Thoughts on the 2016 Election

As I write this, the time is 11:17pm PST on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016. Of the 270 electoral votes required to claim the presidency, Donald Trump has accrued 247; Hillary Clinton, 215. Though all votes have not yet been counted, the winner of the election is becoming increasingly apparent.

Earlier this evening, I was watching Stephen Colbert's live election night coverage. What was clearly designed to be the celebration of a landslide victory for women's rights and a progressive future turned instead, slowly but inexorably, to a solemn dirge.

Panelists wept, audience members sat in stunned silence, and Colbert found himself—for once—bereft even of the spirit to make light of the increasingly likely prospect of a Trump presidency. Instead, he chose to wax poetic on the nature of what has been a particularly aggressive, divisive, and exhausting election season - the toll it has taken on us as a nation, and the toll it will continue to exact for years to come.

Yes. This is a dark time for the United States. I submit that perhaps we as a community of 324 million people are no longer deserving of the title - we are not united.

I admit that I am fearful of the prospect of a conservative government in control of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of our federal government. I fear that, for the first time in my adult life, I am not a part of the political philosophy espoused by the majority of the people around me. And I fear that I am going to be held accountable for the thoughts and actions of people who look like me, whether I identify ideologically with those people or not.

But fear is what has led us to the situation we now face. Trump will be the next president of this nation not because he inspires hope in the electorate, but because he has so effectively preyed on their misgivings. Millions of Americans have felt fear, and have chosen to assuage that fear by electing someone they believe will attack those fears with single-minded dedication.

And yet, there are people in this country who have had to deal with the things I fear for their entire lives, and they are not weaker for it. This perpetual antagonism strengthens their resolve, gives them perspective, and hones their empathy. And so, I believe there is a way to trade fear for courage.

"As courage grows, fear abates; this is why kindness and brotherly love are a source of inner strength."^[Dalai Lama XIV. "Spirituality and Politics." Trans. Alison Anderson. Beyond Dogma: Dialogues & Discourses. Ed. Marianne Dresser. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 1996. 71. Print.]

We may all be rebels now, but we can stand united in the idea that kindness and decency are not a mandate from the government but an implacable component of our shared humanity. The things we as thinking, feeling people value about others are not things that a government can take away from us.

A few minutes before I sat down to write this, I was on the phone with a friend who offered the following observation:

“It is right to grieve for a better future no longer open to us, but I refuse to believe that the path ahead of us now is insurmountable."

The future we had hoped for is no longer an option. But it is up to each of us to carry on in the hopes that one day, we will share in the celebration we cannot share today. It is up to us to turn our fears not into anger and hatred, but into courage and a sense of compassion for others. It is a difficult task, but I do not believe that the country that once resolved its differences with civil war is now beyond the capacity for civil discourse.

We will continue to fight for the agency of our fellow humans. This much, at least, has not changed.

Tom Heinan