Federal Opinion

The Tough Road Ahead

By Deborah Meier — November 15, 2016 4 min read
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Deborah Meier continues her conversation with Harry Boyte. To read their full exchange, please visit here.

Dear Harry and friends,

It’s hard at the moment to continue the thread of our discussion. But maybe the following is, in its way, in keeping, even if not a response to your last blog. Note also that I’m writing as though none of our readers are happy with the election results (that itself is part of the problem I face—I don’t want to get into their heads)!

I sit here thinking of what to say. I have two contrary instincts. One, to reassure and continue the tough task of rebuilding a democracy movement, and two to focus on protecting the truly vulnerable who shouldn’t be reassured. There are too many out there who have reasons to fear for their lives. How can we combine these—do we have the resources (in time and money) to protect those in imminent danger and put together a “winning coalition” for us all!

Democracy (as I define it!) rests on an assumption of community that’s missing in America. My anger, even hatred, for many of the Trump supporters (and Trump) makes it hard for me to feel the empathy needed, as I noted above, to imagine them as members of my beloved community. Yet...I suppose I must.

Dilemma. Yes, reactionaries (including many conservatives) interpretation of the Constitution and our founding principles are not entirely wrong—historically the founding fathers did not agree to the idea that even all men are created equal, nor that the rulers of the nation should represent any white women. Still they were less fussy than many today about what who could enter the U.S. and which men could vote: as long as they were white men with sufficient property they were, even begrudgingly, counted as citizens. My grandmother crossed the border without any visas. She was thoroughly undocumented as were millions and millions of white immigrants (even Jews! And Papists!) when America was “great”. Many of the white Trump supporters actually wouldn’t have qualified to vote—for lack of sufficient property. And women. And... and... and... (Not to mention people of another color—who were barely considered human). It’s a complicated history.

The founding fathers created a system that could temper short-lived passions, “mob rule”, and thus that wouldn’t endanger their privileges. We’ve fiddled with it for 250 or so years and created a messy combination of principles, sometimes in conflict with each other. And, maybe wisely, they aren’t easily changed. I’m not sure right now that I’d like some of the changes that might be victorious in today’s climate.

Yes, we won a slim plurality, probably not a majority. Still, more people who voted wanted Clinton than Trump. And based on who didn’t vote, probably that’s true of them too. Besides, who knows how the voter suppression that resulted from the Court’s ruling against the Voters Rights Act impacted who voted. Maybe “we” lost by something appalling about American culture—so few bother to participate (and how hard it is to do so in many places). The loss of so-called millennials in this last election, and the cynicism and alienation, possibly, among so many Black voters (who didn’t turn out in the numbers we anticipated), made the electoral victory of Trump possible. But, even more—the lack of participation in the basic daily politics of democracy that you have been fighting for all your life may be the root cause.

The anger of some white workers over their imperiled status—and privileges—could be an asset if targeting the even less privileged wasn’t the first (and second) response.

Am I naïve to think that if kids spent 12 years having to deal with democracy and its conundrums in school—especially schools that were more integrated—rather than spending those 12 years in a thoroughly authoritarian institution we might produce a differently empowered citizenry? Pete Seeger’s song “This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land” maybe has to be experienced: “This School Belongs to You and Me.”

I both find myself reassuring others at the same time that I want to ring a bell of alarm. How do I fuel the indignation of our allies while also keeping us from making permanent enemies of all those who voted for Trump?

After-thought: The other enormous factor in our loss is the gradual disappearance of an organized working class. (Note how, for the first tie in years, the media is using the phrase “working class”). The workplaces of yore were once where, in one way or another, ordinary Americans got to know each other. And it was in unions that they experienced what it meant to stand shoulder to shoulder on behalf of their common problems. Maybe if the unions had been more democratically organized internally we would not be facing the crisis we’re in. If our unions hadn’t too often forgot that means determine ends, and that democracy is not a luxury even and maybe especially when facing “the enemy.”


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.