Disbelief, anger, helplessness, anxiety. Does that describe your week just past? It certainly describes mine.
Given the nature of this blog, you might expect me to be dismayed at how poorly the number-crunchers fared in forecasting the outcome of this presidential election. But no, I don’t care about that.
While Tuesday night’s events were still unfolding on television, and long before any protestors took to the streets, voices of reason were already reminding us not to despair. I held onto three examples of these calm voices, because I figured I would need them. I would like to share them with you.
The first came around midnight, when it was starting to dawn on me that things were going to end badly:
“When voices of intolerance are loudest don’t be despondent — be emboldened, and even more committed to values of diversity and inclusion.”
That was a tweet from Richard Florizone (@DalPres), president of Dalhousie University, where I work. His words seemed too oblique when I first read them, somehow falling short of the righteous outrage called for by the occasion. But with the distance of a few days, when my head was cooler, I appreciated that this message was just right.
The second helpful piece of advice was a quote by French philosopher and political activist Simone Weil (1909-1943):
“Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it.”
Such a succinct antidote to our instinct for knee-jerk retaliation! This quote came to me from the perennially wonderful Maria Popova (@brainpicker), a Bulgarian writer, blogger, and critic living in Brooklyn, New York. Her blog, BrainPickings.org, features her writing on culture, books, and eclectic subjects.
And finally, a simply-worded tweet from fundraising professional Lindsay Brown (@DonorScience) in Boston completed this circle of advice with a call to action:
“Now more than ever, it’s apparent to me that the work we do in the nonprofit sector is massively important. Let’s keep up the good work.”
This is only a sampling of the many calm and wise words spoken in recent days, but they will suffice. What do these three sentiments, taken together, advise us to do?
First, we are reminded that the Trump victory has not nullified the values of diversity and inclusion, nor impeded our ability to promote them. We need to understand why he was elected, and by whom (including millions of former Obama supporters who failed to vote), and to address root causes of political extremism. We need to understand, not denigrate, in order to clarify what we need to do to.
Second, whatever we do we should avoid making problems worse. Don’t move to Canada! As much as I’d love to have you here (in the unlikely event that Canada enables such immigration), please know that your country needs you now more than ever. For those outside the U.S. who feel like disengaging from that country via a boycott (which was my own initial response), please reflect on the consequences of feeding isolationism. And rioting in the streets against the outcome of a free and fair election can have no legitimate result. During the campaign, President Obama repeated the refrain, “Don’t boo — Vote!” Today we can say, “Don’t boo — Act!”
Third and finally: Never doubt that our sector is a vital player in creating a better world, despite not being directly “political”. Higher education and a host of nonprofits can build up and defend what Trumpism wants to tear down, and can help create diverse societies to combat the irrational fear of the Other that helps elect leaders like Trump in the first place.
The bad news is perfectly clear: that a radicalized faction of white extremism has just elected a dangerous, unpredictable leader animated by ethnic nationalism and xenophobia; that a nation that could have made history by electing its first woman president instead chose a man who abused and denigrated women and boasted about it; that a nostalgia for a bygone decade before civil rights has accompanied an irrational belief that advancement of ethnic minorities threatens the white, working-class status quo; that a country with international commitments to fight climate change has just elected a leader who doesn’t even believe climate change is a real thing.
This sudden clarity — this stunning proof that we have not made nearly as much progress as we thought — should be strong motivation not to despair but to get right to work.
I don’t have a prescription for what anyone needs to do. It depends on where you are, what tools you have to work with.
Do we have work to do at home? I’m willing to bet your daughters are prepared to take on a sexist world, but what are you telling your sons in order that they will help to create a new world?
What can we do in our neighbourhoods? Can diverse communities be brought together to interact? Can we replace mere proximity to the Other, which leads to tension and irrational suspicion, with familiarity and interdependence?
What causes and projects can we support with our dollars, our time, and our expertise to increase the ability for marginalized people to participate in the economy, to protect the environment, to support reputable journalism, to extend access to education, to promote people’s rights, to fight cynicism about politics and government?
There is so much — no one can do it all. I am still thinking about my own “what now?” list, and I know I have to choose wisely. But like voting itself, it is the accumulation of millions of individual actions that lead to dramatic overall results. Let’s agree that it is no longer enough to hold certain opinions, no longer enough to share the right memes on Facebook, no longer enough even to believe that our duty stops with voting and paying taxes.
As Hillary Clinton said the day after the election, “… our Constitutional democracy demands our participation. Not just every four years, but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Making our economy work for everyone — not just those at the top. Protecting our country and protecting our planet. And breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.”
These words can apply just as well to citizens of the United Kingdom, where far-right xenophobia prevailed in the Brexit vote, and to citizens of Canada, where extremist politicians are already talking about emulating Trump, and to people anywhere else in the world who are free to speak and act.
Disbelief, anger, helplessness, anxiety. Yes, there’s a time for all of those things. But let’s not subside into resignation, division, hopelessness, and cynicism. Instead let’s each of us look at our immediate surroundings and figure out what we can do. And then, roll up our sleeves and get to work.