Monday, November 14, 2016

Identity Crisis

We are still suffering collective shell shock.  Even Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton didn’t expect this outcome.  Pundits and pollsters seemed so sure that we’d be talking about the historic election of a woman, a continuation of the last eight year’s progressive policies.  Hilary supporters looked forward to them, those who supported Trump dreaded them.  Now, with our expected world turned on its ear, we all are in sort of a daze; people like me in an extended funk, of disbelief.  While conventional wisdom expected the GOP to be in disarray and in need of a hard re-think, it’s the Democrats who find themselves in that position.  My own view is that we all, -- people in both parties, supporters of the victor and of the vanquished -- should be asking the very same question: who are we?  Moving from Obama to Trump, two polar opposite leaders, not to mention the mixed message of the popular verses Electoral Collage vote, throws us into a national identity crisis.

Perhaps you don’t agree, perhaps you’re convinced the “your side” knows exactly who and what it is.  I think that’s a big mistake and counter productive.  Some of what was brought out in this election should make us all evaluate, if not our individual values, but then the values of the body politic.  There are people on the streets of cities across the land marching in protest, expressing their displeasure but also, from what I can see, reaffirming the values that they think are integral to our identity.  They could be sitting home, licking their wounds of despair and indeed fear, but they want the new president and equally their fellow Americans to know that they won’t be marginalized by last Tuesday’s vote.

I have had some doubts about these demonstrations, primarily a concern that we will need them in the future to express opposition to specific actions taken.  We don’t want people to look at us and, to paraphrase Reagan, dismissively say, “there they go again”.  But I’ve been convinced by my son Jesse, who together with (his wife) Rachel marched on Saturday in New York, that there is good cause for public protest not merely private disappointment.  Donald Trump ran a hateful campaign or as Jesse put it, “…an openly racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic campaign, courted the KKK, and lied repeatedly to the electorate.”  The encouraged chant, “go lock her up” was, and remains, deplorable in a free society grounded by the rule of law.  This incendiary approach to a presidential campaign deserves immediate protest if only to remind those who voted for him, but equally America at large, of how wrong and dangerous it was.  Perhaps, as I said in my last post, not all of Trump’s votes came from those who buy into his campaigning and its very dark side, but its potential for danger is clear.  In New York City, Swastikas were plastered on some walls at the New School and in the midtown elevator of one of Jesse’s graduate students.  Days before the election, an anti-Semitic flier was distributed nearby me here in North Carolina.  Given his authoritarian rhetoric, not to mention the appointment of Stephen K. Bannon to a top White House job, we all should be deeply alarmed by these acts.

Not only Trump but the Republican Party has to decide who and what they represent.  They have opened the door and, actively or by standing silently by, to being seen as the “Save Christian Whiteness in America Party”, an idea embodied in Trump’s Make American Great Again.  Great again, certainly in the context of his campaigning, can be read as “when we didn’t have to share power and our jobs with The Other.  Perhaps that’s too strong a reading, but the burden of proof to correct it lies with the 2016 GOP.  They will have to define, perhaps redefine, who they are and what they believe.  Trump especially will have to articulate what his presidency means and set specific goal for the next four years.  He says he wants to represent all of America but, based on the campaign season, we’ll remain skeptical, even if hopeful, that he means what he says.

It is said that Clinton could not bring along the so-called Obama Coalition, and a number of analysts have, correctly I believe, suggested that it is an Obama dependent coalition.  The President has never been of the Democratic Party establishment.  His candidacy was insurgent from the outset and somehow he has remained largely separate from it throughout.  This is often attributed to his being standoffish, not socializing sufficiently with people on the Hill.  Perhaps, but I think more to the point, the establishment never came to Obama or more importantly transformed itself in wake of the rank and file ¾ the coalition’s ¾ wish for new blood, more like him.  In 2010 Democratic incumbents didn’t embrace their president they ran away from him.  They paid for it at the polls and we have never recovered.

When the party set about to nominate a successor, new faces in the Obama mode didn’t emerge or more accurately were suppressed.  Following the pattern (of both parties), the default was to crown the “next in line”.  That doesn’t suggest Hilary wasn’t and isn’t fully qualified.  But that built in routine gives us aging candidates representing perhaps not Trump’s yesterday but yesterday none the less.  Perhaps Democrats have to think about really becoming the party of Obama’s generation and younger rather than keeping on singing the same Happy Days Are Here Again nostalgic songs.  We need new faces, new approaches and we need to align ourselves again with some of the very people who out of desperation went for Trump.  Many among them should be our people.  In theory the Democrats are the party of the young, and of diversity, the party of the future.  We must more aggressively bring that natural constituency into positions of leadership, we need to hand over the reins and not speak for them but let them speak for themselves and indeed for us as well.

Larger America, Democrats, Republicans and independents, need to come together to find common ground or at least whatever common ground there is.  We need to listen, to understand that all our truths may not be their truths but that there are truths upon which we can agree.  We must separate tactics from beliefs and to understand what swords are really worth falling on, what core beliefs we must defend to the end.  Nations can and should stand divergent opinions, but to survive they also have to agree on what constitutes the common good, the place where we stand together.  Without that, no one will be able to stand at all.  Then we’ll truly be locked into an unending crisis of identity.

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