Inauguration Day

My How Time Flies

It feels like we just went through Election Day. The day after, I wrote a post congratulating our new President Elect, and moved on with life as usual the last couple of months. I have watched news and social media erupt as our President Elect has stormed through the transition process. I have watched with disappointment the confirmation hearings of his appointees. I have listened to friends express fear, anger, and sorrow at the upcoming change in the leadership of our country and our world.

Mostly, I’ve seen many people react to Trump’s election the same way I saw Republicans react to Obama’s in 2008 and 2012. Here we are, eight years later, and the fears Republicans held have proven to be false. Obama was their boogeyman, the personification of a world no longer theirs, yet after eight years of holding the Presidency, Obama has not taken their guns, their homes, their right to vote, their freedom, or their pride of being Americans.

The more things change…

Many would point out to me how this election is different. Trump and the Congressional GOP, rather than inspiring to give us better healthcare, social equality, and a bigger voice in our own futures, seem to be more interested in undoing anything Obama has done the last eight years and reversing social policy established over the last seventy years, back to the New Deal. Making America Great Again, to many of us, is a battle cry to reverse US policy to times when many of us were disenfranchised, when we didn’t have a voice in our destiny, when some of us had to hide the deepest aspects of our humanity.

While I hesitate to compare the fears today we express to the fears expressed by Republicans over the last eight years, I believe, whether founded or unfounded, these fears come from a common place in our minds. What many of us now have in common with Obama detracters is a fear that the world is shifting under our feet, that the fundamental rights and privileges we currently enjoy are about to change. Do you remember how irrational the fears of others seemed if you were an Obama supporter eight years ago? Do you recall how we responded to the obstructionist posture they have taken on every policy direction Obama has taken the last eight years, whether they would have agreed with someone else having the same position?

We need to be careful in our response to fear. We should not fall to the lesser parts of our nature to lash in anger, but respond in ways consistent to our values.

How should we respond to fear?

I think we have reason to fear. I think we have reason to be watchful, to be protective of the hard fought social progress we have achieved over the course of the last century. While the President is one of those who endanger that progress, he is not a lone person at the heart of the battle. To focus on one man is to give more credit than any one person is due, no matter their exhuberance.

Our true battle is one against values of inequality, the irrational fears we hold against others not like ourselves. To have equality is to have empathy, to look at someone different than ourselves and see commonality, to see the ways we are alike, and not allow the ways we are different to drive a wedge between us. To respond in the same manner to Trump as those who responded to Obama is to continue to focus on the differences. The last eight years hasn’t brought us any closer together. The people who blame Obama for that are as wrong as we would be for blaming Trump if we’re no closer together in another eight years.

Our responsibility of hope

Over the last 15 years, I changed both religion and political party affiliation. A big reason for both was fear. I looked at my world view, I looked at the people around me, and I saw people filled with fear. I saw how fear ruled their lives, how it altered their ability to see the world in a rational way, and how it separated themselves from others who really weren’t that different. I saw people looking at hope as if it were something not acheivable in this world, something to look forward to in the next. This was why I left my former religion, or perhaps why others in my former religion left me.

We rallied behind Barack Obama because he had the “Audacity of Hope”. Trump’s supporters have rallied behind him in their hope that he will “Make America Great Again”. Two different dreams, two different visions of our future, yet still appealing to the same place in the hearts and minds of supporters of either man.

Our hope should not end with the inauguration today. Our hope for a better world doesn’t live or die with the Presidency, or the Congress, or law. Hope needs to shine brighter in times when our potential is the least. When things aren’t going our way. It should be in hope, and not fear, that we act.

The speech which propelled Obama’s political career to national prominence was his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In it, he said:

In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism here — the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

Our responsibility is to choose our actions out of hope for the future, out of progress, out of making America a great place to live for our families, our communities, and for all Americans, all people within our borders. So before we take up the tactics and policies of our opponents the last eight years, let’s consider how we stay true to ourselves and act out of our hope rather than our fear.