I was getting ready for work a few days ago and turned on NPR, expecting a fun human interest story or wrap-up of the day’s news. Instead, I landed in the middle of Donald Trump’s press conference. My stomach clenched at the sound of his voice and my visceral reaction was “No, I don’t want to listen to this” as I reached out my hand to turn it off, but then I paused. As much as I don’t want to admit it (and, honestly, have mostly been in denial about it since a few days post-election – apparently I reversed the “denial” and “sadness” stages of grief) this is reality. This person is the President (or will be, next week) and sticking my head in the sand, or plugging my fingers in my ears and singing “la, la, la” won’t change that.
Since that press conference, I’ve been reflecting on how I want to spend the next four years – how I want to move forward as an engaged, thoughtful, compassionate citizen in this new reality that felt impossible two months ago. That’s the thing, though – it is possible, because it happened, and while I can’t do anything to change that, I can choose how I respond to it.
I don’t want to spend the next four years being angry.
I look at our world – Syria, Paris, Germany, Orlando, Chicago – and I see so much anger, so much violence, so much hate. I look at our country and I hear angry shouting and blame and caustic, cutting “you’re wrong and watch me prove it” rhetoric. I watch the news and I scroll through Facebook and I read op-eds and there is this din of anger, blame and outrage so loud it threatens to drown out our shared humanity. I want – no, I need – a different way.
I’ve realized in the last few days I need to stop engaging in “Can you believe Trump said/did/tweeted this?” conversations. I’m finding it really hard, like quitting a bad habit, because it feels so good in the moment. It feels so therapeutic to talk to like-minded people and vent and rage and be validated that “YES this person is the worst!!” To be clear, I’m not going to stop noticing the things that are wrong, but talking 24/7 about how terrible Trump is reminds me of running on a treadmill – it feels good in the moment but it’s not getting me anywhere.
Speaking words of anger and outrage – even when it feels justified – does nothing to help my heart or make me a more kind, compassionate, empathic person. And most importantly it doesn’t change anything. Rather than running on a constant low-level buzz of generalized outrage (for which, to be clear, there is plenty of fuel) I want to save my anger and outrage for if/when there is an actual policy or law put in place -not just Tweeted about- that hurts people, that is unjust, and be the first in line to go do something about it.
I don’t want to spend the next four years being disengaged.
Like the instinct to turn off the radio when I heard Donald Trump’s voice, I sense in myself the temptation to starting opt-ing out in small, subtle ways over the next four years – to read the news less frequently, to turn off the radio when Trump comes on, to limit my exposure to a reality that I don’t like. What helps me fight this temptation is reminding myself that having the option to opt out and deny this election ever happend is a sign of my immense privilege. Because the reality is that as a white, upper-middle-class, straight, Christian, US citizen living in the bubble of Silicon Valley, there is very little likelihood that Trump’s policies will dramatically impact my daily life. I could very easily float in my bubble of privilege for the next four years, protected from the waves that may crash down on those around me whose race/religion/immigration status makes them a target. It’s that thought that fires me up and keeps me engaged – ready to go to bat for the people around me for whom “opting out” isn’t an option.
I don’t want to spend the next four years without hope.
I watched President Obama’s farewell speech and, like everyone else I know, cried like a baby. In the last few weeks of his presidency, he and Michelle have stayed relentlessly on message that our job as a country is simple: don’t give up hope. He ran and won – twice – on a platform of hope, and I want to believe that spirit is still alive and well, even though it’s felt in short supply lately. I was re-reading Bryan Stevenson’s incredible book Just Mercy, about reforming the criminal justice system in the US, and there is a beautiful passage where he talks about how the centerpiece of justice is hope. He insists that once we lose hope – hope that things will change, hope that good triumphs over evil, hope that though it can be maddeningly slow and painful, progress is possible – we lose everything.
I don’t want to be so consumed with fear over what might happen that I lose my ability to hope – or love, or feel joy or celebrate the large and small moments that make a life.
I want to spend the next four years stockpiling confetti and champagne, not disaster supplies.
I want to love more deeply, more wholeheartedly than I ever have before. I want to be brave and take risks, risks that mean something, that bring about good. I want to live my life fully, with deep gratitude for the gift, while never forgetting the privilege that is. I want to join hands with my brothers and sisters and walk forward together, with bravery, purpose and love.
I want to spend the next four years fighting hate with love, because no matter how dark the season, no matter how depressing the chapter, I refuse to give up hope. I refuse to believe anything less than the simple truth that love wins.
Love always wins.