November 15, 2016 by Jean
I went to bed on the night of the election feeling fearful and anxious. But I can’t live in a state of fear and anxiety for very long; I’m a master of what social psychologists call “instrumental coping” – dealing with life’s stresses by finding a way to take action. By the time I got up in the morning, after a night mostly spent tossing and turning, I had begun to develop an action plan of how I could move forward as a citizen in our new post-election reality.
- Empathy: I have often accused Trump of lacking empathy, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t shown much empathy for the rural and working class Trump supporters in my community and in my family. Mostly, I just tuned them out. But I grew up in the white working class, which is where most of my siblings still are located, and I am in a better position than many middle class white liberals to understand their lives and concerns. My first priority is to educate myself about what has been happening to working-class families in our transition to a post-industrial economy and to develop an understanding of why the white working class supported Trump.
- Reaching Out to the Vulnerable: My local area is home to a large population of Muslim Somali refugees who have been made more vulnerable by the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric of this political season. I have a responsibility to do what I can to support and protect them. I have already located a advocacy organization for Somali refugees in my local area and have contacted them to offer my services as a volunteer. I will also step up my efforts to support local Somali businesses.
- Finding Common Ground: My Senior College class on the history of women’s activism met for the last time on election day. We were covering the successful conclusion of the women’s suffrage movement in the 20th century, and I spent some time thinking about how to frame the discussion so that it would welcome the voices of all students in the class, regardless of their political views. Given the divisiveness of the election, I decided to focus on why the suffrage movement was most successful when it was divided into rival organizations that disliked and repudiated one another. The class concluded that division can lead to forward progress when the divided parties have some commonalities (e.g., the common goal of voting rights for women). Given this conclusion, I was struck by the fact that Trump, Clinton and Obama all focused on what we have in common in their post-election comments. Empathy seems like a first step in finding common ground with those whose politics I do not share.
- Fighting for What I Believe In: I was inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and particularly by the balance she struck between finding common ground and fighting for what you believe in. The three issues that I care passionately about – climate change, economic inequality and racial justice – all face a hostile political environment in a Trump presidency. I need to figure out how to fight most effectively for these causes. In my class discussion of divisions in the women’s suffrage movement, we concluded that while political militants are often unpopular, they move the center of the debate. Thus, the far right views and disruptive tactics of the Tea Party have moved the Republican Party to the right while Bernie Sanders’ primary fight moved the Democratic Party to the left. It will be important to keep up political pressure on both Congress and the executive branch during a Trump presidency to keep them from moving further to the right. What seems to be most effective is a combination of vocal and disruptive militants (like the “Not My President” protestors) and moderates whose positions look like reasonable compromises compared to the positions of the militants.
- Acting at the Local and State Level: I may be able to fight most effectively for the causes I believe in by focusing my efforts at the local and state levels. Even as my rural congressional district voted for Trump, citizens of my state voted for several progressive referenda, including raising the minimum wage, ranked choice voting, and raising the state income tax rate on the wealthiest Mainers to provide more funds for public schools. Climate change, economic inequality, and racial justice are all urgently important in Maine, and we may have an opportunity to be leaders in developing creative ways to address them. In addition, our two U.S. Senators are likely to be influential in a divided Senate. (The Republicans have only a very slim majority, and a super-majority is needed to get many things done in the Senate.) Angus King is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and creating compromise. Susan Collins is a moderate Republican who did not support Trump. Our Trumpesque governor, Paul LePage, says that he will run against King for Senate in 2018 and that Collins is done in Maine because of her repudiation of Trump, but the fact is that Collins and King remain among the most popular Senators in the country with their constituents. I will communicate with them frequently to remind them that they have support at home to buck the majority and support compromise.
The next four years will not be easy and I wish the results of the election were different. But with an action plan in place, I am no longer feeling hopeless or powerless.