I’m not going to pretend that I “woke up” this morning to the unbraced-for shock of the U.S. Presidential Election’s outcome. I got sick when the numbers started coming in last night. I went to sleep—or tried to—when things were fairly well “called”. I got up approximately 3 hours later for work, and the outcome had not changed.
Except, I think that maybe I changed.
Because when I went to bed, I was terrified. I was numb. I was heartsick. I was viscerally ill. This election wasn’t just about me and the things I need to get by that would be threatened at best, and demolished at worst under the campaign promises of a Republican presidency; this was about morals, and dignity, and people, most of all—close to me, dear to me, far from me, unknown to me—who were being outcast and degraded and whose lives were being placed in jeopardy, in one way or another.
And while I’m still in the midst of feeling all those things—and quite strongly, at that—I woke with a sense of my convictions and the things that drive me still in tact; and I realized instantaneously, and with no small amount of relief, that those things had not been diminished by the outcome of an election. In fact, they’d been amplified.
As a historian, I’ve watched as we drew often-apt parallels between the Republican rhetoric of the election, and the actions and visions espoused by Mr. Trump in particular, with those of Hitler and the Nazi Party. And so this morning, I’ve seen my share of posts and rants and fears that so Germany went nigh a century ago, so now will go America.
But even if the parallel holds for the rhetoric, or the strategies: we’re forgetting something. We’re forgetting the most important thing. Because we think we’ve lost love to hate, today. We think we’ve lost kindness to wrath, today. We think we’ve lost the good in what we stand for as a country to violence and hate-mongering and xenophobia and all of the horrible -isms that plague our society and divide us ever further where we need to unite. And I won’t kid you: all those things have been dealt a mighty blow—mightier than many of us have ever seen.
But we’re wrong that we, as a country, lost to hate, today.
Elie Wiesel, as so often he did, said it simply and rightly: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
And if the numbers, if the reactions, if the exit polls and the feelings tell us anything, it is that we are not indifferent. We are passionate, and we are frightened, and we are angry, and we are heartbroken, and some of us are relieved where others are devastated, some are celebratory where others are sobbing, some are hurting—and some are causing hurt.
If that makes you angry, if that makes you ache, if that makes you cringe and want to fix it, then there’s the clincher, isn’t it? Neo-nazis may have endorsed the candidate that has won the presidency, but we are not the Third Reich. And because of that, we have to reflect on what fears and what disenfranchisements and what roots of inequality and seeds of hate have taken such firm hold in our nation to cause such vile and hateful divisions. We need to look beyond the superficial, and take nothing for granted, and create dialogue where we’ve long found it easier to turn a deaf-ear. We need to dig in with both hands and do the hard work.
We need to protect each other. We need to recognize what this division has done to our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens. We need to reach out and assist immediately with those who are grieving this morning, who are fearful, who are suffering or devoid of all hope, and remind them that they matter, and that there’s light left, and that we’re still here. We need to see the hate and the rage and the vitriol and sit with it a while, so that we can understand where it comes from, so as better to help heal where it stems from. We need to remember that at the end of the day we are all human—and if remembering that is a trial, or a seeming impossibility, we need to work harder. We need to work to figure out how to stop being being so scared that we’re defensive, that we’re ignorant, that we make enemies amongst ourselves and cut rifts that shake our cores. We need to figure out what went wrong that parts of our nation have ever felt that they need walls, physical and metaphorical.
But what we need most, is to remember. We are a nation of many nations. We are a people of many peoples. We are a generation being faced with a challenge, as every generation is, and we are being called to rise to it and shore this nation up at its fractures to be stronger, to be better. We are an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t go the way we expect, but that’s what makes them groundbreaking—for better or worse.
Where this experiment leads is going to be in our hands, now. And if we remember only one thing as the first step, as the driving force, as the first niggling thought before we remember everything else ahead of us, expected of us, needed from us—we must remember this:
We are not indifferent.
And as long as that remains true, we have a path to forge onward.