Out of Many, One
This is Schuyler Miller writing. Some of you reading this message talk to me every day. Some of you haven’t heard from me in years. As I am not on social media, I don’t often broadly share my thoughts. But I know many of you are hurting and anxious. Others are somewhat hopeful the most recent gamble will pay off. For whatever it is worth, I want to share my perspective and ask you to spare a moment of your time to read it.
Tuesday, Donald Trump won the American presidency. Almost half of America has voiced their discontent by voting for a political “outsider” who will challenge the status quo. The other half of America is fearful for the next four years of Trump’s potentially radical approach. But I believe this moment does not signal insurmountable devastation. The sun will rise tomorrow.
This election has confirmed the existence of a structural. systemic schism in the American people — one that has existed to varying degrees since the founding of the Republic. Many Americans care about their party, policies, and ideology. But if citizens don’t start caring about bridging the of Americans across this country, surprises like Trump will await. Extremism will rest around the corner. And people’s view of the Other — evil, corrupt, morally degenerate — will deepen. The division is real.
“If a man is gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is not an island, cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.” — Francis Bacon
In the span of 3 years of my youth, I lived in both New York City and rural Missouri. In the former, I learned about poverty, sexual orientation, racial tension, and inequality. In the latter, I learned about fear of big government, working class struggles, and lack of mobility. I saw two versions of America over 10 years ago, and I have seen them regularly since.
Now, the tug of war between these two Americas has crystallized. Democrats have pushed Republicans too far and have neglected the “forgotten man.” Republicans have insulted minorities and dismissed the unfair treatment and systemic inequality that Democrats decry. All Americans feel that their rights and principles have been infringed: some of their feelings are legitimate. Anti-Trump voters are right to fear Trump’s discriminatory riffs and “whitelash.” Pro-Trump voters have valid concerns about their jobs and their values being hijacked by the powerful, as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton affirmed in their post-election statements.
Nevertheless, with either result, America was going to face a scared or angry people: one at a “blunt and incompetent” bigot and the other at a “corrupt and secretive” elite. Most people have not met either candidate, but some have judged these leaders to be a devil or a hero. Many hated both.
“‘People are scared…What makes me sad is that we’re devolving into tribes. I thought we were all the American tribe.” — Jane Beard, featured in WashPost
Trump is “like that doctor with the horrible bedside manner…He tells you 90 percent of your arteries are clogged. By being blunt, he’s saving your life.” — Chris Love, average American, featured in WashPost
Donald Trump may yet be a unifying President and we may find ourselves in a more favorable world in the coming years. Regardless, why settle for a country with such discord? Why settle for a nation in which difference in human experience breed vastly different perspectives that threaten each other? It is evident that American voters were casting their ballots in two different worlds. Can we come together? I think so. Will it be difficult? Yes.
Pushing caricatured partisan policies is not the only solution. Perhaps I am wrong and change in the midst of screams from both sides. Maybe we will come together through a crisis or people on each “side” will experience a series of events to change their minds. In fact, we have overcome such division before, albeit in different forms. But the only way it might last is through active work to build relationships across perspectives and to find common ground. It is certain that many good people have been partisans. However, our perspective should be to see people as more than their ideologies. Without a systemic and cultural change, the divide will remain.
I know a lot of you are having a hard time taking pride in this country. At many moments in this election cycle, I have too. I did not want to believe it. I did not appreciate Donald Trump’s rhetoric or behavior. But I still respect the people who did. Most of them, I believe, came from a good place — albeit a different one. I did not like Clinton either, but I respect my liberal peers’ perspective.
This election spotlighted our tribalism. Right now, for many, is a time to grieve and process pain. But the way forward is to try to immerse ourselves in difference while seeking to confront injustice. I know this is not easy. In fact, you are right to be mad at some people. There are people who are egregious and extreme (i.e. racist and sexist). It seems impossible to understand them, to talk to them, and listen to them. But consider where they come from. Try to empathize with their story. I hope to discuss how to do so with you.
Throughout my life, because of my background as a white, well-off, educated man, I have recognized my privilege. I am so sure that in my imperfection, I have disagreed with each of you in some way. But my experiences with difference, from inner city New York to the heartland of Missouri, have helped me to appreciate perspective and to push through discord as much as possible. Commitment to your cause is important, but it rarely succeeds without new bridges. The tug of war today forces us to think about what is best for ourselves amid our group. People are naturally self-interested, at least to some extent. But if you weave your interest into that of others that are different from you, your disposition is empathy, not judgement. Your first step is love, not hate. I am not asking you to compromise your principles, but to try to see the good in people. It is hard to do so, but I hope you will try.
A few years ago, a group of my peers came together to form the Democracy Network, a group aimed at bringing together people from all places, political backgrounds, and perspectives. We released a video, asking people to recognize the division in our country. But frankly, it did catch fire. There wasn’t enough interest. People were too focused on party and policy. Or people were disengaged. And while we had vision, we didn’t have a clear direction and a solid plan.
Unexpectedly, Trump turned out a range of voters who felt rejected in our current democracy and who were looking for a solution to their problems (though it was the lowest turnout since 2004). If Trump executes his promises, I do not believe we will find it. Many citizens are scared. Many people do not want to listen or truly engage. Going forward, I hope to come up with a plan to act or an initiative to join to address the division between communities across the country. We need to form and build on real relationships. We need better social norms that embrace discourse. Regardless of how the Republicans govern, a movement to work through scars on all sides is needed. No matter who you voted for, each of you has value. I want your perspectives, challenges, and help. I want difference.
This country is not defined our President, whether a man or woman. It is defined us — a network of citizens that struggle and overcome, sometimes together and sometimes apart. We have overcome division before. My hope is that the future will produce greater, and more lasting, unity. That people of many backgrounds will embrace each other’s humanity. That we will remember, as we smile and cry, our national ideal: E pluribus unum — out of many, one. This motto first described how America formed one unitary country. It is critical today that while we recognize each other as individuals, we focus on what brings us together, not what tears us apart.
This country is not defined by one man or woman. It is defined by a network of citizens that struggle and overcome, sometimes together and sometimes apart.
This is my humble perspective. What is yours?
Join here or write me. Please share.