Following the election of Donald Trump as our next President, I think I understand a bit how some Americans felt when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. They had a lot of fears about what might happen. Would he take away everybody's guns? Would he impose sharia law? Would he round up all the white people and put them in concentration camps?
Today, many Americans have fears about what the Trump presidency could bring us. Will we build a huge, expensive wall on our southern border? If Mexico refuses to pay for it, will we invade them? Will Roe v. Wade be overturned? Will the ACA be destroyed? Will anything useful be put up in its place? Will we ignore climate change warnings? Will we have another go with trickle-down economics? Will we ban Muslims from entering our country? Will the Muslims who are already here be deported? Or harassed? Or attacked? Will civil rights for women, people of color, and LGBT folk be reversed? Will anyone who isn't a white conservative Christian be safe living here? (I could keep going, but I'm not here to rewrite the same list that has already been written a thousand times.)
Eight years in, it's clear the fears of 2008 were unfounded. After Trump, will all of today's fears seem overblown?
An important difference: the fears in 2008 were largely fed by overactive imaginations and the fear of a group of people, used to being in charge, feeling like their privileged status was being threatened. Today, the primary source of the fears is Donald Trump's own mouth.
Okay. Everyone who runs for President makes a lot of sweeping statements and says they're going to do all sorts of big things, and make all sorts of big changes. Everyone who gets elected finds out they can't really do all those things. Or maybe sometimes they already knew those things weren't possible, but thought throwing them out there would be a good way to get votes.
So should we take all of Trump’s campaign rhetoric with a grain of salt? Given that the Republicans will now be in control of all three branches of the federal government, we probably shouldn’t dismiss anything out of hand that isn’t physically impossible.
So should we burrow down inside ourselves and live meekly, hoping not to attract attention? The potential for injustice being done to a huge number of our fellow citizens demands that we must not.
So should we move to another country? Attractive as it may seem, that would also be abandoning our fellow citizens, and we would probably just be trading one set of problems for another - it seems like demagoguery is pretty popular in a lot of other parts of the world right now, too.
So should we grit our teeth in dread and fear and just hope to survive until Trump’s time is up? That seems like a pretty unpleasant and negative way to spend the next four to eight years.
So should we try to sabotage whatever Trump puts forth? After watching the Republicans in Congress spend eight fruitless years doing that to Obama, I really don’t think it’s the right response.
So what SHOULD we do?
During Obama’s time in office, I was constantly puzzled by the approach taken by many of those who feared what his presidency might mean. They seemed to actively root for our country to fail, and took many actions to try to make sure it would happen.
They seemed to feel it would be better for the country to fall apart than for them to have to face the possibility that they had been wrong. Maybe I’m weird, but assuming I’ve got everything right all the time just isn't how I think.
On the contrary - I’ve become comfortable with the knowledge that I’m wrong quite often. And in the aftermath of this election, it’s been revealed that a great many of us were very wrong, about a great many things.
I would much rather find I’ve been wrong about what Trump would do to our country, and find that it instead does well under him, than have my fears “vindicated” by our country going down the tubes. And now Trump has the chance to prove me wrong. I’m not very hopeful that he will, but I want to keep that possibility open in my mind. I could be wrong.
While we’re finding out, I think we should do our best to accept the reality that is in front of us, and not be sore losers. Protesting the results of the election may feel cathartic, but it isn't constructive, and it isn't helpful. The election happened, the results are in, and now it's time to accept it and move forward.
But we should also do our best to make our voices heard if we feel something isn’t as it should be. We will need to be more vigilant than ever in watching out for the least among us and those who stand to be marginalized or persecuted, just in case Trump meant what he said during his campaign...or whether he didn’t, but those who took him at his word feel emboldened. (If the first few days following the election are any indication, they’re definitely feeling emboldened.) Perhaps donations to charities that look out for minority groups are in order. Perhaps we should actively look to make and strengthen friendships in these potentially endangered groups, and let them know we support them.
And we must remember that the friends and family members we know who voted for Trump are still our friends and family. We still need them, and they still need us. It's okay to disagree with them, even be angry with them, but we can't stop loving them. We have to live and work together as a society, and that's hard to do if we forget to love one another.
I’ve still got a lot of fear, a lot of dread, a lot of doubt about the future, but I want to be brave, I want to be positive, I want to find ways to move our country forward. As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, Donald Trump is going to be our President, and we owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Mr. President-elect, you have your chance. Prove me wrong.