Last Wednesday, on the day after the election, though my guy had won I didn’t feel like doing the naked happy dance. The anguish of voters on the other side of the divide was too palpable. What I wished more than anything, and still wish, is for a way to reach out that resonates with those who are dismayed by the outcome of the election.
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I’d want to reassure you, as ridiculous as it sounds, that everything is going to be OK. I’d say that, despite your doubts, America is still America, still operating the way the framers of the Constitution intended, still choosing her presidents by a vote of the citizens, still motoring resolutely into the future.
With this election, if not before, you’ve likely noticed that our demographics are changing. This may seem alarming, but it shouldn’t. From its beginning, our country has allowed people who believe in the American spirit and the American way to come and build their lives here, to become Americans. The newly apparent fact that not everyone in America is white and descended from the Mayflower is not something to be feared or overcome. It’s a reality to be embraced and worked with and, ultimately, celebrated.
It’s a good thing.
I remember vividly the first time I volunteered to help at a speech-and-debate tournament held at my daughter’s high school, Ponderosa. That was my school, too, back in the day. At that time, in the late 1960s, pretty much all the students were white. More recently, the campus has a few more kids of color. On this morning in 2010, however, when students had come from all around the Sacramento area to compete at the tournament, I was astonished to see how varied were the faces: black, brown, yellow, and white, in seemingly equal measure.
At first it felt a little strange. It was certainly different! But then I noticed how the kids themselves were dealing with it. They weren’t. They were oblivious to each other’s color and ethnicity. All that mattered were the rhetorical skills of anyone in question, and whether they might trump one’s own.
The insight I gained that day — that we’re all just people, really and truly — has stayed with me, in a reassuring way that I wish I could share with you.
I also wish I could reassure you that our country’s love of individualism is still alive and well, even after the election. It’s tempered as it has been throughout our history by a corresponding value, our devotion to community. Individualism and communitarianism, in a push-and-pull balance. You may worry, based on punditry, that individualism in this country is somehow now diminished, but it’s not, actually. Far from it. (E.J. Dionne explains all this brilliantly in his new book, Our Divided Political Hearts: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. I highly recommend it.
What it means in practice is that all of us, each of us, can still work hard to earn as much money as we want, in some cases becoming multimillionaires or more in the process. But all of us also still have a vested interest in enabling every other American to have a fair shot of supporting themselves, at the least, and ideally to thrive. We don’t accept that the poor will always be with us, and assign the bulk of responsibility for the poor to charities (no matter how well-meaning). We use the power of us — the government — to provide opportunities that can enable the poor, with work and persistence, to someday move into the middle class, to become not-poor. We understand that this process takes time, often even generations, and that we’ll have to carry some freeloaders along the way. That’s OK. The ultimate goal of an America firing on all cylinders is worth it.
In his acceptance speech, the president said that “while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.” More than anything in this post-election period, I wish everyone on all sides could realize the truth of this sentiment, and allow it to ease their doubts and fears.
Challenges lie ahead. My side, like yours, is worried about the federal deficit and our national debt, and we’re ready to face painful cuts in order to pare them down. We’re with you on that, 100 percent. But it will also take compromise on everyone’s part, and a willingness to be fair. I know in my heart you understand that, because that’s what Americans are at their core, always, in the final analysis: fair.
Gov. Romney was eloquent in his concession speech.
“At a time like this,” he said, “we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
I agree with Gov. Romney and I believe that we will find a way to rise to the occasion. And I sincerely hope you do, too.
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.