The transfer of power from President Obama to President Trump today has made me reflect on my different identities. As a cis woman and feminist, my heart is heavy as the biggest glass ceiling in our country remains intact. The promise of a Cabinet with half of the seats filled by females is lost. As a white mother, I am very aware of my privilege today – particularly as I look at a sea of faces that look like mine standing against the backdrop of Congress. In my professional identity as a public health social worker, I worry about funding for many different programs that seek to support and elevate those in need. As a Democrat, well, dang – it stinks to lose, especially when Rachel Maddox said for months that we would win.
But I think the identity that I need to most consider today is that of being an American. I was born in Michigan, raised in upstate New York, and gave birth to my children in North Carolina. I was educated in American schools and universities. I’ve paid taxes and used my financial resources to support capitalism – even McDonalds once in a while. My grandparents were square dancers, and one of my favorite runs is along all the monuments in DC. I may try to fake it when I travel but my fundamental Americanism is hard to hide – that darn optimism and clothing style.
Yet, I’ve noticed a deep division within myself over the past few months about which kind of American I wish to identify with – and those from whom I find myself desperately trying to distance myself. I feel an inner fissure that is new and really uncomfortable. I feel angry and sometimes even think in passing that if bad policy decisions are made now, the people who voted a certain way will just learn the hard way. How awful! I hate to admit this feeling but it is there.
President Obama urged all Americans to “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled and eventually they compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.” So I have to do my inner work here, too, if I want to fully lean in to my identity as an American. The divide can’t close entirely but I need to better understand it.
Regardless of how I feel, my Americanism also means that I can’t just sit on my couch for the next four years drinking wine and binging on Netflix. Being an American means that I have to be a more active citizen. I must engage more now than ever. Democracy may be messy and hard and imperfect…but what is the alternative?
Sarah Mink from Bitch Media offered some great suggestions for taking concrete action. These include writing actual, thoughtful letters to the people who represent us, as well as diversifying our media and getting out of our echo chambers. She suggests that we offer our skills and give money to the local groups and causes that matter to us. She also challenges us to fight racism and learn from communities who have had to resist for decades. To be clear, I am NOT saying that to be American I have to resist Trump nor that you should do everything she suggests. But as an American I do hold responsibility for participating in democracy and seeking to uphold and move forward our ideals of “liberty and justice for all”.
As Obama said, “The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.” I know that my country has many problems – we were founded on a fault line of slavery and the murder of indigenous people. But I also fervently hold true to our highest IDEALS and my belief that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” as Dr. King so eloquently stated.
And for all of that, today I am going to wish our new President the best. Whether that makes you happy or sad, it doesn’t ultimately matter – as Americans he is our President now. I hope his heart is somehow moved to focus outside of himself as he assumes this most awesome and heavy responsibility. I pray that he can find words of unity in the future. And I offer my expectations that all of us – from members of the US Congress to the regular “person on the street” – wake up and stay that way.