This week history was made in America. You were old enough to know what was happening, but perhaps not quite old enough to completely understand it. At the most basic level, America did what America has done for more than 230 years: we elected a new leader. Over the next several months, leading up to your seventh birthday in January, 2017, our current president and our next president will work together to ensure a smooth transition of power. It is a hallmark of this nation, and it is steeped in the idea that the power of our government derives from the people, not from the government itself.
That is, ultimately, what was at the heart of this election: the people. We are, and we have been for some time, a nation divided. That, more than anything, is what this election has shown us. We are divided not just along lines of race and ethnicity, but along lines of social status, along lines of economic status, of job status, lines of religion and along lines of place of birth.
Half of us voted to elect a woman as president who espoused the ideals we wanted to see: equality, inclusion, freedom. We voted for a woman who has worked publicly for most of her life to give voice to those who feel they have no voice, to helping others achieve the promise of America.
Half of us wanted change. We wanted to change the course of American government because we felt the government has either not done enough to help, or maybe thought it has done too much to help the wrong people. Those of us who wanted change wanted it so badly that we elected someone who is a radical departure from any president in the history of this nation, one who has no experience in governing but who has spent his entire life building on the wealth of his parents and grandparents, who in fifty years turned a million dollar loan and a fourteen million dollar inheritance into 3.5 billion dollars. In so doing they also voted to elect a man who has espoused xenophobia, racism, misogyny, bigotry, hatred, and violence, a man who has reached into our soul and plucked out our darker nature. Has appealed to the dark side of humanity, the side that fears irrationally, the side that looks out their window and doesn’t see friendly neighbors but instead sees a place to put up a fence.
It’s not the America I thought we lived in. My America has always been one of inclusion, one of unity and solidarity. Has been a nation that appealed to our better natures. What this election has shown us, has brought into the open, is that those better natures are easily subverted by fear, by anger, by hatred.
That is where we are disconnected. For the half who are like me, and like your mother, who voted for the first woman president, the election of Donald Trump gave legitimacy to the views he has espoused, to the racism and bigotry and xenophobia and misogyny and bigotry that were, in many ways, center pieces of his rhetoric, and partly center pieces to his policy positions. The election of Donald Trump means that half of America gave a rubber stamp to hate and anger and fear. Whether half of us agree with every thing he said or not, whether we agreed with the hatred he espoused or with the vitriol he fomented or with the violence he condoned, half of America endorsed it with our vote. We said that racism and sexism and bigotry are all okay in modern America, violating not only some of her laws but more importantly the values that America holds most dear: equality, inclusion, freedom. Half of America feels like they won, but the other half feels like America lost.
This is where it gets hard. Because half of us believe the other half is wrong. We feel we have no common ground, no connection, and as such we are full of fear. Fear because we see the other half for the first time, see it out in the open. The division is palpable, is real, as real as warm breath on a cold night. Both halves blame the other, and both halves fear the other.
I have learned through my nearly forty-five years of life that the only way to fix something it to acknowledge it exists. This election brought these divisions out into the open, exposed it for all of us to see. So now we know, and now we can do something about it.
That doesn’t mean ignoring it, turning the other cheek, or hiding from it. It means acknowledging it without fear, without judgement. It means recognizing that the anger was there before, the bigotry and hatred and xenophobia.
Xenophobia is a fear of the other, and what this election has shown me is that we are all the other. The other is us. The only way out of this fear and anger is to rise above it, to “go high” in the words of Michelle Obama. We must not be sucked into despair and sadness and resentment. We must rise above the vitriol, rise above the bigotry, rise above the rhetoric and be a bigger people, be the better half. Both halves. When we see someone bullying someone else, when we see someone shouting hate speech, when we see racism or bigotry or sexism, when we see personal insults over policy discussion, when we see politics and pandering rise above common decency and out shared sense of humanity, we must speak.
We must stop pointing fingers, stop passing blame. For too long we have blamed each other, blamed the other side of the political aisle, blamed the other party, blamed people who didn’t look like us or didn’t talk like us or didn’t pray like us. We pointed fingers and blamed “them” for what is wrong. We blamed others because the truth is harder to stomach. It is not easy to look inside and see that the change we want to see in the world lies not in changing the world but in changing ourselves.
We must work towards demanding unity. Work towards finding common ground, work towards a future in which we all see that we are all the same, that blacks and whites and browns and people of all races and religions live here together in peace and prosperity and freedom because that is what American promises. More than that, it is what humanity promises. Now we know that future isn’t here yet, so we need to be patient and work towards it.
And that is what I must do now. That is my task for the present: to see this country both for what it is—acknowledge it without judging it—and work towards the future I want by being the future I want for you. I will not let fear or anger or hatred for an unnamed “other” cloud my thinking, my judgement, or my determination.
History was made in America this week, but America is not history. It has a bright future in you, and you have a bright future in it. Because you, my wonderful daughter, are brilliant and brave and bold and you can do anything, including one day, perhaps, be president.