Almost two months have passed since, for me, the unimaginable and deeply worrying election of Donal Trump as the President of the United Staes.
Anyone who has followed my blogs will know that my attitude toward Trump's candidacy passed through several phases. In hindsight, it began as an all too superficial, even condescending view of Trump's campaign as a vaudeville act--unpredictably and bizarrely entertaining.
As the campaign wore on and Trump's Republican opponents fell by the wayside, I began to worry and to get angry. Not only about the substance of what Trump proposed--for example deporting 11 million people; making people's religious affiliation a binding criteria for entry to the U.S.; rejecting the truth of climate change; making blustering pronouncements which if carried out would risk a crippling trade war. Even more I rejected the crudeness of his manners, his meanness, his disrespect for others and his encouraging such disrespect among his followers, and his self-evident disregard for the truth.
As I wrote the day after the election, "what troubles me to my bone is that the character he has lived throughout most of his life and the character and values he has expressed in the campaign are so utterly antithetical to what we seek for ourselves and we teach to our children". They would have immediately disqualified him for employment in any corporation or institution with which I have been associated.
The almost two months which have passed since the election have not changed the reality that we are facing a period of great uncertainty, more uncertainty than I can recall at any time of my life. Uncertainty domestically and in our foreign relations.
Trump's Cabinet and other key personal appointments are, with a few exceptions--General Mattis and Rex Tillerson for me personally-- not reassuring. While the "proof will be in the doing" he appears to be choosing people with little or no experience who hold policy views (e.g. on trade, health care, the environment, etc.) counter to what I believe, based on history and the realities as I see them, are right for the American people and the world.
Trump's continued ignoring of "truth" (e.g. claiming he won in a "landslide" and that there was widespread voter fraud); his continued non-stop "tweeting" on subjects of great consequence (e.g. relations with China) and triviality (e.g. objecting to his treatment on CNN and "Saturday Night Live"); his making contrarian pronouncements on policy which remain in the province of our sitting President (e.g regarding Israel), all continue to portray a temperament unsuited for the Presidency of the United States.
Yet, with all this, I will not permit myself to be held back by a lack of hope for the future.
Fortunately, I found it easier to pursue a hopeful path in the midst of the promise of the recent Christmas Season.
One foundation of my hope for is that Trump shows no evidence of holding deep ideological commitments. Above all else, he is committed to win. That is what drove his campaign and that is what has driven his business life.
I believe if he faces reality and listens to the best of his advisors, he is going to find that "winning" will require significant changes from policies he advocated in his campaign, including on health care, trade and immigration. We already see some signs of this. Only time will tell.
More important to my hope for the future is my knowledge of the history of our country. We are fortunate to have a system of checks and balances. Most of what happens in our lives happens as a result of action at the State, Local and Community level. In the end, the American people as a whole usually figure out what makes sense.
We have been through periods of great threat to and attack on the values which lie at the foundation of our Nation's creation and continued existence. We have overcome them. We have not abandoned the values enunciated in our Declaration of Independence even though we have honored those values imperfectly and inconsistently.
We lived uncomfortably and tragically for more than a century with the institution of slavery before we abolished it. We witnessed the reversal of the short-lived, still- born conferral of Freedom on Black men and women during Reconstruction. We lived through and survived the depression and emergence of Hitler of the 1930s; the Cold War with its threat of nuclear annihilation, a threat which remains with us today. We survived the McCarthy era and the continued repression of Blacks which gave rise to the Civil Rights movement which continues today.
Still, while it has been written that knowledge of history can protect us against what can be the fatiguing, hope- draining "hysteria" of the moment, it cannot allow us to become complacent. For it is true: history, especially in the short and medium term, rests on a proverbial "knife-edge". It can go either way. And which way it goes is very dependent on individual leadership, for better or worse. Imagine if we had not had Lincoln or Churchill or Gorbachev or Nelson Mandela when we did. Recall the damage done by President Andrew Johnson or Hitler or Stalin.
Still, Hope alone is not enough. As General Gordon Sullivan aptly titled his book--"Hope is not a Method".
We have to put Hope into ACTION in our own lives.
And we have to demand that others act in line with the values of compassion, justice and respect for the dignity and Freedom of all.
I draw on these words of Langston Hughes in his poem, "Freedom's Plow" for inspiration:
Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don't be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don't be weary, soldier!
The plan and pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO
To the enemy who would divide us from within, We say, NO
To all the enemies of these great words,
We say, NO!
No one has articulated our individual responsibility and opportunity to ACT more passionately than Robert F. Kennedy in his timeless charge to youth in South Africa a half century ago.
"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends out a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep done the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Finally, during this Christmas season at a service in Cincinnati , Ohio, the Pastor of my church, Reverend Paula Jackson, also challenged us to act on Hope:
"We welcome the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Christmas for revolutionaries is not a nostalgic recall of idealized images. It is not a superficial emotional response. In bleak days, we seek a blessed hope to motivate us; a glory that shines in the darkness and keeps us moving forward. We don't need to feel better. We need to change the world.
Beware of accepting the grace of God. You will need to share it with people who are not like you. It will make you a revolutionary in a dangerous time. You will not be able to make peace with injustice. You will not be able to harden your heart. You will run, and lift your voice, proclaiming Glory to God, on earth peace to all people".
Yes, as we begin this New Year of 2017, we face a period of great uncertainty and challenge. But we cannot allow that to deter us. We have been here before. We must continue.
As I have said to myself many times when facing a challenge or set back, "I need to move forward with courage and determination to get done what needs to be done in my circle of influence; to do what I believe is right".
In the immortal words of Winston Churchill in this famous six word speech: " Never, never, never never give up".