Early November. I painted my fingernails blue. I went to the mall and bought myself a blazer, a white one to honor the suffragists who fought for my right to vote one hundred years ago. I wore it proudly on Election Day. I refreshed FiveThirtyEight obsessively, as I’d been doing for the past several months. I told myself that Hillary Clinton would triumph – no matter the Comey letter or the emails (EMAILS!) or any other charge brought against her – and vanquish her opponent, thus proving that decency, optimism and progress would persevere.
Election Night. I gathered with friends, happy tears in our eyes as we contemplated the night ahead. One of my friends was celebrating her birthday: “All I want for my birthday is the first female president!” she joked. “You’ll get it!” we agreed.
Then the results started coming in. A pall fell over our celebration. Our hope slipped away with each return. What happened? we wondered. What’s going on? We parted that night in a cloud of disbelief and shock. I went to bed before the election was called, although I woke up a few hours later and loaded the New York Times. I saw the headlines and I cried, huge gasping sobs in the middle of the night.
Here we are, a few weeks later. I’m still crying. But this is more than me mourning the loss of my candidate. “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” ask Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in today’s New York Times. This question has been rattling around my head ever since the early hours of November 9. Because I agree with what they say – we might muddle along for the next few years, but the informal norms and internal checks to our democracy are severely weakened. Our democracy is at risk.
In the past weeks, we’ve seen threats to religious freedom, to our freedom of expression, to our right to assemble, to artists, to our right to vote, to the freedoms of the press. We’ve seen the ugliness of overt racism and sexism pretend they’ve been normalized. (They will never be normalized.)
As a writer and librarian, I make my living in the views, opinions and ideas of others. I make my living in facts. I teach students how to find a variety of information and how to evaluate the information they find. We have to move beyond “agreeing to disagree” and into actual conversation with each other – and with whatever history and science and other disciplines teach us about various issues. We have to stop believing fake news. We have to stop demonizing the other for having views that are different than ours, as Levitsky and Ziblatt outline, and instead remember our common humanity.
We’ve a decent run so far, America. We’ve never fully lived up to our ideals. But I still stand by and believe in those ideals, of freedom and equality, of the pursuit of happiness. I stand by freedom of expression and our first amendment rights. And I will defend everyone’s rights, even if I don’t agree with the individually personally.
So can we make that promise, America? To defend each other’s rights, even if we do not agree with each other? Can we stop demonizing each other and instead work toward a society where we can all pursue happiness? Can we work towards a better future together?
Who’s with me?