Since the U.S. presidential election, I have been bombarded by Facebook messages and emails from friends and family overseas. Their question is simple: “What the hell is going on over there?”
I take a deep breath, mutter “damned if I know,” then, once I’ve composed myself, I respond. Really, they just want to know we haven’t all lost our freaking minds over here. While I can’t totally assure them of that (some of us have, in fact, lost our freaking minds), here is what I say:
- We didn’t all vote for this guy. In fact, the vast majority of us didn’t. Hillary is up nearly 2 million votes in the popular vote, and over 41% of eligible voters didn’t vote. Turnout was low in this election due to several factors, not least of which is the systematic Republican voter suppression tactics, made far worse by the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
- Our Electoral College system is archaic and needs an overhaul. Any system created as a nod to slave-owning states has no place in modern-day America. And any system that makes one state’s votes worth more than another’s is also unfair. And I’d say that even if the system was benefiting my “side.” Because it’s un-American. We’re working on it. Democracy is imperfect and ever-evolving.
- We’re resisting. No, we haven’t lost our ideals of being the beacon of justice and fairness. If there is one silver lining to this horror show, it’s that this is galvanizing people of conscience to act. It’s not enough to talk about it at cocktail parties. It’s time to get out and do something.
- History is cyclical. The election of the first African-American president was highly threatening to some people who are uncomfortable with the rate of change in America. Those of us old enough to remember the Archie Bunker days know that some people react badly to an evolving America. (Or an evolving anything). And America has radically changed in most of our lifetimes. From the civil rights movement of the 1960s (which caused the Democrats to lose white southerners almost completely, a situation that remains today), to the changing roles of women, to the loss of manufacturing jobs that white men in certain areas relied on for a middle-class life, to globalization, to technological advances, change is breakneck. Sometimes what people want when change feels too fast is to go back to what’s familiar. Unfortunately, what’s familiar to some people is racism and nationalism. But, as David Axelrod said, those people are on the losing side of history. Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, in one of my favorite quotes of all time, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We’re bending toward justice. It’s painful and slow, and sometimes there’s a recoil while some people pull away. But there’s absolutely no question we’ll get there. It’s the way of the United States, even if it’s hard to see it in this moment. I’m still optimistic and more energized than ever. That’s what I tell them, and that’s the truth.