Interesting times

This week has been interesting. Chinese-curse interesting. Like the curse says, we are living in interesting times, and the events of this week leave me wracked and raw. It isn’t only that my candidate didn’t win – although that hurts – it’s that the meanness that this  campaign season has brought out seems to have no bottom.

Election campaigns are always negative and divisive: the very nature of the enterprise brings out the most competitive instincts in all of us. Candidates are typically people with strong personalities and deeply-held opinions, and the closer they get to the finish line, the more ruthless they become. That’s ugly but normal. At the same time, it is usually the case that once the race has been won and lost, there is a sort of reset button. People stop insulting each other and, at least for a time, they speak of reconciliation, unity, and patriotism. The loser concedes the race and encourages his or her followers to support the new president. We lick our wounds and move on with our lives.

This time it seems different. The level of nastiness and name-calling has not abated, and despite both President-elect Trump’s and Secretary Clinton’s calls for unity, quite the opposite is playing out. The day after the election, which just happened to be the anniversary of Kristallnacht, shop windows were broken and swastikas spray-painted alongside Trump’s name in Philadelphia. In sleepy old Wellesley, some frat boys sped around waving a confederate flag and intimidating folks. Even the banter on Facebook has been just mean. From friends I’ve known a long time, whose politics differ from mine, I’ve witnessed racist slurs and been baited and teased. Although not everyone has acted this way, many have chosen to, “go low.” The loss is more than an office.

I keep hearing people whose politics are like mine saying that we live in a bubble. It’s easy to think – whether you’re in Newton or Ann Arbor or meeting in the ether – that everyone in this country sees things as you do. This week has taught me how wrong and dangerous it is to be lulled into that notion. This great fractious nation is teeming with opinions and feelings and fears. The way others see the world is as real to them as the way I see it is real to me. I share none of the principles that the most vocal Trump supporters are espousing, but I must acknowledge their humanity and attempt to see others as deserving of basic rights…just as I wish that they would see “the other” as themselves.

What to do about it? I wish I had a five-point plan. All I have is a general notion that we – all of us – need to overpower the hatred with kindness. We need to take the social risks, talk to strangers, smile at people who scare us, go where we don’t belong, defend those who are being intimidated or persecuted. We need to break the bubble before it breaks us.

Today is Veteran’s Day. We know the consequences of allowing disagreements to escalate into violence. We must make different choices. We have some terrible healing to do, and the work waits.

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