Waking up today, we wondered if it was all a nightmare. But, no. It was real. We moved with lead feet, speaking little, in shock. It was still early when the doorbell rang. Two young women, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Given the recent event, they said, they wanted me to know how the Bible could get me through the mourning, outcry and pain. Really? They pressed on me a pamphlet titled “How do you view the future?” With much anxiety, to be sure.
Last night, students and alums (of which I am one) gathered for a “watch event” at Wellesley College, where there was every reason to believe our famous alumna would become the first graduate to be elected President. Many dressed in white to celebrate the much anticipated break in the glass ceiling. The special souvenir flags read “making the impossible possible” and “history in the making.” By the end, it was the jubilant students who were shattered. History was indeed made, in unexpected ways, and it was Donald Trump who had made the impossible possible.
People dressed in white are now surely draped in black. The barbarian at the gates has taken over the country. The dog chased the car, caught the bumper and is now in the driver’s seat. The electoral college was to have been Clinton’s salvation even as the gap narrowed in the national polls. Now she won the popular vote for President but lost decisively in the electoral college. Her alleged “impregnable blue wall” was really a rusty chain link fence, and it gave way.
Trump’s 3:15 a.m. victory speech was unusually gracious. He praised Clinton’s long career of public service. He declared it is “time for us to come together as one united people.” He declared it is “time to heal the wounds of division” and wants to be President for all Americans. One hopes he will be guided by his words last night. (Presumably he no longer believes the system is rigged or that the Electoral College is “a disaster for democracy” as he tweeted four years ago.)
Hillary Clinton’s concession speech this morning was magnificent. She took step one in the healing process, urging everyone to come together around the idea that the American dream is big enough for everyone. That the peaceful transfer of power is a cherished principle, along with rule of law, equality in rights and dignity, breaking down barriers to opportunity, protecting our country and our planet. “We owe (Donald Trump) an open mind and a chance to lead,” she said. And so we do. She urged young women not to be crushed by this but to know that change will come. “Our best days are ahead of us,” she intoned and soothed. As the journalist’s tag line says, “it remains to be seen.”
There will be plenty of time for study and analysis. For now, we must learn to hope.
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2 thoughts on “The biggest Trump shocker of all”
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people” – P. T. Barnum
Margie, on learning to hope, my thoughts below MJD
On Early Darkening
& the seed that, unless it falls into the ground and dies, bears no fruit
At best, most of us had interrupted, fitful sleep the night of November 8 going into November 9. The clock had been messed up since Sunday November 6 when it got dark early on the eastern seaboard – “Spring forward, fall backward” – but everywhere in the USA the votes were being counted on November 8, and people were awake in the dark. The media commentators prepared and offered their constant yin and yang, and the nation and the world waited, more or less patiently, on the process.
By 9 pm counting happened in slow motion from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I dozed. Sunset across the Central Plains and Mississippi River border states deepened not into blue but into red, up and down and across, and I awoke after midnight and watched again, hearing John Podesta asking the supporters of Hillary Clinton to go home, to leave the Javitz Center. I shut the television off again, hoping against hope. The media had spoken in recent months of the potential insult, should Donald Trump be elected president, to eight years of President Barack Obama’s efforts, the fillip to nearly two decades of conscious globalization, and the overturn of worldwide neo-liberalism that had gained traction since the 1980s. And then it happened here as it has happened in other countries – the sharp turn to the right – and while I slept.
But no one really grasps what that turn means, and the fact that Donald Trump has been elected goes deeper, doesn’t it, to more troubling and long hidden or ignored causes, a severe latency of something hidden among us that has become open, declared? No one knows what Trump really plans; he has articulated no real plan or policy. Certainly the turn goes back to the 1960s and that tide of change, which indicates a perverse triumph of the deep ambivalence of my generation. Trump is a year or two younger than me and my peers, technically another baby boomer. While more than half of us pursued civil rights and peace, personal freedom, higher education, professional expertise, and human inclusiveness based both on taking thought and on convictions of faith, another part of us pursued wealth and power, omission of military service and evasion of taxes, and Trump’s victory signals the triumph of “big money,” as he put it in the last debate – “big finance,” “bigly” or “big league,” the One Percent, whatever that means.
And deeper than that, early in the 1960s we Catholics experienced the spiritual revolution of the Second Vatican Council, which had roots not only in post World War II Europe but in pre World War I Europe and in ancient patristic thought. There was an opening of doors and borders, a privileging of dialogue, a slow progress toward fulfillment of a universal call to holiness and, in fits and starts into this century, various forms of aggiornamento. In the secular domain, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the 1960s, the student protestors who most quickly grasped and had language to talk about changes in our country were the Jewish-American children of parents who had lived through the political movements of the 1930s. This past year, claiming not to be religious beyond the Golden Rule, it was Senator Bernie Sanders who nevertheless spoke the part of a Hebrew prophet.
But nobody can quite identify, can they, the origin of this remarkable election in the roots of recent history, even though President-elect Trump’s tweets about attending to the forgotten man and forgotten woman sounds like the 1930s and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the promise to rebuild American infrastructure sounds like another New Deal and CCC. Analysts say that this vote for Mr. Trump reflects the White Man’s last hurrah, the expression of the silent police, the fact that Christian Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons and too many white women supported him. But it seems to come from even a deeper and more far distant past, from somewhere else, from another planet or world, finding an opening in all the ways the liberal, humanistic promise originating in early modernism had loosened boundaries too much and, seeking to privilege and celebrate both human diversity and the individualism of the self-fashioning man had not attended to unity and common ground enough, had not, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth recognizes too late, attended to innocence as the source of renewal, or “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care…sore labor’s bath,/ Balm of hurt minds.”
This election was not rational. There was no correlation between Trump’s words and his meaning during the past eighteen months, no planned correspondence between his intentions and his promises. Language broke down, and what he communicated was, instead, force and self-conviction, mockery of others, verbal and physical assault, anti-feminism, a skillful rhetorical manipulation of the populace, a false messianism and a promise to fix it all, yes, all of it. He was the anti-rational candidate, and the premise of the Enlightenment in American political rationalism, like French secularism after the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks last year, was blind to that power. Believers and unbelievers alike, we placed too much faith in the power of reason. Pope Francis had named our situation a year ago this November in a talk at an Italian church conference: “We are not living,” he said, in an era of change but in a change of era.” The turn is a change of era.
Now we wait again, we wait and see how this victory shall unfold, how a Republican President, House, Senate and, soon, Supreme Court, will configure the country and construe the world. The Supreme Court will probably be changed for a generation. Roe vs. Wade will probably be overturned. but that, in my Catholic opinion, is not the worst thing that could happen in my estimation; the best feminists have known for a long time that abortion on demand, abortion used as contraception, is not the best policy for women’s reproductive health or personal dignity. Remember Julia Kristeva’s insight that a feminism that does not care for motherhood does not care for women, precisely because human rights are women’s rights. Repeal of the ACA without a suitable way to provide for health care and just costs in health insurance is dangerous, but may be difficult to achieve. Around the world, while American votes were being counted, reports came in that Russia was planning an all-out bombing of Aleppo and American bombs had also killed numerous non-combatants; another 200 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean, and “unattended minors” rushing our southern borders before winter were briefly held and recycled back to their violent Central American homelands. Latent racism has been publicly affirmed. We Americans have been distracted by the sense that our own place was becoming Hamlet’s “unknown country.” Still, the worst thing that could happen is that we would stop participating, that we give up and stop trying to make a different world – that I and other Catholic Christians. Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other believers and unbelievers of good will simply shut up and go away.
A few weeks ago in the NY Times Stephen Greenblatt urged people to vote by comparing Donald Trump to Shakespeare’s Richard III, but as Hillary Clinton, the first American woman really to have a chance at being elected President has been defeated, perhaps the more suitable and synchronistic image this week is the fact that actress Glenda Jackson, already in her eighties, is currently playing the leading role in Shakespeare’s King Lear, that remarkable drama in which the tragic fall occurs ab ovo in Lear’s decision in Act I, Scene I, to divide his kingdom. The rest is all denouement – the horrors of Goneril, Regan and Edmund, his own children; the innocence only of his child Cordelia and the reality that love can never be demanded, only given; the cruel blinding of Gloucester, the old faithful servant of the state; and the wise understanding on his son Edgar’s part of how close misery and mercy are. Jackson’s performance is said to be stunningly tragic as her Lear timelessly cries, “I have taken too little care of this.”
And so has our decision-making for generations taken too little care; we have all taken “too little care” of this, our little fiefdom, our America, like Henry V’s green island between two oceans, our little earth floating in space surrounded by naysayers that climate change is destroying us and we are destroying ourselves. I am not at all faulting Clinton or her campaign in this remark, but all of us. She ran a very good campaign on her deep convictions, wide experience, and sense of real politik, and I supported it and had hopes for her victory; those who are conducting post-mortems on the election by looking for lacunae in her campaign are barking up the wrong tree. The election was not rational, and they will not find a rational explanation.
Nevertheless, while we wait to see which actions the new President and our inactive, hitherto grid-locked Republican government take and what unity they actually create, we who have had some hopes and expectations dashed must continue to reposition and to work. For me, the Gospel line about falling into the ground and rupturing, dying, has new relevance. Something profound in American hope has been put aside, has begun not only to fall but to die; yet this falling and dying need not end all hope. I like the fact that Senator Tim Kaine, introducing Mrs. Clinton for her concession speech, quoted Faulkner that we are beaten but not “whoop’t.” I think of this moment as an event wrapping up decades of American history into a seed that falls into the ground, promising to bring about a new growth, a transformation, especially in the rising generations, but only if we go deeper. We have to sink our roots into something deeper than the liberalism that has shaped our whole lives. I think of philosopher Simone Weil and her vision in L’Enracinement, or “the need for roots” as she developed a plan to unite a divided France after World War II. Our humanism must be born anew within a mystery of faith no matter what Mr. Trump decides – something more along the lines of Pope Benedict’s insights in Caritas in Veritate, still uniting hard work and prayer. And we will be born afresh, if necessary “one and by one,” as Ezra Pound once wrote about huntsmen returning without quarry, or two by two, finding people of like mind even if of different belief, “wherever two or three are gathered.” Underground, this new seed dies and takes deeper root and grows secretly. Watch for it. Join it. And above all, appreciate the leadership of that most civilized human being, Barack Obama, who at this very moment is giving the good example of leadership and helping to place the transition of power in a good direction.