on inauguration day

thoughts on the transfer of power

This morning our country witnessed the peaceful transfer of power, from one President to another.  The power did not just move from one man to another, it moved from one vision of the world, one set of core beliefs, to one, although obscured and unknown in many ways, that is certainly very different than the vision proclaimed for the past few years.  While the title and power of the Presidency has certainly been placed upon the shoulders of Donald Trump, I am hopeful that his vision for our country will not supplant the vision of his predecessor. 

I must recognize that I am predisposed, and biased, toward an inclusive vision of our country.  I am a person of faith, and my approach to others is foundationally shaped by the movement of God toward all people created in God’s own image.  I believe that my value, indeed all of humanity’s value, is rooted in the dignity of our creation, guaranteeing that we are all made with equal worth and promise.  I am not more valuable because of the work I have done; indeed, I know that my accomplishments are a reflection of the foundation of privilege into which I was born.  Because I believe my redemption comes from Christ, I am also fully aware that my knowledge of God, my dependence on God, my purpose within God, is only possible because God moves toward me with forgiveness, sacrifice and grace.  This awareness gives me no choice but to move toward all the people around me with a similar sense of forgiveness, sacrifice and grace.  This bias, which I fully own, leads me to align myself closely with the vision of Barack Obama, and to reject the vision of now President Trump.

I fundamentally believe that I am stronger and wiser and more resilient when I am confronted with and impacted by the diverse perspectives of others.

I fundamentally believe that I am stronger and wiser and more resilient when I am confronted with and impacted by the diverse perspectives of others.  I fundamentally believe that the opportunities and prosperity of others do not threaten my own in any way.  I also fundamentally believe that my own prosperity and security require me to give others the same privileges I enjoy (I realize that I have lived a life of abundance and it is a privilege to not feel threatened by the growth of others).  

President Trump disagrees.  He has consistently argued that immigrants are destroying the American way of life, and that corrupt and selfish government has bankrupted this country in order to build and bolster other countries. These statements and decisions are manifestations stemming from a belief that immigrants and all other nations are takers at best, and out to destroy America at worst.  His vision, I think, is a direct reflection of “American Exceptionalism,” that is, the idea that America was founded on a grand idea, and that our ability to reject our colonial founders, establish a lasting democracy, and quickly rise to become the leading world power means that we are God’s chosen people and THE global authority—morally and otherwise—in a way impossible for other nations.  While this idea is certainly gratifying, it can lead to a certainty that our perspective is uniform, and always correct.  When we encounter a perspective that confronts ours, or find evidence that we have not behaved as the exceptionally correct and magnanimous power we believe ourselves to be, that exceptionality, indeed our identity, feels threatened.  This foundation leads, I believe, to President Trump’s posture of chronic defensiveness, and although it starts at a national level, it results in a fear and rejection of individual others.  Because I see through a frame of appreciating and moving toward others in curiosity, I have to challenge his policies and rhetoric that encourages the demonization of others.  Will you join me?

President Trump’s inaugural address has been called a Populist Manifesto.  Indeed, he offered a prescription for healing the divides his campaign speeches widened by saying, “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” 

He called out the selfish corruption in Washington, and this year he consistently promised to never again forget the countless people our government has left behind.  Any honest look at our country, our history, and current reality will confirm President Trump’s wise assessment that our country does not actually value all “the people.”  I am thankful he acknowledged this inequality, and appreciate the attention he has given to those who have struggled to find a place in our rapidly changing economy and cultural norms.

His vision for our country and his promises to “drain the swamp” or that they “will be forgotten no more,” however, do not line up in any way with the decisions he has made during his transition.  First, 15 of his 20 cabinet-level nominees are white males.  These men, most of whom are millionaires who have been very politically active, are Trump’s most trusted advisorsI see their uniformity of class, race and gender as a sobering reminder that President Trump does not know or value perspectives different than his own.  Many of the men he has placed in his cabinet and on his top advising team have no track record of remembering those Trump rightly claims have been forgotten.  It is troubling to me that he has surrounded himself with people whose life experiences mirror his own, and I have to challenge the notion that the best professionals in every sphere are white males.  Will you join me?

I see their uniformity of class, race and gender as a sobering reminder that President Trump does not know or value perspectives different than his own.  

My other concerns are more specific, and involve economic prosperity, tax rates and regulatory reform.  Wealth inequality has been growing, as middle and lower income earners’ wages have stagnated, while investors and owners’ wages have increased.  Since 1963, the wealthiest Americans’ net worth increased 6 fold, while the bottom 50% barely grew at all (Urban Institute).  In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), our poorest 90% must share 24% of the country’s wealth.  President Trump is right!  90% of our country has been forgotten!  While technological advances continue to present challenges to our work force and model, the greatest blow to our economic stability came in the Great Recession, precipitated by rash and greed-fueled decisions made by members of the financial industry.  These decisions were permitted because laws regulating the industry had been repealed.  Knowing that the removal of these regulations paved the way for decisions that caused the global economic crisis—felt most destructively in middle and lower class homes—Trump has promised that one of his top priorities is to deregulate the financial industry.  Moreover, his tax plan shows no consideration whatsoever for the ones he calls “forgotten”: the CBO predicts his tax plan will raise the incomes of the top 1% by 10% or higher, while the tax impact on middle and lower classes will remain unchanged.   In this and so many other arenas, his cabinet picks and policy commitments prove his real vision to be quite the opposite of the promises he made in his inaugural address.  Because I reject the notion that deregulating industries and lowering tax rates for those who provide capital will cause wealth to “trickle down” to the rest of us (a notion never successfully demonstrated in America), I have to challenge his policies based on the premise that if we trust the guys at the top with more power and money, the rest of us will be okay.  Will you join me?

Despite my grave and worthy concerns, I have committed to keeping an open mind as our new President is sworn in.  To that end, I must say I am heartened by the inclusion of Rabbi Marvin Hier, who uttered the following maxim at today’s ceremony: “A nation’s wealth is measured by her values, not her vaults.”  This notion feels endangered by our current power structure, and yet these words continue to articulate an idea many Americans want to embody.  Whoever our President, most Americans also want to be part of a government by and for and of the people.  If this is true, we must join together now and demand policies—not just promises—that demonstrate these values.  Will you join me?

why i weep

an open letter about the 2016 election

This week has been hard for me and many others in our country, and I suspect it would help us heal if I tried to explain why.  After spending time with college students and talking with a few of you, I realize that many who voted for Trump misunderstand our weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I am reaching out because I don’t want to be misunderstood.  I am reaching out because I want you to have every chance to understand.  I am reaching out because I need to heal and believe developing empathy for each other is a crucial part of that process.  If you also want to heal, if you are willing to see me as a thoughtful person whose feelings and perceptions of the world are valuable, then read on.  Although I think many will resonate with me, I don’t want to generalize or make assumptions, so I will only write for myself.  

I am disappointed we elected a President who, in my view, does not have the experience to excel at the multiple aspects his job will require.  I am disappointed we chose to believe he will surround himself with wise council, even though he repeatedly thwarted opinions--even in his inner circle--that did not confirm his own.  I am disappointed we chose to trust him most of all with our economic future, even though he has repeatedly filed for bankruptcy, refused to pay bills, and has chosen to make the vast majority of his products overseas rather than in America.  

These truths disappoint and frustrate me, but they are not the reason I have cried every day, or look with pride to some of the protesting marchers, or feel betrayed and shocked by my country.  The reaction I have had to this election has nothing to do with red or blue, my candidate getting defeated, sour grapes or even frustration with policy positions.  My deep sadness comes because I feel alienated from my country given what a vote for Trump necessarily affirms.  Let me be clear: He has openly encouraged behavior and statements that portray

  • Women as gratifying objects whose primary value is demonstrated through their physical attributes.

  • Muslims as radical, unwelcome terrorists who are not to be trusted or made welcome, and who cannot be loyal to America even if they die defending our freedom.

  • Hispanic immigrants as thieves and criminals who have come to ruin American livelihoods, who cannot function as professional Americans in any environment.

  • Disabled people as objects to be mocked.

Please hear me say that I feel confident that you, the majority of Trump supporters, disagree with and loathe these statements.  I do not think you are racist or misogynistic in the way you approach others.  I also know you might feel judged and attacked by those protesting or weeping for our country.  I am sorry to have lumped you in with voters who enthusiastically endorse the statements above.

Here’s the deal though, and this is the key to understanding the tears and despair: By voting for him, you did endorse his perspectives on the value of others.  With zero intention on your part, you confirmed a perspective which negates the value of about half of our country.  For a female survivor of abuse, a Muslim, an immigrant, or a disabled person, our country’s decision to elect Trump was an irreversible statement screaming that we find them unvaluable, expendable and not one of us.  I believe you when you say you didn’t mean it, but this is the message that is rattling around in the hearts of half of our society.  I am a white Christian profession woman, and I am devastated that I can’t pull that message back.  I can’t unring the bell.  My students and friends and African-American daughter will have to live out the consequences of all of us saying these statements aren’t bad enough to be absolutely rejected.  They have to face the rest of us, wondering if we love or hate them.  They have to get up and go to work and school in a country that elevated a man who said they were not and never would be his equal.  Can you imagine leaving your house this week if you were a minority teenage girl or boy?  We had the chance to say, “no”, and instead, by electing him, we said, “more please.”  This is why I weep.

They have to face the rest of us, wondering if we love or hate them.

I have heard many reasons a person might have voted for Trump, and none of those include bigotry.  I hear you, and am trying to understand the dignity of your choice.  For a person of color or for a female, these statements are not just about personality or a gaffe, they are deadly sentiments which ruin lives, and I weep because our country voted to affirm them.  I know these ideas are already out in the world, and I know voting for Trump didn’t cause them to exist.  However, I am deeply wounded that we had the chance, as a people committed to liberty and justice, to say, “Absolutely not. I will not allow comments like that to go unchecked at my dinner table/workplace/playground.” We missed it.  Instead of saying we want to heal as a country with a terrible track record on race and gender, we decided deadly sentiments like Trump’s were not a problem.  This ability to overlook the danger in his comments reveals to me that my community either does not know any immigrants, Muslims, disabled people or victims of abuse, or that we just don’t care.  This is why I weep.

For a person of color or for a female, these statements are not just about personality or a gaffe, they are deadly sentiments which ruin lives, and I weep because our country voted to affirm them.

I am not interested in blame, but in helping articulate a path forward so that we can stand up as a people and say, “Absolutely not!” to words that inspire violence and exclusion.  In light of that interest, here are my commitments to you:

  1. I commit to not speaking of all Trump voters as bigoted misogynists, as if you are all the same. I will believe that you do not and did not support or minimize the damage his comments would cause many in our country. I commit to working hard to finding empathy for those whose value system allowed them to vote for our President-elect.

  2. I commit to giving our new President an open mind and my respect, even behind closed doors.

  3. I commit to confronting my own despair and to finding and celebrating moments of hope and healing.

  4. I commit to making it my daily mission to reach out and affirm every person marginalized by the power of the majority.  I will go out of my way to listen and to actively value people who are different than me.

In our commitment to healing, I ask you to consider the following:

  1. Will you commit to finding empathy for those whose lives feel endangered by trying to build relationships with people outside your race or gender?

  2. Will you commit to standing up and speaking out against jokes, stereotypes and comments that undermine the dignity and value of all God’s people?

  3. Will you follow your vote up with action that affirms life, liberty and equality for ALL, to look beyond your own interests in order to rebuild the fabric of our society?  Will you reach out to those who might feel marginalized or endangered and let them know you are an advocate for them?

I am committed to making this the moment when we agree as a people not to blame each other for our own failure as a society.  No matter who you voted for, can you commit personally to moving toward those who are weaker than you, who have less power or comfort?  If we say yes, Trump’s presidency will be one of healing and hope for all of us.