It was silent in my house on Wednesday morning as my two daughters, who are usually joking around and singing songs from”Hamilton” as they get ready for school, contemplated a country that would hire as it’s top leader a man who holds open disdain for the rights of all women.
Donald Trump was for them, from the moment he announced his campaign, the Aaron Burr of the 21 century. He was not supposed to win; he was the antagonist. But win he did and as Secretary Clinton says in her concession speech, we cherish the constitutionally mandate of a peaceful transfer of power and vow to keep working with our leaders for what we take to be the right. She said:
This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it
For his part, president elect Trump sounded a conciliatory tone and acknowledged that differences of opinion do not mean exclusion from the conversation to which all citizens are welcome. These were welcome words to my ears, for so much of what he said on the campaign trail seemed contrary to the spirit of genuine conversation. Our founding fathers recognized and enshrined in various ways two very closely related ideas. First they recognized that to err is human, to fail to see the whole picture is what it means to be mortal and as mere mortals, systems of checks and balances must be provided to keep the ship of government upright. And secondly the recognized that only through intense, reasoned conversation could truth be discerned.
Because of the first recognition, no truth could ever monopolize in the market of ideas or goods,or be made to subject peoples to its dictates. And because of the second, they recognize that we must never give up on the effort to understand, indeed to lay claim to truth.
But I am only guardedly optimistic for our president elect has a past history that he himself acknowledges with some pride, or misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, egoism and greed. In a prescient and beautifully written paragraph at the end of Isaiah Berlin’s credo titled “A Message to the 21st Century,” he asks
. . . what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?
The answer is, as I have tried to imply, not easy. And depends upon a fragile and tenuous balance between our needs and the needs of our neighbors, between one political party’s ideals and values and the ideals and values of another . Oftentimes parties clash. But the clash is only to be the signal that something more profound is at work.
. . . .we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.
Berlin’s statement can, and indeed should, be read as a warning to President elect Trump who has said that “he alone can solve our nations problems.” That statement is as patently untrue as it is frightening.
I am, and I hope you are too, more hopeful that the flag of despair under which he was elected and to which he has responded as savior, will not in fact become the drummer to which his administration. And I am confident in the long history of serious reasoned conversation to prevail, in the end. That hope is not pollyannish. We must never stop calling out hate when we see it, but always be ready “fight for what is right,” because that alone, no matter who is the president, is worth it.