The Whitelash Election

angry-manDonald Trump is the President Elect. I need to stop feeling aghast, or astonished or shocked. I need to get back to work on anything to take my mind off of it.  I keep making mental lists of everything that America risks losing as a result of this election.  Crazymaking.

Let’s not go there yet, first some small good news: If you don’t know, I appear to be “in remission” the term for when someone’s cancer is either shrinking or gone. But since I had a blood-borne form of cancer, the way we know if the treatment I received worked is if I have no recurrent presentations of tumors, or blood tests that signal something is amiss. I had my first post treatment CT scan and blood work last week and all’s-well. Whew. On Friday I’ll have a minor surgical procedure to remove my port, a slick little device that allowed everyone to both draw blood and give me IV fluids.   That’s it until a blood test in March and another CT scan in July or August. Remission until at some point in the future I’ll be able to switch to the label of “cured”. Compared to many, I am very lucky to even have “cured” on the table and believe me, I know it.

All of this is insignificant compared to the election. I feel guilty and embarrassingly oblivious. An African American man who was talking on the phone passed me just a minute ago at the Salt Lake City Airport: “Yeah, they all let their guard down and started celebrating before they saw what was really happening, you know what I’m saying?” That pretty much summarizes how I’m feeling. I feel like I am one of “they”.

It’s not that I wasn’t worried, I was. It’s that I badly misgauged the dissatisfaction and unrest among so many Americans, my fellow WHITE Americans. Any attempt to rebut the plight of this group compared to the millions of people who have fought and struggled with generations of systemic and systematic oppression and discrimination feels irrelevant today. They are so pissed and feel so un-included, most of them didn’t even respond to pollsters. The plight of struggling  white folks is real but not in any way equal, to what people of color, or women or members of the LGBTQ community had to negotiate, but that hardly matters today; a critical mass of white people are angry, disenfranchised and fed up with feeling less-than. They are so desperate, they’ll willing to risk it all and pick a person like Donald Trump over the most qualified presidential candidate to ever be on the ballot. 66% of them still think President Obama is a Muslim.

I know a lot Trump advocates through my work with clients but also as family members, now estranged because of our deep disagreement about race and religion. I argued with them, but the intractability of both of our viewpoints made discussion fruitless and frustrating. I can’t help but falling into the murky pit of the question: “What if all of us had really heard these people’s pain and tried to be allies to them in their concerns?

I read a piece in Mother Jones by Arlie Russell Hochschild about the intertwined roots of the Tea Party, politics and whiteness in the south. Arlie is a sociologist. She wanted to study the mindsets of Americans and what was behind president Obama getting so little of the popular vote in the south. One paragraph stuck me like a 2×4 over the head. Arlie wrote a test narrative to capture the real feelings of the people she interviewed, all of whom were from Louisiana. Once the narrative was finished, she shared it with them to check it for accuracy. They agreed that it captured their sentiments almost perfectly. I’ve kept the article on the desktop of my computer since I found it in late August, not sure what to do with it. Now I know:

“You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the linecutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

On election night, Van Jones touched on this same phenomenon with a beautiful mix of head and heart; he called it a whitelash against a black president. It was a whitelash some of us missed or underestimated.

Like most of you, l will now do that which the President elect himself could not promise to do had the outcome gone against him; I’ll support him as my President. But make no mistake; doing so will be harder than chemo, or radiation, or even sitting with the grief and tears and fears of my friends, colleagues and family as they question where to go or what to do to protect themselves.

My work today is to begin suspending my own outrage and blame and get back to work. And where its possible, I need to get back to work on this stuff.

Time will tell ALL things.