The Morning After: Reflections on an Election Gone Wrong

“Stunned into silence. Sitting Shiva for America. God Save Our Souls.”

After watching Hillary Clinton’s extraordinarily gracious concession speech in the aftermath of the election that shook the world, I tweeted those words.

On Facebook’s larger platform I added, “I try to take solace in the thought that some moderate Republicans may vote on crucial issues with the 48 Democrats in the Senate; that in two years we can elect more good Dems to Congress; and that Hillary won the popular vote, which means that good Americans will revolt when things get bad.

What just happened in archetypal terms,” I added, “is that Americans have begun a collective journey that will change us all. On that journey, we must enter the Underground (“dark cave”) and emerge on the other side in order to achieve enlightenment.”

In conversations of shared grief and fear, I reminded people that we survived Nixon and George W. I suggested that Trump’s government will self-destruct, probably pretty quickly. I tried to believe my own words.

I was in a state of mourning when I posted to Facebook in a halfhearted effort to offer hope that we would find our way back to the light at the end of this darkness. I told friends who called or wrote from all over the world that I found some relief in the thought that the Senate would be strengthened by the addition of California’s first female attorney general Kamila Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina senator in US history, and feisty veteran Tammy Duckworth.

Then, as spontaneous, peaceful protest marches took place all over the country after the election I did begin to believe my words. I was reassured to see so many people gathered to send a strong message to the president-elect, all proclaiming that Trump is “not my president.” The show of solidarity, no doubt a collective antidote to fear, served notice on the incoming administration that we are everywhere, we are watching, we are not going away, we are not going back, and we will not allow a new government to destroy who we are as a diverse and dignified nation.

But we have work to do and miles to go. As analysts point out, the racist ghosts in our closet have come out. The gaping wounds of racism, misogyny and more in our national psyche cannot simply be bandaged over. To continue the metaphor, these prurient infections need to be properly diagnosed, cleansed, treated and monitored. It won’t be easy or quick but we can no longer ignore the flaws in our hearts and our systems that threaten our collective healing.

We also have a massive amount of political work to do. For a start, we need to eliminate the electoral college, which is no longer relevant. Like keeping kosher, it had its reasons when established, but no longer serves a useful purpose.

We must pass a law that all presidential candidates are required to reveal their taxes during the campaign season, which desperately needs to be shorter and publicly financed.

We need a mechanism for swiftly investigating organizations of state (like the FBI) that may have interfered with the electoral process.

We must ensure that Citizens United is overturned and that Dodd-Frank and other financial reform continues.

We must vote out legislators whose only goal is obstruction and we must insist that judges are seated on Federal and Supreme Court benches who remember that their job is to uphold the Constitution.

We also need to reform voting laws on a national level.

Additionally, we must hold the media responsible for the highest standards of journalism and continually remind them that they are the critical Fourth Estate, without which there can be no true democracy. They must be bold, balanced and aggressive in their reporting, no matter what their networks and sponsors demand.

We must educate the electorate, who know far too little about U.S. civic history, constitutional protections and rights, and the importance of facts, words, and knowledge, all of which form the foundations of democracy. So too does participation in the political process, including voting.

It’s a tall, long term order but a vital one. These measures won’t happen easily or early. But they must be part of our national agenda as we move forward because we have so much work to do in the days ahead and in the aftermath of a Trump administration. 

That’s what I think Tim Kaine meant when he quoted William Falkner: “They kilt us but they ain’t whupped us yit.”

As Betty Davis famously said, it’s time to fasten our seatbelts because it’s going to be a rocky ride. Still, I find comfort in these words I read in a novel just before I wrote this commentary: “Every human heartbeat is a universe of possibilities.” The outcome of this stunning, alarming election remains to be seen, monitored and managed. But in the long term, our human heartbeats may indeed offer a necessary universe of possibility.