9 November 2016
“I don’t think you can live with yourself when you are humiliating the man next to you.”
Robert Penn Warren.
Anger, anxiety. They are states of mind. Fear is a way of living. The United States of Mind and Living…this is a bitter hangover. And we are regretting everything we didn’t do last night. Instead of a culmination, a sigh, an easing of shoulders, this gasp is now a compression, a tightening of our throats. We are incredulous at some thing that came true. But it was true all along. How could he? Why did he? What did they do? We are surprised that the branches betrayed the roots on Election Night.
The election was, by all means, an anti-election. It was a fulcrum of a four year mitosis. A mitosis in which we think, just maybe, one wealthy white man (or now a woman) can save US from the very system which is causing the cancer. It is as if the doctor emerges from the hospital to say Colt designed a non-lethal bullet and Philip Morris designed a non-addictive cigarette. During elections, patients come to be cured, not treated. We’re led to believe that more medicine, more insurance, and more prescription is the solution. But the balm is not more rash. Candidates are not democracy, voters are.
This year was utterly melancholic because the (anti)rhetoric was so cancerous. Fear of the other candidate, anger towards the other candidate. The Milennial maneuvering of voting in order to block, voting in order to stop, the voting in order to keep him out by any means necessary was pure violence. By pandering to fear with open palms of anger those who supported Clinton in sheer figuring were wrong. Politics aint maths. Regardless of anyone’s experience or belief, we live in a political paradise. The paper and ink architecture of our nation is gorgeous. It’s the furniture which is rotten. We live in a hypothetical plurality where all get on according to agency. Free will. Choice. Desire. Passion. And New Orleans, more than any other place in the U.S., illustrates this reality. So too does it provide its desperately bleak binary. New Orleans economy is a political one. And its currency is fluid corruption. Corruption, in essence, is the mutation of a healthy system—biological, political, religious. Martin Luther sought not to destroy the Catholic Church, he sought to reform it. Tolstoy sought not to destroy Russia, he sought to transform it. Gandhi sought not to destroy British India, he sought to transform it. Martin Luther King Jr and the SCLC sought not to destroy America, but to reform it from cancerous mutations. They were not afraid of the bruise becoming a scar.
My grandmother voted for Trump. She is an 86 year old immigrant from Belgium. One of her first memories is of S.S. storm troopers driving through her village. She was 11 years old when Nazis occupied her town for four years. They had trouble riding their motorcycles, she told me, because the weight of what they’d stolen from the church was difficult to balance. They were grinning as they drove through and like Mardi Gras the entire village turned out to watch them parade with their loot.
Her relatives all fought against fascism, against xenophobia, and against oppression. Her father-in-law was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp; her brother-in-law to a German labor camp; her other brother-in-law to a Belgian labor camp; and her husband also went to war. None of these men and women who participated in the Resistance were under a direct threat from Nazism. None of them were Communists, Jewish, Queer, Roma, or any other stigmatized group. Instead, they chose to resist what they found abhorrent, even if it meant life, limb, or family. And, oftentimes, the children were involved in the resistance (my pre-teen uncles ghost rode bikes to downed pilots, showed them the way home, hid them in between the walls for two nights, and ferried them to the coast’s freedom under darkness. It was more innocuous for children, rather than adults, to do such work).
I asked her on Wednesday night if she would have voted for Trump when she arrived on Ellis Island 64 years ago. No, she said, I wouldn’t have. Something in her voice changed. Something in the voice of a woman who once told me, “If we understand the origin of light, shadows will lose their meaning.”
Successful, holistic, organic change is manifest in modern models of peace. Violence, theft, anger, anxiety, and fear never changed anyone or anything. They merely corrupted them. Think of a single moment in your life—or in the life of New Orleans—when a raised voice, when coarse language, when a gunshot, or when a fist changed anything. Moments may change anyone, for their exposure is a formative lesson, but they don’t change anything. Moments of crisis, reminds John Berry, are moments of grace. We can all point to moments in time when calm, decisive honesty and thought resolved conflict. In fact, it is only within the eye of the storm that we comprehend the weather around us.
Anger, fear, blame, anxiety. We will not change anything—ourselves included—if we pollute our behavior with the same tactics employed by Trump and Clinton. These candidates always were and always will be scapegoats. Like a collage, we pasted any and everything onto them in the hope that it would stick to them not us. Mendacity, disrespect, and anger are all they stand for. In convincing ourselves of the cheap heroin of Clinton we shot a bag of delusion. We wanted that four year fix until we, until they, could figure it out. Remember how fuzzy things were in 2008? Even if you didn’t take the Soma then, the opium of hope and change was ubiquitous. And free. We were going to change our country by voting for one man? Right, and then he asked for four years to finish a job he never started.
Fear of voting our hearts, our ethics, is an anti-vote. 2016 was an anti-election, because by nature an election is a forum in which to choose who/what best represents us in absence of ourselves. The mutation of our system lacks plurality in order to foster such addiction, such anger, such conduits of self-expression through fear. It was the same drug we dosed with Obama. We bought his brand (and its $1billion re-election campaign) just like we bought Nikes in middle school. Then, sooner or later, we realized that the sneakers didn’t help us jump like Jordan. You don’t get religion by going to church.
Where do we go from here? What are we going to do? There’s a West African concept called Sankofa. It states that we can only understand who we are and where we are going if we embrace where we come from. We cannot, and we must not, duplicate the same oppression—in ourselves or in others—that we so resented in him and her. Fear, anger, disrespect, blame, and bitterness because Trump “won” is not the answer. Even those who voted for him lost. Moving to Canada because it’s better there? It’s better there because citizens made it so. Our true election, our true country, will be born and will begin the moment we cultivate a sincere understanding of why people like Trump and Clinton have any appeal in the first place. That delicate gestation is now. We must create bridges not for confrontation, remorse, or resentment; but for understanding, sympathy, integrity, empowerment, and peace. The quilt must be unstitched, thread by thread. How do you teach compassion? By learning it.
All human beings seek security, shelter, and food. Most everyone seeks pleasure, education, family, leisure, meaningful work. The courage to achieve these needs peacefully is relative only to the behavior we demonstrate to achieve them. No one is full when others are hungry. No one is home when others are homeless. No one is right if everyone is wrong. We have to diagnose why Trump exists. Why he was viable? Maybe more importantly, we have to displace the belief that voting for the lesser of two evils is acceptable. Or right. Our lives, our freedom, and our communities should not operate on cheap strategies of pragmatism. When we dilute the nature of choice, we negate the essence of choice. Definitively, we must learn ourselves and teach others that we need to defeat injustice, not people. Evildoers, as Christian Nonviolence reminds, are victims too. There are those who must be willing to suffer in order to secure justice. And unfortunately, I see more coordination, consistency, and community when people watch a Saints game than I saw before and during the election. There’s power, and there’s influence…
Some farmers that see weeds in a field use chemicals to kill them. Substances which, sprayed conservatively or liberally, destroy the weeds. The best farmers in America don’t kill. Nor do they encourage it when they see weeds. Instead, they understand what created the weeds. What, in the soil or in the environment, created something that was not intended? Buddy Bolden saw the same lesson. He sculpted through the granite of noise to reach the marble of sound. He found Jazz, that pure rhythm, when God holds her breath. And now, we too, must seek the same pure rhythm of diversity if we are ever going to love ourselves and our country again. For the first time, for the last time. We have to grow soil, not food. If we nurture the substance, Nature’s form will follow. Politics is like a garden: whichever seeds you plant will grow. And that music will cling to us like sunlight.
What we lack is an organization, a value system, which unite us all. Our generation has much in common with our ethics, our morals: equity, respect, justice, equality, freedom. Yet, we have no architectural framework to organize around. And this is what helped Trump win: existential fear and an oiled political machine. Our generation has something more powerful; for the first time in American history, a vast majority of urban youth of all colors, gender identities, and relgions have deep passions for justice, equity, empowerment, and identity. Yet we do not have cohesion.
What are we going to do? Everything we didn’t do before.