I woke up angry today. Angry at whom or why, I wasn’t really sure. I suspected it had something to do with the election that took place a week and a half ago.
Last week I was sad, afraid, and depressed. This week, I’ve felt abandoned and alone (Monday), uncertain and afraid (Tuesday), exhausted and empty (Wednesday and Thursday), and today (Friday), angry and powerless. Yes, that’s it; accompanying the anger is extreme powerlessness.
I feel powerless because my country is changing into something I don’t recognize. Because a man who has little regard for the constitution or checks and balances is in charge of one branch, has appointing authority over a second, and has “leaders” in the third branch who will roll-over at the first angry tweet.
Last night, I heard Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley give a beautifully written post-election speech that should have roused me from my downed state. She urged us, “don’t worry, work”. But instead of inspiring hope and direction, her words plunged me further into despair. Work for what? How?
Surrounded by the most progressive activists of the Democratic Party – in Massachusetts, mind you – I heard Monday Morning quarterbacking analysis such as “we need to get better at framing our values” and “we need to do a better job getting out the vote” along with holding non-progressive Democratic lawmakers accountable for their votes. Well, yes, that’s all true. But the people who saw President-Elect Trump’s racism, misogyny, bullying, and general contempt for the long-established precepts of liberty such as a free press – and voted for him anyway – those people’s minds aren’t going to be changed by digging further into our own trench.
We need to reach the people who voted for Trump. I’m not talking about his hard-core supporters who truly are racist or wouldn’t vote Democrat with a gun held to their head. I’m talking about the people who were undecided, who needed to be persuaded by debates, commercials, news, and volunteers. In other words, the people in the middle.
Because let’s face it. We aren’t going to take back this country by talking to ourselves. We certainly aren’t going to take back this country by talking to the people deeply entrenched on the other side. And to those who would say we just need to inspire those on our side who stayed home, I say this: do you really want to live in a country that looks like the electoral map we’ve had the last few cycles? Is taking back the country by the margins really what you want? Any president, left or right, faces massive division with a map like this.
So again I come back to the ‘how?’. How and what do we work for? Again, I feel powerless because I don’t have the answers. I have friends posting on Pantsuit Nation, planning to go to marches, saying ‘come on, do something’. But I don’t want to react. I want to respond. I want to be thoughtful and I want what I do to mean something and have a real, lasting impact.
I want us to be more than the new ‘party of no’, to win over the people in the middle, to inspire others to work for an America that works for all Americans.
In order to reach those in the middle, those at the Thanksgiving table, those on the subway, I know I can’t paint them all with the same broad, racist brush. I know arming myself with facts and figures and talking points isn’t enough. I know I can’t come to the argument prepared for an argument. I have to listen. I have to empathize.
The only way I’ve ever found compassion and empathy is to soften my heart and look inward. Frankly, on a day like today, when I woke up angry (a very uncommon experience for me), I really need to be introspective. So as I sit with this uncomfortable feeling, I come back to the even scarier sense of powerlessness.
I don’t know what the future holds for people who don’t look like me, for people who don’t agree with the new majority, for my finances, for my unborn children’s future. It’s unclear and uncertain. The decisions are being made by people I don’t trust. I don’t trust their judgment and I don’t trust their integrity. How do you build a future with that much uncertainty?
Worst of all, I fear I have no power to impact those leaders decisions. They won’t want to listen to someone like me. I’m not in their voting block and constituency and therefore I’m not important. They don’t care about me or people like me.
Gradually, it dawns on me these are the very thoughts the people in the middle have experienced for decades.
People in rural America have felt powerless, afraid, and for years ignored, by both Democrats and Republicans. As I’ve experience, powerlessness leads to anger. Imagine waking up angry for as long as they have?
Now they feel they finally have someone who listens to them.
Phew. I sat with that for more than a few minutes.
In this state, I won’t be comforted by facts and figures. Certainly not by being called a liberal cry-baby. The only thing that can make me feel remotely safe and comfortable about the next four years is action – positive action – which I highly suspect I won’t see.
So let’s flip all this from me to the Democratic Party. To win back the middle, the middle needs to see action; action that must come from introspection.
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know the ‘work’ must begin with looking at ourselves. As Party activists, how many of us are friends with – or even know – people who voted for Trump? Hanging out with other true believers may feel good a week after the election, but it won’t help us grow the Party.
Demonizing people who voted for Trump as “all racists” is no better than the vilification of ‘the other’ (Mexicans, Muslims, etc.) by Trump.
We need to get out of our comfort zones and start spending time with people who don’t think like us. That doesn’t mean having a political conversation – in fact, that’s probably the last thing we should do – but it does mean finding common ground. Maybe we both have an affinity for Star Trek or the Patriots. Maybe we both have a family member struggling with addiction. Maybe we’re both worried about how to meet our expenses.
Maybe, hopefully, in time, that conversation leads to learning what they like and dislike about each party. Maybe we hear things we don’t like – that Democrats seem willing to ignore real waste, fraud, and abuse because they don’t want to cede the higher ground to Republicans. Maybe we need to take a look at that. Maybe we need to work on addressing the things people can say about us as Democrats so we can truly hold onto that higher ground. Maybe that higher ground comes from getting off our high-horse and just being human with other humans.
I don’t have all the answers. But I don’t feel angry anymore. I feel compassion. I feel empathy. And just a twinge of hope.