Dear Katy, Emerson, Andrew and Malcolm:
For much of the past year, you have read my persistent twitter assault on Donald Trump’s fitness for the Presidency. We have talked about his racism, his misogyny, and his apparent disdain for truth. At various times we each posited that he had finally done too much; that he would not survive this most recent horror (ridiculing a disabled reporter, the Access Hollywood tape, the debates, his persistent disregard for the truth) and assured ourselves that, although she was not our first choice, Hillary Clinton would ultimately prevail. Last night, in our own way around the television (or in front of the computer), we despaired. Indeed, I could barely sleep last night. And, as I write this note, I am aware of my sadness and my concern for the divided country in which we live.
At the same time, I want you to see some of this nation’s majesty in how it played out. Sometime early this morning, Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to congratulate him. Shortly afterwards, Donald Trump gave a remarkably balanced speech. He spoke, in a serious way, of unity. Then, later, President Obama called him to invite him to the White House on Thursday to meet to discuss the orderly transition of power. Our country works that way. We divide and fight and then come together to govern while the next fight brews. In the events of last night and this morning, I found comfort in familiarity. It was Washington to Adams; Carter to Reagan; or Bush to Clinton. The patterns of the next few days and weeks are central to our democracy’s longevity and, prior tweets notwithstanding, I believe our system is stronger than Donald Trump.
So, over the months to come, we should do some things together. First, we should show our President-Elect the courtesy and respect we would have wanted from him and his supporters had our candidate won. Next, we should take seriously some of the hard lessons of this campaign: racism and fear remain powerful forces in our communities, and working families feel disenfranchised and unheard (my support for Bernie Sanders reflected his ability to understand this essential challenge). And, many people are suffering for want of work and hope and they blame Washington. People do not believe that the government will help them. They believe that the system is “rigged.” Indeed, quite to the contrary, they perceive government as interfering with their freedom. They take corruption for granted and chose to believe that a seemingly unbalanced man who lived off of his father’s money was more worthy of their trust than a woman who devoted her life to public service of one form or another.
This is the part I want you to think about and to try to help change. People who choose to spend their lives in politics are making a noble choice. Some abuse it (and I fully see the resonance of that feeling against the Clintons). But others, like President Obama and Michelle Obama, set an example for all of us. Their service reminds us of what good and smart people can do when they put their energies toward the greater cause. Whether it’s the improved economy, the many who now have health care, or simply the tone of Obama’s discourse, his contributions to our country resonate. Part of what has made this election so hard is that we all were so proud of the Obamas (even when we disagreed with them).
I expect that we will be very frustrated with President Trump. I fear that the economy will suffer (particularly if he imposes his promised tariffs), that many will lose insurance and suffer as a consequence, and that the tone of Trump’s discourse will be a source of shame for us all. If this happens, let’s take the sadness we felt last night and turn it into passionate and effective opposition. Let’s support the efforts of those brave and noble enough to enter the arena and take him on. And let’s not lose sight of the long arc of history. We may not like this curve, but – if we hold hands and work together, as Martin King taught us – its ultimate course is assured.
And then there is the last thing. Let’s also remember that Donald Trump will be our next President. May he handle the responsibility with the seriousness of purpose and resolve that it requires and may we have the strength of character to honor and respect him in his new capacity, because our country demands that of us, right now.