My heart aches for the division and anguish revealed in our November election. The fabric of our society is indeed torn and I wonder, can we find a way back together?
As I traveled around the country in advance of the election, I heard stories from so many people. Among them were two white middle-aged men who were avid Trump supporters. They felt that though they had worked hard, they had not prospered the way they expected to. They also saw that their children were having even more difficulty than they were. These men feel betrayed by the “American Dream,” and if you scratch the surface, a bit ashamed that they have not “measured up.” It now seems this shame fueled a blazing anger that is at the heart of Trump’s electoral victory — but the anger is misdirected, and it will become increasingly toxic unless we can find a way to engage in conversation across the political chasm.
This anger and vulnerability is the result of an economy shaped by “trickle-down economics,” which privileges the already wealthy at the expense of those in the middle and at the bottom. These Republican policies betrayed our people. But rather than holding the politicians who passed these policies accountable, or turning their blame to the people who voted these politicians into office, some Americans instead blame the “other” — immigrants, women, people of color, Democrats.
A corollary of trickle-down policy, hyperindividualism, causes people to feel alone and unsupported. As a result, individuals have become frantic (and ferocious) in their efforts to protect their families. This includes hate speech. Many feel betrayed by the economy and react in what they would call “self-defense.” I see this anger prompting the denigration of others who are also vulnerable.
This is not a time for “business as usual.” Everyone has his or her part to play to do something. Our first act, I believe, must be to engage with our communities to touch the pain and anguish of this moment. We need to weep together, but we also need to find the courage to face the deeper truth together: We all share similar frustrations, including those who voted for Mr. Trump. We must seek out a contemplative space of quiet and reflection, where we can let the pain of our people break our hearts further. It is from this broken-hearted place that we can begin to heal and let the new emerge.
I am overwhelmed by the task ahead. I have to confess that Mr. Trump’s denigration of women and his boasts about his predatory practices stirred up my personal experience of sexual assault from years ago. It reminds me that preying on one makes us all vulnerable. But I know from dealing with that prior experience that the only way forward is to bring our truths out into the light. Wrestling with painful realities in our communities is the only way we can reweave the fabric of our society.
May we have the courage to face this moment with attentive listening. May we have the courage to listen to the stories of people around us and strive to understand “the other.” Then maybe we might come to know the deeper truth in the words that Pope Francis said when he spoke before Congress in September 2015:
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, and the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.