Healing Our Democracy After the Election

hart2After the last 10 days of the is election season, women who’ve been assaulted are experiencing PTSD, and many more people are experiencing anxiety. People on both sides are fearful of the outcome of the other candidate succeeding. And yet, on November 9 there will be one person with the most votes/electoral college delegates and we all need to find a way to live together peaceably.

This is all the more challenging because of the large number of people who are expressing racist and misogynistic views. People are discovering that people that they planned PTA fundraisers or studied the Bible with are expressing feelings and values that repugnant: defending sexual assault, or saying that all Muslims are a threat. As Dylan Matthews at Vox news said, “What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast changing demographics of the country.” (Vox, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they are actually saying,” October 15, 2016)

So I began searching for ideas for how we can begin the healing. We need to find a way to build empathy bridges over the chasm. But if you cast the other people as feminazis or racists, then this is difficult to do. Indira AR Lakshmanan’s article “Surviving an ugly campaign: Advice from the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu,” (October 13, 2016 The Boston Globe) offers the perspectives shared in their book, The Book of Joy. “…when people vote for candidates who promote fear and anger, it’s because they’re afraid, hurting and suffering…fear, anger, hatred exist in our own minds and hearts as well, not just ‘out there.” If we realize that we can have compassion for what’s underneath the vitriol.”

Her parting words are wise, “The key to finding our way back to civility may be to recognize that that anger is out there and face it, head on. Our political, spiritual, and media leaders have an obligation to speak, listen and find common ground–even with those that are slinging the last dregs of mud.” One way to do that is to find a softer way to think of people who hold white nationalist views. I’m not suggesting we tolerate hate speech, but unless we can find a name for what’s underneath the vitriol, we cannot be empathetic.

EJ Dionne offers a way to do this in his Washington Post column (October 14, 2016). The late Rev. Andrew Greeley called those who love the particular patch where they were raised or that they have adopted as their own as“neighborhood people.” Being “citizens of the world” is not high on their priority list, whereas it is a point of pride for “cosmopolitans”.

Dionne says, “I suspect that many of Trump’s backers are neighborhood people. Economic change, including globalization, is very hard on them. It can disrupt and empty out the places they revere, driving young people away and undermining the economic base a community needs to survive. Liberals and conservatives alike insufficiently appreciate what makes neighborhood people tick and why they deserve our respect. Liberals are instinctive cosmopolitans in the citizens-of-the-world sense. They often long for the freedom of big metropolitan areas. Free-market conservatives typically say that if a place can’t survive the rigors of market competition, if the factories close, the people left behind are best off if they find somewhere else to live.” And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand how for a neighborhood person such a sentiment would feel hostile.

Finally, we are all in this democracy together. As tempting as a divorce may seem, we need to find a way to restore the respect and care for one another that makes our community at large work. I am reminded that the opposite of love is not hate it is disdain or disinterest. That is an emotion we cannot afford to indulge.

 

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