What have we learned America?
I think the answer is quite simple. Nothing. We are exposed to the same questions, the same problems, the same conflicts ever four years. Yet we have failed to either recognize them or refuse to answer them. We are more concerned with being right rather than with things that are much deeper and far more important.
I see this in the immediate responses. There are some who take on a mild tone, call for unity, and let’s give the guy a chance. It’s a reasonable response. Maybe more reasonable than what is deserved. Much more reasoned than what our culture and history typically respond with.
Then there is the #notmypresident response. That’s been the response of many Democrats because their candidate didn’t win. Yet, I imagine these are the same people who were upset when they heard people make the same statement eight years ago when Barrack Obama won the presidency. Remember Rush Limbaugh famously stating that he “hoped Obama would fail.” You’ve become Rush Limbaugh. I hope that’s painful to hear. “Oh, but this is different!” Is it? I can tell you that there were people then who thought the country was coming to an end because Obama was elected. Remember those days? Eight years before that we had similar protests when Bush won. Eight years before that we had similar protests when Clinton won. You get the idea right? We have short memories.
We have this idealized view of politics which isn’t helping anyone. We hold up our institutions as somehow holy, as if the institutions are somehow divine and unchangeable and that it is the politicians who screw it all up. I’ve got news for you – institutions are made up of people and they aren’t holy. They change based on who is in power. The institutions are just tools for those in power. There is nothing holy about them. We need to move away from this idealized dream world of politics and wake up to the reality of what it really is.
I don’t feel like I fit in America. No, not because of this election. It’s been going on for some time now for me. I don’t identify with either the Republican or Democrat parties. They are both seriously flawed. They also both has some good ideas from time to time too. Yet they and their supporters are so concerned with being right that they will kill the good ideas if the other party might, by some small chance, have an opportunity to look halfway decent. Yes, that applies to both parties and their leaders.
If you want proof that I don’t identify with either party, here’s the way I voted: I voted for two Republicans, one Democrat, a Libertarian, an Independent, and I wrote in three people for office at various positions. I have friends, actual people I know and love dearly and hang out with, that voted for Clinton and other dear friends that I know and hang out with that voted for Trump. They don’t know each other though. I heard both sides of the arguments. Both made sense and had good arguments and both were really flawed and looking through rose-colored glasses.
This problem that we have isn’t new. It’s been going on a good long time. I would argue it goes back to the founding of the country and the core of this problem is trust. We don’t trust one another. That’s why the American Revolution happened in the first place. The founders didn’t trust the king and the king didn’t trust the colonists. And so we had a war to see who was right.
Again, we take this idealized view about the founders – that they all got along and were happy and bi-partisan. What Bullshit! They didn’t get along once the war against Britain was over – they turned against each other. That’s where the political parties came from. And we’ve been fighting with each other ever since – convinced of our own rightness and how wrong and evil the other side is. Every president, and I mean every president, has faced threats of impeachment. That includes George Washington. We just whitewash history to keep the past holy and make these men of the past into saints. They weren’t. Nor are we today.
Our very system of government is based on not trusting one another. The founders didn’t trust each other, which is why they put up roadblocks to efficient government. Gridlock was designed into the core of our system of government. It’s supposed to be that way. It makes sense that the founders would adopt a system in which everyone would be pissed off at each other so that no one would get everything they wanted and screw the other side over royally. It’s not perfect, but I get the reason.
You want to change the country? Then let’s start with changing some basic ideas about ourselves. Let’s start with trust. No, don’t wait to trust other people, especially those different from you, or those that you believe are your opponents and enemies. Don’t wait to trust only when they start to trust you. That will never happen. You want to change things, then you have to take the first step. And that means you are going to get screwed. It’s a scary prospect isn’t it? Are you willing to forego short term gains for long term commitment?
You have to be willing to step out, get slapped down, time and time again, and keep coming out telling everyone that you trust them and then acting on that. Trust takes time and energy and investment. It takes building relationships with those you would rather not under normal circumstances. And trust can be lost so easily – all it takes is one screw up. But trust entails being vulnerable. It entails being truthful. It entails confession and forgiveness. It entails embracing the unknown and admitting that we don’t have all the answers, but we are willing to listen and work together. Trust is about doing things that takes others into account. Trust is about finding the win-win solution, not the perfect solution. Trust is about finding out what is common and building on that. Without trust, any organization, any nation, any church is doomed to collapse and die. And yes, trust takes both sides being willing at some point to do and be these things. And you can’t just throw money or other materials at the problem either. Trust is intangible.
So what’s it going to be America? Are we willing to take the risk and trust one another? Or would we rather keep on doing what we are doing and going where we are heading? I don’t know where trust takes us. I have a pretty good idea of our current path – and it doesn’t end well.
I pray that we are courageous enough to let down our guard, be vulnerable with one another, and start to examine who we are, what America means going forward, and how we can move towards a more perfect union.
Want to know how to start? Find someone you disagree with and ask them to just talk with you about how they came to their conclusion of who they would vote for. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t argue with them or challenge their ideology. Just listen. You don’t have to agree. Just keep you mouth shut. And if you have to ask any questions – let them be questions that seek understanding, not questions that attack the other person or their beliefs. Ideally you come away with an understanding of how they came to their conclusion and what they really value. I’m willing to bet you probably won’t agree on their conclusion, but you’ll understand it and see how it makes sense. I’m also willing to bet that their values and yours are more similar than you expected.
And when you are done, thank them for their time and for sharing what they believe with you. And walk away with a smile and a handshake. Don’t go on social media and rip them apart. If you have to post something, post that you trusted someone, that you listened, and that you learned something new today. Post that it was a difficult experience, but it made both people better and as a result made the nation just a little bit better. And the best part – something like this doesn’t require any politician or government agency or policy. It’s just two people getting together, taking a chance, and seeing where it goes. That’s how we start America. Don’t expect a major shift in the next four or eight years. We’ve had broken trust for well over 200 years. It takes time to reestablish trust. But you have to start somewhere.