President Tr--. Nope, I still can't make myself say it. Maybe in a year or two. Or four.
Like 48% of American voters, I'm... let's go with "disappointed" by yesterday's election results. This wasn't how I expected it to play out. I thought that we had better taste in leaders, I really did. But, there it is. The votes are in and our candidate lost. I was upset, I didn't sleep well, and I was a little distracted at work today, but the sun still came up and the second Civil War didn't start overnight.
From the angry and overwrought messages in my social media feeds, I'd say that quite a few other people are upset, too. Since I've carefully curated my feeds to eliminate views that I find obnoxious, rude, or crass, I can safely say that 99.9% of people like me -- I kept one conservative friend from college to prove that I'm open-minded -- are pretty pissed and scared right now.
I already asked everyone to take a deep breath last night and take a break from the hysteria, but what do we do now?
Like my middle-school health teacher taught me to do in any emergency, let's start by taking stock of the situation:
First, this isn't the Apocalypse. I checked the book of Revelations, and while it does describe the coming of a horny monster, this isn't the monster you're looking for. We'll have to wait about 3 1/2 years to be sure, but I'm pretty confident that Donald Trump's election isn't one of the Seven Signs. Besides, when the Antichrist comes, my sources tell me that he'll run as an independent.
If you watch TV or open Twitter or Facebook, it's easy to believe that the United States is about to be overrun by toothless Neo-Nazis waving Confederate flags and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. It isn't. Forget what the news is telling you: they profit from drama. "Election Apocalypse" brings in more viewers than, "Huh, the other guy won." Forget the cartoonish Trump supporters you met on The Daily Show, Full Frontal, or Last Week Tonight. While they are real people, they still live on the fringes of society and don't accurately represent the 47% of America that voted for Trump yesterday. Normal, sane people don't make for good comedy, so they ended up on the cutting room floor.
America is stronger than one bad President (see also: Andrew Johnson, William Henry Harrison, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush). It's a country specifically designed to contain the whims of its leaders, with a series of checks and balances specifically designed to render a tyrant impotent (and if there's anything that should give you a cheap giggle today, it's the thought of anyone calling Donald Trump impotent). America isn't dead. It isn't even on life support. It's working exactly the way it's supposed to work, every year in November. We just lost this round.
Second, America is not divided into armed camps. While the colors on the electoral map are a binary red or blue, Americans inhabit a wide continuum of ideas, beliefs, and needs. Why, in New York City alone you can come across an ultra-rich, fascist-leaning banker, an immigrant street fair, and a Gay Pride parade on the same day. We are a rich tapestry, and when you get past the voting labels, most of us live right in the mushy middle of political and social beliefs, somewhere between the pot-smoking socialists and the Alt-Right Nazi trolls. Where we fall on a given day has a lot more to do with our personal experience, family situation, and how much sleep we got last night than it does with a hard-line political agenda.
Twitter and Facebook are not America. This may be hard to remember right now, but humans are far more complicated than 140-character shouted slogans or snarky comments. As a white, Christian male from the West Coast who married into a Jewish family and raised two children in New England and Colorado, I can't possibly express the complexity of my feelings on gay marriage to you through a tweet, not even if I made it a series of five and used emoji. Neither can you, on any topic, and neither can anyone else. Social media is great for generating sound bites and sharing cat-based memes, but it's a terrible forum for complex discussion. It boils all of us down to simple caricatures and it enforces a binary worldview. Don't mistake it for reality.
Despite what your fears are telling you today, Trump's election isn't a validation of racism, xenophobia and misogyny. It isn't a sign that 47% of the people you pass on the street are closet Nazis. It's a sign that, when given the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, more people chose him. That's it. Your monster is someone else's lesser of two evils.
“Happiness at the misfortune of others? That is German!”
You can choose to sit on the sidelines, smugly waiting for Trump to fall on his face and embarrass himself in front of the world. Indulging in that kind of schadenfreude ("Happiness at the misfortune of others? That is German!") might make you feel better in a stomach-twisting way, but it's missing the point. When Trump fails, we all fail. When he looks stupid on the international stage, the United States looks stupid. You can say, "Don't blame me, I voted for the one in the pantsuit!" but how does that make you any better than the poor losers who complained about President Obama for eight years? It just makes you a progressive poor loser.
Let's put that energy to better use. Instead of spending the next four years putting orange wigs on Grumpy Cat, let's start making America a better place, regardless of whose face we put on the front of the package. But how?
Step 1: Stop typing and start talkingYou can have the rest of the week to keep commiserating with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but after that you need to step away from the screen and start talking to some real people. And like it or not, some of them are going to have to hold different opinions than you do. Here's your assignment: go out and find 5 people with varying viewpoints and have a conversation. Ask who they voted for. Don't roll your eyes and leave if they say, "Trump." In fact, as part of this assignment, you must find at least one Trump voter and ask them "Why?" And not a whiny, self-righteous, breast-beating "Whyyyyyyy?" that really means, "How could you?" I mean a curious, open "Why?" that says, "Help me understand." Because you need to understand why someone is different from you and what motivates them. You also need to see that, beyond the superficial differences, you have more in common with them than you realize.
Now, if you come across a Green party voter you can whine at them all you want. Those people are just idiots.
Step 2: Now, listenIf you thought Step 1 was hard, you're going to love Step 2. Now that you've started the conversation, shut up and listen. No, really: Shut. Up. Don't prepare a response, don't start mentally gathering statistics that prove that whatever the other person is saying is the most asinine idea since Tesla first licked a Van de Graaff generator. Don't judge at all. Just listen and try to understand. Seek common ground. Ask yourself, "If I were in this person's situation would I think or act any differently?" This isn't about being right or changing someone else's mind. This is about understanding what motivates them and recognizing that, while the results might differ, our drives are almost always the same.
Wait until they're done and they ask you what you think. Now it's your turn to talk. Be open. Lower your defenses a little and explain what motivates you, what led you to think the way you do today. Talk about your grandfather who fought in the war, or the other one who refused to because he believed that all life was too precious to waste. Explain what drives you and what "making the world a better place" means to you.
Be human together.
If you try this, there's a small chance that you might stumble across someone in that small percentage of the population whose beliefs are absolutely abhorrent to you and any rational person. It's OK to move on. You don't have to try to understand everyone.
Step 3: Stop worrying about what's out of your control and start owning what is
Donald Trump may turn out to be the worst President in history. He might repeal the Constitution, start a nuclear war, and declare that immigrants are now a legal food source for rich people. More likely, he'll turn out to be an old guy with a huge ego who got in way over his head and was kept out of trouble by the career politicians surrounding him. No matter what happens, though, it's out of our control. We don't work in the White House and our Twitter rants aren't fixing anything. Worrying about it, obsessing over worst case scenarios, and feeling sick and angry also aren't doing anything but hurting your health. In the immortal words of Adele Dazeem: Let it go.
You can't control Donald Trump. I'm not even sure Donald Trump can always control Donald Trump. You can't go back in time and change the results of the election. You can only look ahead, look around, and see what needs to be done right around you.
You're concerned about women's rights? How many women in your town are living below the poverty line? Buy them some groceries or offer your skills to help them find a better job.
You're concerned about racism? How many families near you have members of a different race? Invite them for dinner, cheer alongside them while your kids play sports together, or ask if they want to grab a beer.
You're concerned about social justice and poverty? Well, the holidays are here and I guarantee that a lot of kids aren't expecting any gifts this year. Go grab all of the gift requests off of the local community giving tree and go on a shopping spree for someone else's family this year. Bring your kids and say, "This is how we share with people who have less than we do." Volunteer at a food bank, your church, or a homeless shelter. Don't have time? Give money so that someone else who has time can do the work. You still get partial credit.
You think people are ignorant? Educate them. Think they're afraid of the wrong things? Show them love so they don't have to be afraid. Think they were fooled by a charlatan? Show them how a real man behaves, win or lose.
If you're afraid of the dark, don't yell at the night. Turn on the light.