Moving Forward


November 15, 2016 by Jean

vote 2016I 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.


12 thoughts on “Moving Forward

  1. Jean R says:

    Great post, Jean, and very inspirational.

    So many of my cyber friends are in various stages of mourning over Hillary’s loss. I was in shock for the first day but slowly I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to look for ways to fight back that are more productive than just joining the Safety Pin Movement of the Pantsuit Nation. My first steps will be to start donating to the ACLU (to help protect our free press that will be under fire with Trump at the helm) and the Southern Poverty Law Centers (to help them keep tracking all the hate groups which are about to go mainstream due to Breitbart’s Steve Bannon now being in a key role in the White House. From there, I’ll still be looking for ways to get involved. I’m leaving climate change issues to people who are smarter than me to carry that ball. I’ll just be there to sign their petitions and add a voice from time to time. Same with Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive issues. I’m leaving that to younger women in their childbearing years because I just can’t bear to fight the same hard won battles I thought we’d put behind us when Roe vs Wade became the law of the land. I just can’t! I’m most worried about the Supreme Court Judges and if there was a way to make a difference there, I would. I’m terribly upset that obstructionist have denied Obama his right to an up or down vote on Merrick Garland!

    I’m looking forward to what kinds of social activism groups will form over the next few months that will help hold Trump’s feet to the fire and/or reorganize for the mid-term elections.

  2. Brenda says:

    You are much more optimistic than I am. I agree with Jean, above, about the Supreme Court (and lower courts). Those appointments cannot be undone and will be with us for at least a generation–if not more. My heart aches to think of the potential ramifications.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, I think of myself as an optimistic realist. I prefer to deal with what is rather than regret what isn’t, but I try to do it with hope.

      • Brenda says:

        I think we are on the same page, really. I don’t waste time with regrets either. One of the challenges right now, however, is figuring out exactly “what is,” to prioritize where to best stop the bleeding!

  3. Sue Laughlin says:

    It is refreshing to hear I am not alone as an older person with these same feelings. I consider myself a realist though. Concerned with the current rise in bullying in schools and the boldness with which white supremacists are acting. Concerned also, with Paul Ryans dismantling agenda on programs for the sick and elderly; however, I remain hopeful that enough people in this country will speak up and act to push back against this negativity. Afterall, Trump and his agenda did not get the most votes by far, Hillary received approximately 2.5 million more votes. And I admit, living in a very popular, Trump suburb, economy perhaps was part of it, but, sadly racism, and misogynism very much so, and I will never feel sorry for that attitude. Nor reach out to it and enable it nor accept it. But, right now, I too must find something positive to do. I’m thinking maybe something holiday oriented to help those worse off than myself. Thank you for letting me voice this and be a part of it.

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I also consider myself a realist, although an “optimistic realist.” I am trying to have faith that enough Americans will push back against the agenda of Trump and his allies to keep the damage in check. I am most worried about climate change; we are already way behind in addressing this problem and can’t afford a 4-year delay in taking action.

      • Sue Laughlin says:

        Yes. Climate change is definitely an issue. And according to scientists we are actually close to reaching the pt of no return with the CO2 index. It’s not a legacy to be leaving our grandchildren. Fortunately, there are several pro-active environmental groups to donate time and money to who actually work toward doing something about it . And there is a major election in 2 yrs. One in which I hope concerned pple get out and vote in this time.

  4. JoAnn Ford says:

    Way down south in Alabama, we’re shivering on a sunny 62-degree day…if we saw that much snow we’d close the roads and buy up all the bread and milk! Love your blog and enjoying snowflakes vicariously!

    • Jean says:

      JoAnn, When I lived on the Mason-Dixon line in southern Pennsylvania, I was always amused by the small amount of snow that closed schools and created a public emergency. Here in Maine we do snow very well — but you would laugh at how much we complain about the heat when the temperature gets up above 80F.

  5. Donna says:

    Good Morning Jean, I’m a little late to this post but am a new subscriber to your blog thanks to the Elder Orphans Facebook group. I thought your blog on the election was a reasonable, well-thought out and thought-provoking essay. I very much appreciated your thoughts and so many of them mirror my own. I’m still grappling with a “Trump world” and am quite frankly terrified of what that might mean. It seems this is a no-win situation as I can’t honestly see the electoral college votes being changed even with a recount in the three key states. Can you imagine what would happen in this country!? (Even though I personally would be delighted). I watched the 60 Minutes interview with Trump shortly after the election and wanted so badly to find something positive and there were things he said that I could agree with and I appreciated hearing him speak softly rather than ranting and yelling and threatening. It’s unfortunate that while I was watching the interview all I could think about was that he had just appointed the racist, anti-semite, Steve Bannon to a major role in his cabinet. Since trying to find something positive about Trump wasn’t really working, I looked in another direction that you speak of. Looking at the whole big picture is mind-numbing and paralyzes me. I can’t cope with everything at one time – it’s too big, I’m too small. But I can look at one of the issues I feel passionately about and try to help in that one “small” area. For me it’s our National Parks and wild lands. They must be saved for future generations and once gone, they can’t be replaced. So I researched organizations dedicated to protecting these lands and decided to become a Friend of the Wilderness by becoming a monthly donor to the Wilderness Society, an old and well-respected organization that mirrors many of my beliefs. It’s one small thing I can do, and just as I believe my vote counted, I believe one small act, done repeatedly, can join with other small acts and make a difference. At least, I hope so!

    • Jean says:

      Donna, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that trying to take on everything is just paralyzing. Picking out one or a few things that we really care about and can do something about is likely to be more effective. If each and every one of us does one small thing, that would have a big impact!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

Please join me as I step into my future.

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