I know, you’re all wondering what these two quotes have to do with each other – but as a part-time grad student and part-time stay-at-home-mom, these are the people I’m reading right now. And it struck me that La Barre and Uebbing are basically giving the same message, but in two extremely different contexts: They are both saying, “Everything is normal. We’ve seen this before. There’s no need for alarm.” La Barre, we now know, was completely wrong in his assessment of the situation. At the moment, we have no way of knowing if Jenny is wrong too.
I find myself torn on how to react to Trump’s election and presidency, and the surrounding turmoil. If this is all due to deep divisions and polarization within the American people, when the two sides have become so far apart that their positions are almost mutually unintelligible, then I should do what I can to help build bridges, make connections, and bring us as a society back to a moderated, respectful dialogue. On the other hand, I think there’s a chance Trump’s presidency will actually challenge American democracy as we know it. And if that’s the case, then trying to establish a middle ground so that we can have conversations might actually end up making us collaborators with evil.
One way of resolving this tension, I think, is to go deeper in our conversations. I think many peoples’ perspectives are undergirded by the fear of what might happen. Will Trump’s immigration ban be extended to visa-holders of more countries? Will his vendetta against the “fake news” media end up curtailing free speech? Are these all small steps towards a fascist government takeover? The people I know who voted for Trump also had fears about the consequence of a Clinton presidency. Would churches be forced to change their theological positions or be penalized by supposedly anti-discrimination policy? Would parental choice in education be erased? Would I be persecuted for expressing my religious beliefs in the public sphere?
For some reason, perhaps because we don’t want to come across as simply paranoid, we tend to keep these fears hidden. I propose, however, that becoming more vulnerable to each other, and describing our deepest fears, might actually help bring us together. One technique that has been useful to me has been to ask those who don’t currently see the need to oppose Trump’s actions: “What would cause you to speak up?” For example, if you are okay with the current travel ban, would you protest if it was extended to other countries? If it involved deportation of some categories of immigrants? If it involved deportation of all legal immigrants? Working backwards to find common ground like this could be disheartening, but I think it accomplishes two goals: if we’re not in a doomsday scenario right now, it helps us understand the ideological positions of others and the limits of their extremism (or what we perceive as their extremism), and allows us to find common ground. Worst-case scenario, it makes them declare their “line in the sand” before it actually becomes necessary – hopefully encouraging them to protest if it actually does.
Since my son’s birth, I’ve been singing him the same lullaby in Spanish every night. One verse stands out to me right now: Aunque te digan algunos que nada puede cambiar/Lucha por un mundo nuevo, lucha por la verdad. [Although some people may tell you that nothing can change, fight for a new world, fight for the truth.] The idea of change can offer hope, but it can also portend evil. Either way, we must work with the knowledge that everything can change.