and death. Mostly, though, they are bathed in ideals and perseverance.
Culture is not static, nor should it be. Humanity evolves and a culture that doesn’t work for everyone must evolve with it, particularly a culture as modern and malleable and as devoted to individual freedom as America’s. With this election, are we evolving from bad to worse? Maybe. Addicts are fond of saying that we have to hit rock bottom before light dawns and trumpets blare and we claw our way up out of the abyss to a new life. We have been addicted to career politicians, to a government owned by the rich, to complacency and complaining without doing anything about it. We have also been addicted to ugliness such as Jim Crow laws and the Rule of Thumb. I firmly believe a Trump victory would be our collective rock bottom, a slide back down the slope of inequality and elitism and hatred. Others believe that a Clinton victory would be that rock bottom, more cronyism and politics-as-usual and Wall Street control and no one fighting for the little guy. No matter who wins this election, about half of us are going to be pissed off or frightened because it was the wrong person. Either way, we can hope that America recalls the principles on which we created our collective selves and begins the climb back toward what we are supposed to be. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
What saddens me the most, though, is the division between us as individuals. So, do me a solid and I’ll do you one in return. Don’t assume I support Hillary Clinton only because she is a woman, or because I don’t care about missteps or mistakes she’s made in the past, OK? Give me credit for the intelligence to look at the issues, the platforms, the experience, and to decide which candidate best fits my bill, and I’ll give you the same benefit of the doubt. If you support Donald Trump, I will assume you’re not the embodiment of all things I find hateful that he has exhibited time and time again, on tape, and that you are looking beyond those things for reasons that are as grounded in reason as I believe mine are. (At least unless and until he pushes The Button and annihilates us all, in which case my plebeian philosophizing and all these arguments are moot anyway.) Allow that I have the intelligence to be aware that my candidate is flawed but there are still good reasons to support her, and I’ll allow the same for you. Who really knows who will come out right or wrong?
Bear down, America. Breathe. Don’t be afraid. Whatever comes, we will do what needs to be done.
I still never thought I’d see the day.