Here we are, at the beginning of a new year and just a couple weeks away from a new presidency. I feel like it’s time for me to gather my wits about me.
Because of the election, and because of holiday stress and other stress and a stomach bug that took too long to wind its way through my family, I feel like I floundered my way through the end of 2016. I was worried and anxious, wrapped up in the moment, unable to see my way out of it.
On the political front (the stomach-bug front is self-explanatory), my problem was that I didn’t know how to feel, or what to do, or whose side I was on. I’d had problems with both major candidates for the presidency, so I was set up to be disappointed no matter the result.
In my disappointment, it was easy for me to sympathize with the millions who were upset about Donald Trump’s victory. I saw (and continue to see) much potential for trouble in his presidency – corruption, injustice, dishonor, a further degradation of our political and civic culture, some very problematic public policy aims.
But I didn’t (and don’t) share all of the Trump-bashers’ fears. I think some are overblown. Others (anything having to do with abortion or Supreme Court justices, for instance) are not fears for me at all – they’re my silver linings.
And anyway, it just feels strange to sympathize with a side that keeps veering off course (in my view), from a focus on Trump and his eager supporters to an attack on conservatives at large.
Why must we choose a side and hold onto it so tightly?
During the campaign, of course, the “side” thing was taken to a frenzied, fevered pitch. Third-party voters like myself were told in one breath that we were essentially voting for Clinton and in the next that we were essentially voting for Trump. (The supposed beneficiaries of our votes aligning perfectly with our critics’ bogeymen.) Our votes – our actual votes – weren’t good enough. We either had to hate Trump enough to vote for Clinton or hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump. People seemed downright blinded by the binary.
But that was then, back when we were facing a black-and-white choice on a ballot. What about now?
No doubt, many will choose to continue carrying on this way. Some will think we owe allegiance to one side or the other. Some will think that any kindness or concession to the opposing side is a blow to their own. Some will think that their own side’s transgressions must be overlooked in the interest of some Important Ultimate Goal.
But I think this attachment to the binary is the absolute worst course we could take as Americans, as lovers of democracy and liberty and justice. No one wins in the downward spiral of suspicious, spiteful, partisan politics.
I think liberals should choose their enemies carefully. Targeting Trump’s foibles and the dangerous rhetoric of his most devoted supporters is one thing – but painting everyone who voted for him as racist or misogynistic or daft will only lead to liberals’ isolation and ineptitude.
And I think conservatives (we conservatives – I’m one of them) should embrace our near-historic strength* as an opportunity to free ourselves from the power of our bogeymen. Hillary Clinton is gone. President Obama is on his way out. It’s time to stop gauging Trump against Clinton/Obama and start gauging Trump against the good and true and just.
It’s time to stop looking over our shoulder and start looking forward.
If we don’t have an opportunity now – *with the presidency, majorities in both houses of Congress, and a majority of governors’ mansions and state houses – when will we have it? Now is the time to work towards our ideal, not to react to someone else’s.
So at the beginning of this new year and this new presidency, I have one primary goal for myself and one big call for others: Let’s stop feeling an obligation to choose sides. Let’s embrace our freedom. Let’s not hurry the downward spiral.
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