Like you, I was stunned and dismayed by Donald Trump’s victory in this week’s Presidential election. You may well wonder: How can an incurable optimist like me — who believes in human progress, in democracy, in the promise of America, in the notion that everything happens for some good reason — explain an election in which the democratic process handed the reins of government to a bullying, egomaniacal, juvenile, demagogic con man who possesses no discernible government qualifications?
The prospect of Trump in the White House, surrounded by Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Steve Bannon, and unchecked by Congress or the Supreme Court, is indeed frightening. For our immediate family it raises the possibility that my grandchildren might one day be sucked into a foreign military misadventure for the gratification of some politician’s ego.
Our family is relatively secure compared to all those marginalized groups who are far more vulnerable to Trump’s rabble-rousing, not to mention citizens of other more fragile democracies now threatened by dictators emboldened by Trump’s bad-mouthing of our global alliances.
But we are really talking here about something each of us learns to cope with every day: adversity. To be sure, some people can be destroyed by adversity; but others are strengthened by it. We’ve already witnessed one benefit of Trump’s adversity: Thanks to his outspoken misogyny and bigotry, millions of those targeted by Trump’s rhetoric have summoned the courage to stand up and fight back. That awakening will persist long after Trump has gone the way of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Opposing the opposition
I do not fault Donald Trump and his allies for our nation’s current predicament. Nor do I blame the intransigent Republicans in Congress for thwarting much of President Obama’s agenda, or the right-wing media, such as Fox News and talk show hosts, for twisting our public political conversation. They have simply done the job of the opposition in a democracy.
As Walter Lippmann astutely observed, ultimately all government — whether democracy, dictatorship, or monarchy — is just organized opinion. And as Lincoln perceived, in a democracy the key element is persuasion. Whatever their flaws, Trump and his supporters did a better job of organizing public opinion — of persuading — than Obama and Hillary and their supporters did. (If Congressional Democrats had displayed similar intransigence during the Bush administration, our whole calamity in Iraq might have been avoided.)
It is up to those of us who oppose Trump and what he stands for to do a better job of persuading and organizing public opinion. Increasingly, that task will fall not on my generation but on yours.
My parents’s generation overcame the Great Depression and defeated Hitler. My generation fought the good fight for racial and gender equality. At the age of 74 I am not quite ready to retire to the sidelines. But with each passing year, the role of elders like me is to remind our children and grandchildren that the world has been through much worse than Donald Trump and survived; that in politics as in physics, every action produces a reaction; that unchecked power inevitably plants the seeds of its own destruction; that (as Churchill put it) democracy is the worst of all systems of government, except for all the other systems; that the world abounds in people of intelligence and good will who are capable of solving the thorniest and most complex challenges, if only you look for them; that politicians come and go, but beauty and truth endure; and that adversity is a blessing because it keeps us sharp.
With this latest adverse development, it is now your turn to pick up the torch and do what you can to make the world a better place. Think of the impact you make on the lives you touch every day. Get involved in your community, your city, your country and your world. Invest yourselves in young people, who will change the world — for better or worse — in ways we can’t conceive.
My grandpa Marc witnessed the collapse of the old European order in 1914, the stock market crash of 1929 and the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. But he also lived long enough to witness the triumph of democracy over fascism in 1945 and the peaceful demise of totalitarian Communism in 1991. Like Marc, I fully intend to outlast not only Trump but also ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Bashar Al-Assad, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ali Khameini, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Rodrigo Duterte, next to all of whom Donald Trump is a piker.
So here’s my post-election charge to you: Chin up! There’s work to be done! My generation didn’t solve all the world’s problems, and neither will yours. But that’s no reason to withdraw.
Don’t surrender to the darkness. And don’t curse the darkness, either — it will help you appreciate the sunlight that will inevitably follow, with your help. In bad times as well as good, remember: this too shall pass!