One of my dear friends attended the inauguration of President Trump. He posted a Facebook Live video of President and Michelle Obama leaving the inauguration. As they stepped into the helicopter and it lifted, I could hear a few people say things like, “Good riddance!” This is not the way forward.
Immediately after the inauguration, I saw several people post countdown clocks until the next inauguration, implying that they cannot wait until President Trump is replaced, which will take place, in their minds, in four years. (Four and eight years ago, I saw republicans post similar things, waiting until the end of President Obama’s term.) This is not the way forward.
Prior to and since the election of President Trump, I have seen post after post from republicans, mocking those who see things differently than themselves, calling them things like “snowflakes”, and ridiculing their hurt and pain. At the same time, I have seen democrats accuse all republicans of being racist, misogynistic homophobes. This is not the way forward.
Our country is sharply divided. Nothing illustrates this better than the recent presidential election. President Trump solidly won the election with 304 electoral votes (the only thing that matters), 30 states, and a red blanket across the individual counties of the nation. When we look at the actual numbers, though, they are not all in the new POTUS’s favor. Secretary Clinton received over 2.8 million more individual votes than President Trump did, and just a few thousand votes in a handful of states would have swung the electoral college to her favor. So, though President Trump solidly won the election, it was far from a landslide. Our nation remains sharply divided.
So, where do we go from here? Certainly, some will want President Trump and the republican congress to quickly push through whatever changes they want, and others will want the democrats in congress to obstruct whatever they can. I would like to suggest, however, that there is a better way forward. Rather than working against one another, we should work together. Rather than engaging in name-calling, ridicule, accusations, and other things that divide, we should learn how to have a charitable discourse with one another.
In his book A Charitable Discourse, Dr. Dan Boone writes, “If the holy conversation, a generous discourse, is to occur, the labeling must cease. We are not dealing with labels, we are talking to people. Forget their political party and economic status, that they beat you in the last board election, that they are different—and remember that Jesus removes labels. So can we. Then we might be able to talk” (Location 270). Have you ever tried to think fondly of someone else who labels you in hurtful ways? Do you like being mocked for the things that distress you? Newsflash: Nobody else likes it, either. If we are to move forward, we need to stop with the name-calling. As long as this continues, we will not be able to work together, and we will always be opposed to one another. Power will shift from left to right, and then back again, as the unending struggle for dominance continues. And we will not have improved at all as a nation.
If you were on the winning side this election season, you may ask, “Why should I listen to them? We won. We now have the authority to do whatever we want.” Well . . . good luck with that. The pendulum always shifts, and somewhere down the road, the other side will once again control the government. Would not a better approach be to learn to work together now? And if you were on the side the lost, you may be filled with anger, fear, and/or despair. You may not want to have anything to do with those who won. But is this really the best way to live life? Protest is fine, and the right to protest is part of what has made America great all along (no, it did not suddenly become great with the inauguration of President Trump), but ultimately real, positive change comes when we learn to work together. Dr. Boone writes, “When we declare someone an enemy, we unleash something in that person’s direction for which we become responsible . . . By cursing the enemy, we unleash upon him or her the wish for harm to be done, not the desire for good. This is not the way of Jesus” (Location 380). Let us not continue as enemies. Rather, let us learn to listen to one another, understanding that each and every person’s opinion is valid, and figure out a way to work together for the common good.
The best way to come to understand the perspective of others is to spend some time looking at the world from their perspective. If you won this year, great! Try to remember how you felt eight years ago when President Obama was elected and inaugurated. And treat others how you would have like to have been treated. And if you lost this year, bummer. Try to remember your excitement eight and four years ago, and be happy for those who won. And remember, there are more elections in the future. The peaceful transfer of power is another thing that has made America great all along.
Friends, if we are to continue as a nation, we must learn how to rise above the division. Let us love one another unconditionally. Let us try to imagine what it is like to live the lives of others. Let us stop using our words to harm and demean others. And let us treat all people with dignity and respect. We can do better than what we have been doing. We must do better than what we have been doing. God, help us.
Boone, Dan. A Charitable Discourse. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2010. Kindle.