During the last two elections, I got semi-bloggy-famous with a post about respecting my mother’s wishes that I not talk politics, especially on social media. And until now, I felt completely comfortable in that position. I saw it as my way of meeting two personal philosophies I strive to achieve: being kind instead of right, and putting people before ideas. Now I see that I cannot sit quietly in the name of being polite. So I stop that today. Actually I stopped that yesterday. I am not part of the solution if I stifle progress in the name of protecting feelings. You have been warned. Feel free to hit that big orange “x” at the top of your screen now, and while you’re at it, head on over to the “unfriend” button on Facebook. Because I’m not arguing with you, and if you’re even a little bit surprised at my leanings, I’m about to further disappoint you. I am finished silencing myself in order to avoid disagreement. I am right to grieve on behalf of (as a Trump Train Facebook friend so eloquently put it) the butthurt. (For those lucky few who don’t know: This oh-so-classy term is used when someone perceives another to be needlessly offended.)
If you’ve hung around to this point, I thank you.
The results of Tuesday’s election were a game changer. Although it’s tempting, I’m not going to dig too much into my personal feelings of disappointment and disgust because it would sound like a pity party and because the goal of this post is not to talk about my own feelings. What I am going to try to do is use my personal experiences and reflections to hopefully supply a little clarity for those of you who struggle to see what the BIG DEAL is. Because it is a BIG DEAL. And we are right to grieve.
I do not go out of my way to influence my children’s opinions. They choose their clothes, their music, their movies (within reason), their books, their shows, etc. When the election became daily conversation, we watched the news, I answered their questions, they came to their own conclusion. We believe in facts and science and logic and respect, and my husband and I let these values guide our answers. I was proud of them for thinking for themselves and not giving in to the serious conservatism that comes with living in the Bible Belt. After all, they reached the conclusions pretty much on their own. So when I walked in the kitchen and disappointed them with the news Wednesday morning, it was as if I had slapped them in the face. Their hopefulness turned to expressions of hurt and bewilderment which broke my heart more than any other parenting moment to date. At the ages of 9 and 10, they were learning that life is full of disappointments, democracy is hard, and sometimes we lose. Such a bitter pill to swallow. My children deserve to grieve.
But I gained even more insight through Talan and Tessa’s reaction that morning. The reality is that my children are privileged, and it’s not because of anything I’ve done; it’s just the way things are. They’re white, healthy, middle class, Christian, straight (I guess? We don’t talk about it.), natural born citizens. This country embraces my children without question. So if they, who are far from marginalized, can give me that look (the look would have broken your heart too) upon hearing the results of the election, imagine how the news punched minorities, poor people, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, disabled people, and immigrants. (Not to mention women who feel victimized by Trump, but we’ll go there later.) What breaks the heart of the already brokenhearted – the least of these – should break our hearts too. What further defeats people who wake up defeated every day of their lives already should break our hearts. So I keep picturing that look from the people I love most in the world and imagining that, for the least of these, the election result was salt in a lifetime of festering wounds…and I grieve.
Later I was fixing my daughter’s hair when she asked, “Is it because she’s a girl?” And I looked at the sweetest, strongest, smartest girl I’ve ever known and I told her the truth: I think it is. It is 2016, and I think voters eliminated a qualified candidate because of her gender. How do you explain that to a 9-year-old you want to feel empowered about her future? How do I say that gender undoes the years of public service which would have made her a great leader? How do I say that we’ll eagerly elect 44 crooked male politicians to the office of president, but the second a crooked candidate is female, we refuse? Right before my head began to spin, a calm came over me. I knelt down and told my daughter a mouthful of things that came from somewhere unknown: That she can ALWAYS do what she sets her mind to do. That she should ALWAYS demand to be treated equally as males. That to say God can’t do good things through Donald Trump is to limit God’s power and plan. That the right thing to do now is to be kind to her classmates and to pray for our country. I spoke this wisdom to her, and I did so not really knowing if I believed it for myself. And for that, I grieve.
So I moved on from my kids at home to my kids at school. I will admit that my concern going into the day was that I would cry in front of students, but I quickly realized that my worry over showing weakness would be secondary to the need to let them grieve. I didn’t expect they would enter already near tears. (It is worth pointing out that my first period is all female, half are lesbian, two are black, and one is a Mexican Immigrant.) Apparently some election related gloating resulted in their being called derogatory terms which insulted their race, culture, sexual orientation, and even their gender. They were rightfully angry. What do you say to a brilliant and beautiful girl who’s just been called the n-word for the first time? How do you explain to a student who speaks little English that America is her country too? When a country elects a candidate who normalizes this kind of speech and treatment, people are right to grieve.
Later in the day, I had similar discussions. Though I did my best to distract them with a technology-enhanced and engaging activity, the conversation naturally steered toward their concerns. I realize teenagers are dramatic, but if you pay attention, they’re also willing to voice fears and vulnerabilities that adults tend to mask. A Hispanic student told me about her grandmother, a pillar of strength for their family (and also a documented citizen), who was unable to get out of bed that morning because she was exhausted from crying over extended family who may be deported. A boy worried that without the current healthcare, his father would not get the medical attention he needs to control his illness. A girl’s neighbor told her that her mother and mother’s girlfriend will surely lose custody of their baby, her little sister. Their pain was real and understandable….and it broke my heart. For my students’ hopeful attitudes about their families and futures, I am right to grieve.
After both Obama elections, I was quick to remind conservatives close to me of the limits of presidential power. And I am reminding myself of those now. I have lived through some pretty lackluster administrations, yet I have managed to find both success and happiness. I do not think the world is over when Trump places his hand on the Bible (a book I’m inclined to believe he cares little about), and swears to uphold the constitution. I do not think I will lose much. But I do think some people stand to lose a lot, to be hurt, and to need to grieve. And if I am who I say I am, I should hurt for the hurting. I should not sit quietly without attempting to understand why they grieve. I should cheer for the underdog and speak up for the voiceless. Because that’s being both right AND kind. That’s valuing both ideas AND people.
Women have the right to grieve when they picture the glass ceiling shattering, but it doesn’t happen. Women have the right to grieve when a man who values their existence little enough that his sexual harassment accusers are in the double-digits is put in power. Black people have the right to grieve when their country elects a man who was proven to discriminate based on race. LGBTQ people have the right to grieve a Vice-President who would rather send them to conversion therapy than accept their differences. Muslims have the right to grieve when, in a country built on religious freedom, a candidate demands they be treated differently because of how they worship. Disabled people have the right to grieve over a president who mocks them openly. Immigrants have the right to grieve the very real possibility that their family members could be sent away or prevented from ever joining them. Taking a moment to acknowledge the sting of loss of progress is justified.
So, yeah, some people (myself included) are a little bit butthurt. Personally, I hate losing, but even more, I hate my children’s disappointment, and I hate seeing people I care about heart-broken. On their behalf, I grieve. I’m grieving. And I’ll get over it because that is the nature of loss and grief. But I’m done being politely quiet about things which matter to people I care about and to me. Because things such as decency to the least of these should matter to everyone. They are a BIG DEAL.