America the Beautiful

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Lincoln Memorial

I’m fully aware that everyone and their brother who has a blog wrote about the election, but I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement to keeping your blogger status, so here’s mine.

I suppose I should start by saying that I did not vote for Donald Trump. I thought about writing this without mentioning that at all, but it seemed dishonest somehow-like people might think I had some sort of secret agenda. For the (admittedly irrelevant) record, I don’t have any agendas at all. I am very boring and have no secrets. I would tell them to people in about 5 minutes if I did have any, so do not trust me with any state secrets you might know.

So I didn’t vote for Trump, but I am not all that surprised that a whole lot of people did.

If you’ve followed my family’s life in the last 18 months or so, you might be aware that we’ve been on a family mission to visit all 50 states. At this point, we have been to all 48 contiguous states while driving a minivan and to say that it has been educational would be quite an understatement. I thought the kids would learn a lot…I did not anticipate how much I would learn myself.

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People with amazing hair get Old Faithful tips in Yellowstone

I have seen people from all walks of life at our national monuments and parks. I saw several small towns where the biggest buildings were the high school football stadium and a crumbling factory. I saw cities with decaying row houses built 100 years ago that look like the before shot on an HGTV show, except no one is planning on coming by with a crew any time soon. And if they did, the rent on the houses around it would go up and the neighbors would have to move.

I saw “Vote Trump” signs handmade out of plywood and 2x4s staked out on the side of the freeway. And I talked to many people in a variety of jobs about what they did or did not like about their state.

What I learned was that “the people” didn’t necessarily want Hilary or Trump or any particular candidate, but rather that there is a lot of hurt, frustration, anger, and desperation in our nation. There are a great many people who, for all the words our technology allows us access to, do not feel heard.

There’s pretty decent evidence that our technology is part of the problem. Anecdotally, I saw both my liberal and conservative friends say some version of “there’s no way we can lose this” and, in fact, it really was anybody’s race.

Clinton took the popular vote, but Trump got the electoral votes. Although, electors aren’t necessarily legally required to vote the way their state did so I suppose there’s always the chance that this election could get even weirder.

With these things in mind, two particular incidents stood out to me over the course of the last year that I cannot let go in light of the election we had.

The first one happened when I was walking down the street in the 12 South area of Nashville, Tennessee. It’s kind of a hipster-y strip of stores and coffee shops and where I got whiskey flavored ice cream so I was thoroughly enjoying myself. As I headed down the street, an African-American family was walking toward me on the same side of the road.

Something about their expressions seemed off and as I started to pay more attention, I realized that a Caucasian man in a pickup truck was very slowly keeping pace with them as they walked. He was talking to them and I couldn’t understand what he was saying until I got closer. At that point I realized that it was not a good word and this was not a pleasant interaction.

The last, clear statement I heard him say was “Vote Trump!” screamed at them before he stomped on the gas and drove off. I was horrified and confused and disappointed and I cannot imagine how this family felt. This was in broad daylight on a crowded street and this man felt he had the right to harass complete strangers with his hate and vitriol.

I know that other such incidents have been reported lately and that the response from some conservatives has been “that’s awful, but there will always be horrible people. It’s not Trump’s fault.” That’s where my second experience comes in.

While we were in Iowa in the summer of 2015, my family attended a campaign speech from then-candidate Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC). I was not a big fan of many of Graham’s policies, but I was excited to see what it was like to participate in the political build-up toward the Iowa primary.

After a short speech, Senator Graham took questions. At this point a man stood up and introduced himself as a veteran of the Air Force. Graham, also an Air Force vet, told him thank you for his service and asked for his question. The man asked what Graham would do to stop the problem of Muslims in this country. That we would never be safe and that terrorism would always win if we didn’t outlaw this religion.

At this point Graham, a politician known for being rather hawkish on national security, interrupted the man and said, “I’m going to stop you right there. I’m not your candidate. Don’t vote for me, I don’t want your vote. I appreciate your service, but that’s not what our country stands for.”

He could have said a number of things that weren’t quite so definitively “Stop that. We don’t talk like that here.” He could have brushed over the insults and segued into a talk on terrorism, but he didn’t. He just shut down the negative and moved on to another question.

Donald Trump hasn’t done that. He hasn’t shut down the hate speech or the violent speech or the increasing anger. I know people are frustrated with “Washington insiders,” but part of getting to the inside is learning the kind of weight your words carry and using them appropriately.

Graham didn’t win the nomination, of course, but he gained far more respect from me through his willingness to lose votes in order to uphold his principles.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Here’s where this post takes a left turn. I started writing this two days ago. I had pictures and interesting facts about voter turnout and other political-y things to say. But while I was literally writing this in my pajamas, my kid got sick.

My four-year-old began crying that there was something wrong in his body and that everything hurt and he “couldn’t do this anymore.” I put clothes on, wrapped him in a blanket, and headed to the ER.

He was admitted in severe respiratory distress and we have been here since then. During my couple of days in the hospital with a sick kid, I realized that I had something slightly different to say about the election.

When your kid gets sick….scary sick, when you start to pray and text family members and make plans for a different kind of day or week or month or year…nothing else matters, really. On Thursday night, I no longer cared if Big Bird were the President-elect. He’d be a pushover in negotiations, but at least he’d be kind.

I no longer had words about perspective and seeing things through others’ eyes, and measured reflection. I had “please let this work,” and “I think that Dr. is 12,” and “I do not want the trainee nurse to come near my kid again.”

I realized that what I really wanted to say was about how people FEEL, in the midst of this election. So I have another incident to share.

Last week, my 6-year-old was in a soccer game. He was sitting on the sideline because he’s not the greatest player on his team he and got bored and sat down. I looked down to talk to my two other kids at the game, and then respond to a text from Jay who was out of town.

When I looked up my child was curled into a ball on the ground while two of his teammates took turns kicking balls at his head.

I nearly lost it.

When I got to my child he was up off the ground and crying that he didn’t want to be on this team anymore. I didn’t blame him.

I managed to keep calm and not scream or yell or hurt 7-year-olds. I talked to them and told them they needed to behave better. I talked to the coach and discussed how I was not going to hold a grudge or anything, but that they should have to sit out of the next game. I even talked to the mothers of the boys and told them what I said to their sons.

And then the next game happened. The game where the coach decided that the two kids (our best players) would sit out half of the game, not the whole thing. This was the last game of the tournament, see, so he had them sit out different halves, leaving my kid on the sideline with one of them at all times.

Each of those kids sat out for 15 minutes, while my kid (who is small and young and not as good) sat out for 25 minutes of the 30 minute tournament game.  During the last 5 minutes on the sideline he got bored and sat down again…and one of the same kids began swinging his leg over my son’s head as entertainment.

It was in those minutes, after I’d pointed out to the coach that my kid still hadn’t played, but before he finally put him back in, while watching the same pattern begin again,  that was when my rage returned full force.

I wanted to break the children who hurt my kid into pieces. I wanted to belittle the coach until he felt weak and impotent about his entire life. I wanted to make sure that none of these people ever got to enjoy soccer again. I wanted to scream and curse and break things.

That feeling? That overwhelming desire to protect and defend and retaliate? That’s how some people feel about Donald Trump being elected.

For my Conservative Friends Who Don’t Understand the Anger:

A decent segment of our society feels like they’ve been getting bullied on the sidelines for their entire lives and no one in power has done anything to stop it. They feel like they’ve been patient, they’ve been calm. They’ve been valiantly explaining their position to people who hurt them and giving authority figures the benefit of the doubt.

They have stories, specific things people have said or done or yelled to them or at them that they can share with you if you’d like them to. But that’s not why they’re really mad. They’re mad because the coach let the bullies keep playing because he wanted to win.

I don’t think the coach is an evil soul-sucking devil. I think he could have done his job better, but I didn’t volunteer to coach so I’ll be forgiving. Of course, then I realized that he really didn’t care about sending a message about bullying enough to lose the game–that he really wasn’t more concerned with a good experience for all the kids than he was with winning in that moment.

That’s why Trump getting elected felt like such a personal insult to so many people. It felt like the nation said it was all about teamwork and growing together, but then picked the bully for the team MVP.

And that’s why they’re angry, disappointed, hurt and even protesting–not because they are lazy people without jobs who don’t understand how voting works. Not because they are sore losers. They are protesting because they have so much emotion running…fear, rage, injustice…that they want to share it with each other and bear each others’ burdens. Sure, some people suck and break stuff.

But stop making fun of them on Facebook. Stop arguing about whether or not their feelings are valid and whether or not someone you know was more patient when Obama was elected. It’s not helping anything. You just look like a smug jackass.

For my Liberal Friends Who Don’t Understand How Anyone Could Vote for Trump:

That feeling I had about no longer caring who was President as long as my kid got better? That’s how a lot of people who voted for Trump feel about their lives. They feel like they are using every ounce of energy and effort they have for the moment they are in right now and they cannot begin to attempt to solve another problem.

They are in the middle of their own crises of some sort. They own small businesses and fear losing their livelihoods due to rising costs. They are people whose jobs are being outsourced and automated and they do not know where more money might come from.

One friend of mine said she voted for Obama twice, but voted Trump this week because the Affordable Care Act had been so disastrous for their family. She has a medically complicated child and they are desperately struggling with getting him the care he needs while under Obamacare.  Her main priority was getting something different from what she has right now. She is not a horrible person. She made a choice for her kid.

Some people didn’t view Clinton’s emails as no big deal. There are people actually tasked with the nation’s security and to them, the whole episode was a very big deal indeed. From their crisis perspective, security seemed like the only thing to vote on.

Stop lumping all of these people together and calling them uneducated, xenophobic, misogynistic racists on Facebook. They are not all bigots. They are people who viewed life through their own crisis and came up with a different answer than you did. And when you call them uneducated, using their comparative level of education as an insult, you also look like a smug jackass.

And, yes, some people are actually horrible people and they, too, voted for Trump.

If it’s any consolation, if their crisis is that they get sick in Atlanta, they will be in a world of hurt holding onto their beliefs while getting treatment. Only one of the 20 or 30 medical professionals who’ve attended my kid this week has been a white guy and he had a horrible head cold and I didn’t want him to come too close.

For Everybody:

If you just cannot understand the feelings people different from you have, that’s okay, too. I, for instance, do not understand how many of my adult friends continue to have emotions about University of Georgia football.

I had a great time at games when I was a student. I even skipped classes my first day of college to stand in line for tickets (you had to do that back then). But I now do not care at all how well teenagers play a game a dozen times a year.

Instead of assuming that everyone who does, however, is an immature child attempting to numb the pain of their lives through sport, I just figure they must feel something I don’t. Maybe they like sports way more than me…or they live far away and it reminds them of home…or it’s a connection they have to their dad.

I don’t know. But just because I don’t understand doesn’t mean I can’t give them the space to feel what they feel without making fun of them. I know that’s a silly example, but you get the idea, right? It is hard to imagine someone having valid, intense emotions about something that is not on your radar. We’ve got to try.

A lot of things I’ve read about the election have encouraged unity and civility and, honestly, I’m not going to say that. You know who I don’t want to eat dinner with this week? The kids who attacked my boy. I still want to rip their tongues out and shove them down their throats. So I’m not really over my anger there.

You might not be over your anger, either. You might not be over your hurt or confusion or frustration and it might take a long time for that to change.  I respect that and I’m not asking you to “all just get along.”

I’m instead going to ask for hope.

Democracy is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to take effort and negotiation and trial and error to do well.

We use that phrase “freedom isn’t free” every time a soldier loses his life, but it’s not supposed to be free for the rest of us, either. We are not all meant to get some free pass to just enjoy our freedom while our armed forces offer all the sacrifices. We are all supposed to give…we are all supposed to bend…we are all supposed to meet somewhere in the middle to make the nation better.

I ask for hope that that’s possible and hope that we can raise our children to make it so.

Because I am a super dork, I know the preamble to the Constitution by heart. I memorized it in 5th grade and practiced it often because I loved it. Here’s what it says:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The emphasis on certain words is mine and I want you to look at them carefully.

We’re to create a union with justice and peace, with defense and liberty, with a general good we can pass on to our kids. Those goals actually work against each other when it comes to allocating resources. You can’t unify people who all have liberty to do whatever they want. You can’t provide a defensive force and let it be come and go as you please.

These are lofty goals; hard goals to accomplish. We have been running this great democratic experiment for 240 years and we have learned a lot. So I’m asking for hope that we can continue…hope that we can learn to bend and stand, have conflict and reconcile, speak and listen.

When a woman in the hospital cafe asked me how I was doing yesterday I said, “I’ve been vaguely nauseous since Tuesday and my kid’s in the hospital.” She laughed, like I hoped she would, and responded, “But the best part is that you get to get up tomorrow and try it all again.”

Here’s to hope for our future…and the chance to try it all again tomorrow.

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