By the time I went to bed last night, I was pretty sure that Donald J. Trump would be my next president. When my body awoke early this morning (I had no idea the time), I pondered whether to turn over and allow myself to check my phone. It seemed unlikely I would fall back asleep with any ease, so I decided to see whether Trump had sealed his victory or if some miracle had occurred.
Like many, I am scared. Not because a Republican has won the White House but because Trump was no ordinary Republican candidate. I’m worried about international affairs and potential wars and nuclear threats. I’m worried about what it means for our diverse nation that a man so associated with bigotry and resentment and ignorance has won the presidency. I’m worried that Trump won’t respect the law or basic principles of our democracy that allow it to function as well as it does.
During the last several months, I have allowed myself to believe that a Trump presidency was indeed a real possibility. As I pondered this, I found that I needed to hope. I suspect some other people out there need a little hope right now too. So I thought I’d share the list of reasons for hope under a Trump presidency that I’ve been working on.
My tone will probably be more optimistic than some can handle at this moment (it will probably be more optimistic than I currently feel). All of us are experiencing this election differently, and I don’t pretend that my reaction is the right one for everyone. But perhaps these words will be encouraging to some.
1. My faith
Politics is not a good place to put your hope. Most of us find something else to hope in. For me, part of that something else is a belief in a God who—eventually, somehow—will ensure that justice and goodness and peace will ultimately win. Every government and every political system is deeply flawed. The question is when—not if—politics will take a dark turn. We must find something else to hope in when these moments come.
2. Our resilience
As a nation, we’ve lived through plenty of dark moments. We fled from our nation’s capital as the British set it ablaze. We pointed our guns toward one another and literally split in two as we fought to preserve our separate visions of who we were as a people. We ran to the banks and found that our deposits were gone forever. We listened on the radio to the news that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. We saw smoke rise above our cities as racial strife erupted in flames. We stared at our TV screens and witnessed the plane that hit the second tower. Throughout our history, we have seen exactly four presidents be shot and killed.
Somehow, we have always survived.
I’m one of the least patriotic people I know, and believing in my country should be more difficult for me right now than ever before. In many ways, it is. But today I know that I am proud to be an American. And I believe that spirit of patriotism is more important now than it ever has been before in my lifetime. I will not run from my country in the face of adversity. My country needs me now, and I will stand with it. We will survive this together. We will find a way. That’s what we do.
3. The federal bureaucracy
There are many, many fine women and men serving our country, in and out of uniform. They are talented. They are informed. They have great responsibility. The functions of government are far too vast for any one man (or one man and his close associates) to comprehend every detail. Yes, the president wields great power. But he is forced to rely on the expertise, the procedures, and the efforts of the federal bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is incredibly complex. It is not easy to change. It plays a major role in providing information to the president. I suspect many reckless decisions will be avoided because our bureaucracy will have a say in what happens.
4. The law
Laws are not perfectly respected in any society. We’ve seen presidents push the boundaries of their constitutional authority. But we’ve also consistently seen forces push back against overreach (though not always as strongly as we would wish). Compared to many countries, there is great respect for the law in this country, and that means that the president’s power is not unchecked. Trump may push the boundaries, but he will meet resistance. Traditions of press freedom, democratic transition of authority, and respecting the rights of personal and political enemies will not easily be destroyed. When Hillary Clinton was the alternative, many Republicans (elected officials and voters) came to Trump’s side. But I do not believe that means they will tolerate the dissolution of our most deeply-held democratic norms.
5. New awareness
I believe that the rhetoric and substance of Trump’s campaign has worsened certain problems in our society. But it has also served to reveal many pre-existing problems that were largely being ignored (for a variety of reasons) by much of society. In the last few years, we have finally again devoted substantial attention to issues of racism in our society. In recent months, the Trump candidacy has begun spawning important discussions about rural poverty, racial resentment, and intergenerational hopelessness. Despite the Internet allowing us to connect instantly with people in almost any part of the world, we’ve been so disconnected from one another at home that many have been struggling to understand what a Trump supporter even looks like. We can only hope to address our society’s issues if we are aware of them. Trump’s political success has been a major wakeup call to me and many others.
This presidential campaign has both exposed and created deep divisions in our society. There are many wounds in need of healing. Regardless of the outcome, picking up the pieces and trying to move forward as a nation after this election was never going to be an easy task. Many (including people I know and love) are relieved by last night’s results. Many (such as myself) are terrified. I don’t know what our future will look like. But we—you and I—will play a role in it. It’s our job—each of ours—to push forward and face the problems confronting our world. That was true on Monday, and it’s still true today. We have a lot of work to do.