Today was supposed to be the day the glass ceiling was finally broken. It was supposed to be the day that Hillary Clinton, an accomplished stateswoman and eminently qualified political candidate, seized a historic moment and assumed the mantle of the Presidency. It was supposed to be the day that America continued its march toward a more liberal, inclusive society. It was supposed to represent a cementing of the Obama legacy, and a clearer path to progress.
Reality now beckons.
When Donald Trump is sworn in today as the 45th President of the United States, and in the years to come, it will be easy to fall into a trap of despondency. To be sure, the notion that the next article that I write the name “Donald Trump” it will be prefaced with the title “President” is terrifying. I still have trouble grappling with the fact that almost 63 million Americans – including members of my own family – voted for a man who is, by any objective measure, a bigoted, racist, sexist, know-nothing with numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment. The “why” question is an important one, and one that we will be asking for years to come.
But that is the reality of the situation. Donald Trump won the election, and will soon become, and deserve the title of, President Trump. And in the face of that reality, despondency is not the path.
Consider the fact that, when Donald Trump was a teenager in the 1960s, homosexuality was largely illegal, abortion was largely illegal, literacy tests and other barriers to minority voting were widespread in the South, and openly racist attitudes were widely accepted. Now, same-sex marriage is legal in every state, abortion is a constitutional right, barriers to voting have been chipped away, and accusing someone of racism is the ultimate end-of-argument put down.
These changes did not come about by dwelling in sorrow about the status quo, but rather by an incessant commitment to making things incrementally better. They are also a reminder, however, that the past is never dead. It isn’t even the past.
Legalizing same-sex marriage did not eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples. State and national legislators continue to challenge the limits of a woman’s right to choose. New kinds of voting restrictions aim at suppressing minority voter turnout. And a man who argued a federal judge couldn’t do his job solely because of his race was elected president.
The point, though, is this: The arc of progress is long – this has always been the case – and the path, moreover, is rocky and uneven. History does not move in a straight line. Sometimes progress is made. Sometimes there are regressions and reversals of course. But over time, there emerges a general trajectory toward the construction of a more just society.
I do not pretend to believe that Democrats, or “liberals,” or even “progressives” (despite the name), hold a monopoly on the ideas and principles which lead toward that progress. But it is an inescapable fact that, as we sit here today, the other political party is increasingly reluctant to positive change. Whether it is on issues of equality, or the environment, and most everywhere in between, the Republican Party has demonstrated its commitment to holding us back – to myth, nostalgia, and the past. The election of Trump shows us how far we still have to go.
That shining city on a hill is still but a distant future.
If you’re committed to getting there, though, you don’t have time to despair for today. You need to stand up and fight for the future, no matter how deep the rabbit hole goes. And you need to fight today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Count me as part of the resistance.
Featured Image Credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr