Post-Election Musings: I (We) Will Survive!

Well here we are at Day Three post-election – and what a time we’ve had! Well here we are at Day Three post-election – and what a time we’ve had! The artwork in the first photo – the front cover of the Nov. 14 New Yorker – reflects the day-after dismay of many. And of course if you look closely, the guy has a briefcase between his well-polished shoes which gives you a hint – I guess – at what he’s “praying” about. Or does it? The meaning could go either way. Clearly that artwork was created before Election Day because even though the date is Nov. 14, it arrived in my mailbox on or about Election Day itself.

Now I didn’t stay up to the bitter end in the wee hours of Nov. 9 to see the country go down in red. No, I assumed – as most of the pundits did – that Hillary would win. So I had turned off my TV around 10 or so and gone to sleep.

Day One

I woke up around 5:30 a.m., turned on my bedside radio, and was shocked … yes, shocked! … to hear the phrase, “President-elect Trump.” I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned. Speaking of which – the second photo below is a copy of the well-known artwork of Edward Munch titled The Scream – depicting an expression of absolute horror and existential despair.

So I went about that day – actually keeping an appointment in Williamsburg, distracting myself with a bit of normality – still stunned at the election results and beginning to piece together the implications of this turn of events. I had lunch at my favorite local hangout in Williamsburg – Jimmy’s – and while there, watched Obama’s speech to the country live on my little iPhone propped in front of me, followed by a video of Hillary’s concession speech. Back to Richmond that evening, and out to dinner with friends who were equally dismayed by the vote.

The Day After Day One

That is to say, Day Two – began with reading a meditation by my dear South African friend and theologian John de Gruchy – who posts weekly meditations from his home in Volmoed (where, you may remember, I visited and wrote about in a two-part blog post – here and here) last spring). This one was titled What Makes A Nation Great? In it he starts by observing that the world has always known that the U.S. is a divided country – split right down the middle. He says, “The United States is no more United than Great Britain is Great.”

And of course he notes what we all know: that Trump – in order to garner support – whipped up his followers by drawing on the “dark side” of American life – stirring up class division, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and so on. And as John was quick to say, Hillary’s record of supporting wars, cozying up to the Wall Street banking elite – all the flaws that were also laid bare by Bernie Sanders – are common knowledge. (Truth in advertising: I voted for Hillary because I was raised on the Real Politic of Reinhold Niebuhr, realizing that one of the two was going to be president and at least I shared some of her social values. I also recognized her genuine flaws that extended back decades. But I felt the alternative was worse. Real Politic at work.)

Summing up, John writes, “Clinton may have been a more sophisticated and experienced president, but both candidates put America’s interests first at the expense of others when it comes to global politics. This may be natural for all nations, but it often leads to an imperial America answerable only to its own electorate, to make decisions that are detrimental to global interests … on the environment, fair trade, and in the Middle East.”

My friend concludes that our country is not just divided down the middle (Republicans vs. Democrats, Trump followers vs. Clinton devotees), but it – like most nations around the world, frankly – is divided by values that cross these obvious division lines. And so he asks the question: What makes a nation great? The “size, the power of its military, its victories in battle, the religiosity of its citizens, its sporting prowess … the glitz and glamour of political rallies, its ability to dominate global trade to its own advantage, its gold reserves and the dollar in which it trusts?” He answers his question by affirming the truth that to become great, “you have to do the right thing. A great nation is one in which justice flourishes, and does justice in relation to other nations.”

In his The Nature and Destiny of Man and Moral Man and Immoral Society, one of Richard Niebuhr’s take-home points is that as individuals we can reach for Transcendent Love, responding to God’s pull in our own lives, and then together as a community we can at least strive for justice for all, with a vision of God’s Kingdom inspiring us to become better selves.

There have always been populist uprisings in our country’s history. (See my photo of Steve Fraser’s book in which he eloquently lays out the history of such movements within our body politic.) And we are in the middle of one now. So it might behoove us to pay attention – not to the crazies, not to the hate-mongers, not to the David Duke wannabes – but to those blacks, Latinos, and out-of-work whites who voted for Trump – to pay attention to what has driven them to this point in our times. As naive as it sounds, to listen to one another, and try to understand the genuine hurt that exists beneath the surface of our communities.

Day Three

At my breakfast table this morning, I reached for a book of poetry by Mary Oliver and providentially read one poem titled The Fist. In it, she paints a vision of heaven without fists – good thing for us! Otherwise the fist of heaven would have been shaking at us for thousands of years … “at the dull, brutish ways of mankind. … But instead, the heavens have shown forbearance, patience, willingness to let us continue!”

To hear,
little by little,
the voices –
only, so far, in
pockets of the world –
suggesting the possibilities of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.
(Mary Oliver, The Fist, Thirst, pp. 46-47)
One of the voices this week came from a friend of John’s – Mark Braverman, a U.S. citizen who reflected immediately on the meaning of this election in an email to John which John quoted in his meditation. Braverman winds up affirming – despite all his anguish at the election outcome – that “we will continue. The world is a beautiful place, life is strong. We are strong. Life shines through with its persistent, stubborn beauty, its generosity of love and joy and healing …”

As Mary Oliver says, see how the Fist opens to us all. God help us to respond to His invitation.

One last note: In case the title’s reference to Gloria Gaynor left you stumped, here’s a link.