I've had a lot of unexpected conversations with people who are fellow cancer survivors this week, and the feeling that so many of us have now is similar to the feeling of waking up the day after a cancer diagnosis. It's terrifying and it's sad and you have no idea how it's going to affect your world, but you know it ain’t gonna be pretty. It stops you cold, forces you to quickly recalibrate your life, to get really clear, really quickly on what's important, on what matters most. It’s also an invitation to embrace radical grace, the kind, as the song goes, that both teaches your heart to fear and the kind that ultimately leads you home.
During the election there was much hand wringing (I know, because I was doing it too) about how Trump’s campaign was fueled by anger, by fear. “Why so much anger?” we asked. “Why so much fear?” Now we are the ones who are angry, afraid. And they ask of us as they watch our brothers and sisters protest “why so much anger? Why so much fear?”
The last few days have been a haze for me, as for many. As I said to a conservative friend earlier today, “before I felt like America was cracked. Now I feel like its broken.” But the more I read, the more I reflect and try to understand, I know that many others – on the left, the right and in the middle - felt like America was broken for them long before Tuesday. 60+ million voted for Trump because they think it’s broken. 12 million voted for Bernie Sanders because they think its broken and 90,000 voters in Michigan who turned up at the polls and voted for everything but president – 9x the number needed to swing Michigan and thus the election -- think it’s broken.
At my darkest moments the divide between our world views has seemed like a black hole, with a gravitational pull so strong that not even light could escape it. As my momma once said to me by way of explaininng how she processed the realization that she would forever be confined to a wheelchair, “it’s these moments, when you take all of the things that define you – all the labels and descriptions and ideas about yourself – and you throw them to the wind - whatever you’re left with, whatever sticks and stays true in the toughest, loneliest moments, that is the essence of you." This election has felt like a rending. It also an invitation to dig deeper to understand the true essence of who we are as Americans.
On the surface it seems easy – even logical given our history and our current reality in many corners - to blame the racism, sexism, xenophobia that Trump actively sought sow and trade on along his scorched earth path to victory at any cost, roadkill be damned. And to be sure the fallout from that is real, is rearing its ugly head as we speak, and we cannot underestimate or downplay it. But there are plenty of other data points that show that, as with with most important things, the answer is much more complicated.
What is clear is that so many of the 60 million people who voted for Trump on Tuesday were sending a loud, dissonat message -- we don't belive this country is working for us. We don't know if we have a place here. This week that message sounds gut-wrenchingly familiar.
The hard truth of this election, is that from things like affordable college and the shrinking middle class to the opioid epidemic and the Flint water crisis, we've let down many of our fellow brothers and sisters -- and they just let us know that in the most jarring way. Even if indeed white privlege played a role in the outcome, the way that concepts *manifests* in individuals is wholly personal. We need to acknowledge and to be willing to engage in radical listening if we are deeply understand it. To understand it (instead of just judging or being scared by it) is the only way I know to make the constructive and real change that creates the America we say we want.
Just like those who now tell the protesters to “get over it and move on” - to put this in one box without taking the time to listen and understand, is to miss an opportunity (perhaps our only real opportunity) for healing. I’m talking not about the fake brand of unity that we are told is supposed to come in the package with the transition plan and fancy parties, but the real kind born of dialogue, radical listening and human to human connection.
Several days before the election I posted that regardless of who won, that we had hard work ahead of us, because no one leader can save us. That is still true, and that is the good news, because the flip side is also true -- no one leader can destroy us. The comparisons I’ve read to Nazi Germany, are not just hysteria – they’re history – the kind that repeats itself if we don’t learn from it. But Hitler did not destroy Germany on his own. He did it by catalyzing anger and fear. And now that we are the ones who are afraid, let us, as Cory Booker so eloquently put it, not become the thing we despise. That we are afraid makes sense – there is much at stake. It’s what we do with that fear that will determine whether or not we slay the dragon or are consumed by it. As Elizabeth Warren said “The American people voted for change. It’s our job to give direction to that change.”
To those who are denouncing the protesters, let’s face it – this unrest was coming regardless of who won. We know because Donald Trump and his supporters said as much. (Remember the Milwaukee sheriff who said it would be “pitchforks and torches time” if Trump lost? This is the same guy who is calling the protesters anarchists and now wants a cabinet post.) And the fact that unrest was inevitable is kind of the point, because at its heart this election was never about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This election has always been about people on all sides who have the same fear – what if America no longer has a place for me? That feeling is real and it needs to be honored - on all sides.
The good news is the very force that feels like it is now sowing our division, is the key to our coming together, because it has also shown what we alreaday know to be true, that at the core we all want the same things -- to feel safe and loved and like we belong to each other.
Our outrage in Trump’s victory hinges on the now-shaken belief that we are a country that embraces everyone, that seeks to build bridges not walls and that fosters understanding not fear. We can’t simultaneously hold that belief and dismiss half of the country as evil or ignorant simply because we don’t agree with them. That view is rooted in fear, the same fear that drives suspicion of Muslims and Syrian refugees, that would send gay teenagers to conversion therapy, that yells “lock her up”, that spray paints swastikas on churches.
There are terrible things happening right now by those who feel emboldened by Trump’s victory. We can – we must – speak out against those things, to be allies and advocates. To speak and up and keep speaking up and donate our money and our bodies and our time. But if we ultimately want to get to a place of real healing, we must be able to do that while acknowledging that the all 60+ million Americans who voted for him are not simply deplorable
In our anger we must not become what we condemn. We must now, especially now, be brave, to undertand how we can, as Cory Booker said, "stand in the breach." To quote one of my faves, the writer Anne Lamott ”courage is simply fear that has said its prayers.” To put it another way, courage is fear that has found its grace.
Walking our talk is hardest when we are afraid. It’s also when it’s most important.
Donald Trump has done much to sow seeds of fear and hatred. We do not owe him the benefit of the doubt. We do owe it to each other. Say it with me: You matter. You belong here. Grace will lead us home.