When I woke up this morning, I certainly did not realize the weight of today as I repeatedly hit the snooze button on my 8am alarm. In fact, it wasn’t until Cynthia texted me, “Are you watching the inauguration?” that I remembered.
Today, Friday, January 20, 2017, marks the beginning of a new era – that of the 45th President of the United States of America. As I sat in my pajamas and nibbled at a Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart, all of the anger, frustration, and heartache I felt started to melt away. I watched our nation’s most powerful leaders, both those with whom I agree and disagree, as they took seats on the steps of Capitol Hill. And for a moment, I was reminded why our country is great and always has been.
As any of my Twitter followers or Facebook friends know, I am not afraid to express my opinions on the Internet; I try to do so in a way that sparks discussion or is comical at the very least. But I have tried my best to keep my thoughts on our current political climate away from [ a sip of my coffee ]. Throughout the campaign season and especially after the primaries, my feelings about the future of our country became increasingly wary and I didn’t want a big dark cloud looming over my place of refuge. But, as has happened so many times on this site, I think I will only be able to move on and grow if I turn my thoughts into words.
A couple weeks ago, my friend Zack told me he had an idea for my blog. He said that it would be interesting to hear thoughts on why elections – especially presidential elections – seem to divide our country more than almost anything else. That’s interesting, I thought. He’s not wrong.
What’s difficult for me and others of my generation is that we have little on which we can base a comparison. I was barely a year-and-a-half-old when Clinton won his re-election, I was a first grader when W. was elected, and too self-absorbed to care about anything other than the issues that were most pressing to my teenage mind when Obama was elected. That’s five elections since I’ve been alive but only three (I guess 4 now) presidents. It makes me wonder if there was nearly as much animosity in our country when JFK or Ronald Reagan came into office. Did Teddy Roosevelt or FDR have to combat such ruthless public scrutiny immediately following their inaugurations?
I know people who have lost friendships over political disputes. Severed ties with family members. I mean, it’s not really that difficult to understand. When you form your stance on controversial topics like universal healthcare, immigration reform, abortion, etc. based on experiences and ideologies that have shaped the very core of your identity, it is hard to compromise that for someone who thinks differently.
I saw Bill Bishop, a journalist who has traveled across the United States, give a presentation on this very thing at IdeaFest almost a year and a half ago. He said that Americans have internalized their political beliefs so much that any sort of disagreement is perceived as a direct threat to their identities. That’s why people have started segregating themselves away from people they see as threatening.
Just because it’s easy to understand, though, doesn’t mean it’s reasonable or even benevolent. How many times does our government literally have to shut down until we, the people, finally figure out that we need to start finding some common ground? Is our own selfish pride really worth ending relationships with the people we love and running our beloved country into the ground?
I thought about that when I was so frustrated after ending a conversation with my mom about all of the protests taking place this weekend. Or when my sister responded to one of my tweets by making a joke out of something I think is serious. When I share an article on Facebook that might spark controversy. When I bring up institutionalized racism at Thanksgiving dinner.
Let’s try to be more thoughtful before we speak. Although we have the right and freedom to say whatever we want, it is sometimes important to realize that not everything should be said. Let’s take those freedoms and show the rest of the world why America has always been great – by helping others and doing what is morally good and right. By being decent human beings to one another. By smiling at someone you barely know. By trying to make life a little bit better for all humans, regardless of race, religion, class, gender identity, political affiliation, etc. I think that’s what the Land of the Free should be.
Let’s try to do what is right, even if it isn’t what’s popular. Let’s stand up against the hateful comments or rude remarks. Let’s have respectful, impactful, and candid discussions about things that are important. Like racism. And sexism. And xenophobia. And foreign relations. And class struggles. And generational differences. Let’s listen when someone says they’re offended or upset instead of immediately jumping to the defensive. Let’s show the world that “united we stand, divided we fall” is a code that all Americans live by rather than a threat to our country’s demise. That we can show compassion for our fellow Americans despite our differences. That’s what the Home of the Brave should look like day-to-day.
There’s a lot wrong with our country. Hell, there’s a lot wrong with our world. But that doesn’t mean that I – and, I hope, the rest of the people who feel uneasy about the next four years – don’t care about it. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be writing this. There wouldn’t be protests. People could just sit at home and watch New Girl and eat leftover pizza without a care to be had. But I think it’s important to take that passion and turn it into something constructive – something as small as a kind gesture or as large as running for office.
It’s so easy to sit back and think that the people we see on TV are the only ones with any power. We are all Americans. (Except for my readers who, you know, aren’t.) Immigrants don’t come here so they can be dictated by another power-hungry leader.
We have the power.
That’s what America is all about.