Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Coming to Grips with a Trump Presidency

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite Martin Luther King quotes these last two weeks since Donald Trump has been elected as President of the United States. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Dr. King said, “but it bends towards justice.” Part of the length that Dr King spoke about involves setbacks. In 2008, our country elected its first black president, Barack Obama, and reelected him in 2012. In 2016, we have elected Donald Trump. Two steps forward, one step back.

This country has made incredible social strides in the last century — woman’s suffrage, the right for little black kids to sit next to little white kids in school, and then for normal-sized blacks to sit next to normal-sized whites at lunch counters. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. A woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own body and anyone’s right to marry whomever they love are formal laws of the land. The list of progress we’ve made is long, and its achievements were hard fought. History is replete with examples of progressives dragging conservatives kicking and screaming into the future, and these examples bear that out. We are a better society because of the progress we’ve made as a country.

More than half of Americans today, however, are stumbling between numbness and apoplexy. And that is OK. Traumatic experiences, especially when they are so unexpected, require time to process. It is a journey similar to losing a loved one as you travel through the seven stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and finally, acceptance). There is no timetable or order to these feelings, but they should be recognized and allowed to come and go at their own pace. It will be different for everyone, but to try and rush through any of them would be a disservice to yourself and will not allow the healing process to run its course over what appears to be a mortal blow to our body republic. Heal, and then stand back up to continue fighting for the progress we’ve collectively fought for as a country for the last 240 years.

But the state of our nation is strong. The evergreen genius of our founding fathers created a democratic structure that has withstood over two centuries, birthed from a violent revolution, survived a civil war, unshackled itself from the economic dependency of slavery, fought two world wars and became the world’s sole superpower after toppling the evil empire of the Soviet Union.

Donald Trump will not destroy our country. But we are wise to heed to words of one of the men whose face is carved on Mount Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt. “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country.”

Irrespective of your disbelief and/or anger, it won’t change the fact that Donald Trump will be our next president. As Americans, it is our duty to support him and hope he succeeds because his success is now inextricably bound to ours. But he should be held to no less a standard than any of his predecessors have been, and it is our responsibility as his constituents to hold him accountable for his words and deeds. It’s who we are as a people, and it’s why our democracy has thrived and will continue to survive.