Handling Extreme Disappointment

Some people call it resiliency, Vera. Basically, it’s how a fighter reacts when he takes a hard punch to the midsection. Does he fall to the canvass? Stagger back and stall? Or take the blow and resume the fight?

Yesterday, I felt like I took a hard punch to the midsection. I’m talking about the election of Donald Trump to the office of the presidency of the United States of America. But I took the punch much better than I thought I would. I’ve felt worse after a heartbreaking post-season loss by my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates or my Nittany Lions football team.

The results of the election didn’t come as a shock. In fact, your grandmother had insisted all along that this was how it would turn out. She insisted there was no way America would elect a woman as its president.

I thought she was wrong. I suppressed memories of exclusively male and male-dominated corporate board rooms, church pulpits and legislative bodies, both federal and state. I embraced the illusion of meritocracy. I allowed myself to be fooled.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that your grandmother is a very smart, insightful person. She spots things I miss. And she sees in people things I don’t see. Moreover, she had experienced life in ways I hadn’t: as an extraordinarily talented, smart woman, who personally saw and felt the brunt of sexism and bigotry.

It’s the primary reason she didn’t want girls. She was delighted she gave birth only to boys (your dad and Uncle Andrew). That said, she is truly delighted to have a granddaughter. The world has changed much since she was your age, and it’s still changing. Yesterday was a reminder that more change is needed, but it’s reasonable to think change will be forthcoming.

It’s not that I think Ms. Clinton’s sex was the only factor in her loss. I don’t. In fact, it may not have even been the dominant factor. There is no way of knowing. But I’m positive it was a significant factor. I’m positive because I’ve seen sexism and bigotry at work over the years in the workplace, in our churches and in our communities. It’s real. Very real.

In my judgment, however, the driving force was economics. I’ve written about this in prior posts. Suffice it to say that there have been many losers as a result of globalization and technological advances, breeding deep discontent in our nation. The impact of the 2008-09 financial crisis only served to exacerbate the situation. People no longer think their children’s lives will be better than theirs. Inequity has deepened. The fruits of our collective effort have gone principally to the rich and those with capital, and less to the working class and those lacking capital. An awareness of the unfairness of our systems has come to light. Understandably, people are angry. They wanted change. And so they voted for change.

We’re fortunate: our system affords opportunity for change in a peaceful, orderly manner. People aren’t forced to take to the streets. Or to dust off the guillotine.

As I’ve mentioned before, I thought we would come out as losers no matter which candidate won. I didn’t like either of our choices. But that matters not today. We had a choice, and we made it.

This morning, I have no idea what our new president might do — or the Republican Congress, unleashed from the threat of a presidential veto. But I’m not particularly worried about it, mainly because they have a mandate from the people so, if they carry through on their promises, they will be satisfying the wishes of the majority — well, not actually the majority, but of those who controlled a majority of the electoral votes.

Democracy isn’t a perfect system, but it’s the best we have. Yet it only works if the losers respect the results of elections. Over the past 25 years, I’ve witnessed the consequences when a large segment of our population — ironically, a segment that routinely touts the Constitution — was unwilling to accept the results of elections. It resulted in dysfunctional government, and helped breed the culture of disrespect we have today. I have no desire to play that game. Despite the fact I believe many of voters made a terrible mistake in judgment yesterday, I fully respect their decision.

The hardest part of this election wasn’t the candidates or the outcome; rather, it was the new-found awareness, for me, that hatred and a culture of disrespect now permeates our society more than I had ever realized.

A dear cousin of mine attacked me personally yesterday, suggesting I may have engaged in criminal conduct (considered myself above the law) merely because I supported Ms. Clinton over Mr. Trump and wasn’t willing to assume criminality without evidence. Wow, I thought. We had grown up together. I had thought we liked each other. Our dads were brothers. I loved her dad (now deceased) and love her mother (still living).  Sure, we disagreed on politics, but I never thought she’d attack me in this way.

I now realize that’s what America has become. And it makes me sad. Very sad.

But I’m not about to hold a pity party. Or fall to the canvass. Rather, this morning I am making a commitment to work harder to help make this a country that will afford you, a woman, the same rights and opportunities that I had growing up. And I will work harder to ensure government works for the people, and not only for the wealthy and political class.

We live in a great country, of that I have no doubt. It’s a country that has fought over ideas its entire life. Fighting over ideas is a good thing (in the rhetorical sense, not with violence). Fighting dirty with each other because we don’t agree on everything isn’t. And neither is sacrificing reason at the altar of ideology.

I will never refrain from speaking with someone just because they don’t agree with me. And I hope to God I never impune their integrity simply because they hold a contrary political view.

But neither will I surrender.

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