Exit, Voice, and Presidential Elections, Part II

Back in February, I wroteIf elections don’t go the way we like, it shouldn’t be cause to flee, but rather a call to action: our voices would be needed more than ever.

I feel its important to repeat this as comments about leaving the country become more common. Indeed, the Canadian immigration website crashed as election results came in Tuesday night.

Albert O. Hirschman argues that in any interaction, an individual has there options: exit, voice, or loyalty.

Given the rhetoric which came out of the Trump campaign, there are many with good reason to fear for their safety and who may view exit as the only reasonable option. But for a lot of people – for me, for example – I am relatively privileged enough that in practical terms a Trump presidency will mean little more than a few years of disgust coupled with good Alec Baldwin bits.

For me, I think, exit is not a reasonable option – I have a civic duty to stay and fight, to exercise voice in shaping the future of American.

Of course, how one should exercise voice is a different conversation all together.

Should we try for unity or resist from the beginning? Should we wait until there are specific egregious actions we need to oppose, or should we fight now, chanting ‘not my president’ and urging the electoral college to vote differently?

Personally, the later approaches make me uncomfortable – I was distraught by anti-Obama protests which questioned the legitimacy of his presidency and it feels hypocritical to express similar sentiments for someone else. But I’m glad to see these questions being asked and to hear these conversations taking place within the progressive community as we all try to make sense of the world we have found ourselves in.

I have also been thinking a lot about how to be a better ally in the years ahead.  I write a lot about building bridges across our differences and listening to – and trying to understand – people with different perspective from us.

I do think that work is critically important, but it can’t be overlooked that there are fundamental inequities in those opportunities: it’s hard to have a conversation across difference when the person you’re talking to espouses hate for everything you are.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they feel like they woke up yesterday as strangers in their own country. It’s a feeling that many of us remember from the election of 2000. And it’s a feeling I heard echoed by conservatives in 2008.

But it’s also a feeling I heard from many people of color when Mike Brown was murdered, or when the Baltimore police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray were acquitted, or following any of the many, many incident which seemed to say clearly: your life doesn’t matter and this country is not built for you.

And that’s just an insane reality to live in. The idea that at any given time large portions of the country feel disempowered, discounted, and disenfranchised; that some large group of people will always feel like strangers in their own land.

Months ago, a Trump supporter told me that she was miserable under Obama and that it was the Republican party’s “turn.” I may want to find that a questionable sentiment, but I also can’t deny I felt something similar after the George W. Bush presidency. Republicans had a go, and now it was our turn.

In the moment, these emotions and perspectives are reasonable and valid…but this is no way to run a country. There are no “turns.” We can’t just continue to tug-o-war the country, growing more and more polarized as we go.

We need to find ways to work together.


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