There’s a saying for public figures: Don’t believe your own press. In this presidential election, it should have been: Don’t believe ANY press, polls or policy leaders. They all got it wrong.
Protesters and others shocked by the results, from coast to coast, continue to march and cast blame. They say, “Do away with the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton got more popular votes than Donald Trump; she should have won.” Going forward, America can deal with challenging the wisdom of the Electoral College, but for election 2016, the damage is done.
Making the decision to run for any public office is a risk, a sacrifice. You dare to enter the arena to win, you stand on your truth, but there are no guarantees. As a 2016 candidate for New York’s 13th Congressional District, I did not receive the most votes. Yes, it saddened me, my family and my followers, who had all given a year and half of our precious time, energy, funds and support. It was disheartening. But at the end of the day, campaigns are not lost or won on emotions. They are won by how well you play “the game,” who out-campaigns whom and what you’re willing to do to win.
Trump campaigned hard and appealed to the fear, hate and ignorance of those he calls the “forgotten” America. He spewed out misogynistic, racist, bigoted, name-calling rhetoric to large rallies, on TV and on Twitter. He had found his crowd: people who were waiting for someone like him to come along. Given all this, is being “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” truly possible, and how do we move forward?
First, people of faith must respond in a manner that is not divisive, but unifying. At the weekly lunchtime worship service I host at the John Street Church, people came in on Nov. 9 feeling the pain of defeat, shedding tears and expressing feelings of hopelessness. It reminded me of how people felt after 9/11, and was a great contrast to the dancing in the aisles that happened eight years ago after Barack Obama was elected. As a faith leader, I brought the message of hope, tolerance and respect. Believers of any faith must hold on to the hope that is modeled by our historical and contemporary faith leaders — resurrection is possible. We can pray for Trump and all those who surround him, pledging to do our share as Americans.
Second, Donald Trump should speak with a conciliatory tone and apologize, and with two very small words — “I’m sorry” — can begin healing America rather than further stoking the flames of hate. I would love to hear him say something in this vein to begin that process of healing: “Campaigns get heated, even sometimes hate-filled, but now, I’ve met with President Obama, and America will continue to be great — with courage, unity and dignity, with a stronger economy and our working TOGETHER. Yes, there are areas we don’t and won’t all agree on, but I pledge to stay true to partnerships and excellence, speaking across the aisles, and with you and as many as we continue to be a great UNITED States of America. YOU will not be forgotten.”
Third, America must deal with one of the reasons Hillary did not win: sexism. Eight years ago, a fellow traveller told me that in Ohio, when Clinton’s image came on the screen, some men yelled, “I’ll be damned if any woman will rule over or lead me.” I heard variations of the same message several times throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, and even worse chants, too crude to repeat, throughout this one.
I wrote in my Huffington Post column that America now needs to deal with three Rs — “Race, Religion and Respect for Women.” All three of these were disrespected (Mexicans, Blacks, Muslims) in this election, but the one least-often addressed was respect for women. As Bryce Covert put it in her Daily News editorial on sexism in America: “While men are told they have drive, women are told their ambition is off-putting… high-achieving women experience a backlash because the very fact that they got ahead violates the gender rules that women are supposed to follow: that they be cooperative, nurturing, nice.”
Elections don’t lend themselves to “nice” — they are a blood sport. The hours are long; the journey is cruel, grueling and some days just outright cold. And yet Clinton endured, not just once but twice. I like to say she did not get the most Electoral College votes, but for women everywhere, she is a winner.
Going forward, there is a new political order. The upset victory has changed the landscape for Democrats and Republicans. But we must not stop working to do what is right. We must turn bitterness into bravery. Brave men and women must continue to step up and be candidates. Character and integrity must become the hallmarks of our leadership once again. Prayer and faith must be the glue that undergirds us, and conversations, connections and partnerships must happen.
At my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary, Bill Moyers and I participated as panelists in a post-election analysis. The chapel was filled to capacity with folks from every walk of life: some media, some mourning, others mending, and others seeing this, as Maya Angelou called it, “the pulse of the morning.”
Old chapters being closed, new ones opened. We can remain startled, or use this as a new start. On Monday evening in Washington, DC, I hosted a ProVoice/ProVoz conversation and gathering of black and brown women who provided leadership in both campaigns, and who, for the first time, will meet one another. We talked and walked together — perhaps not with one voice, but with one agenda: To help the American people. As Hillary Clinton quoted from the New Testament, “We must not get weary while doing well.”
And on Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. “So, help me, God!”