It’s been a while since I’ve written. Sorry for that. As you know, I’ve been busy at work. Anyway, I felt like we all needed a note this week. So, here goes …
A few days ago, Donald Trump was elected to be the next president of the United States. He won, in part, thanks to the arcane rules we use for vote counting–rules that don’t treat all votes as equal. Those are dumb rules, but they are still the shared rules, so we have to accept them.
We have to accept that Donald Trump will be our next president, even if we don’t like it. We have to accept the rule of law and the peaceful transfer of power. We have to accept that democracy sometimes requires giving a chance to the candidate you didn’t choose.
That said, there are many things we don’t have to accept. These include: a wall on the Mexican border, the forceful separation of children from their parents, white supremacist nonsense, torture, the reckless deployment of military personnel and power, sexist behavior (much less sexual assault), xenophobia, racism, homophobia, the bullying of transgender people or disabled people or any other people, and policies based on meanness or small-mindedness.
For that matter, we don’t have to accept any policy we don’t agree with–at least, not until it becomes an enforceable law. And even then, we retain the right to peacefully resist based upon the dictates of our consciences. As Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, and Jesus of Nazareth all realized, sometimes what we owe our communities is civil disobedience.
More broadly, we don’t have to accept generic calls to unite behind the president-elect. There is no legal or moral requirement to do so. Nor does respect for the rules of our democracy–or love for our country–require us to acquiesce in the aftermath of an election, beyond accepting the aforementioned rule of law and peaceful transfer of power. Mr. Trump didn’t even win the most votes, so any claim that he has a mandate is silly. And anyway, it’s never quite right to say “the people have spoken” after an election. The people are always free to keep speaking (see the First Amendment).
If the president-elect wants us to unite in the wake of the recent campaign, then I think “We the People” are entitled to ask him to accept a few conditions. To start with:
1. No unchecked power, ever. Agree unequivocally to play by the constitutional rules and compromise as necessary. No asking for extraordinary powers. No claiming to be above the law. No accusing those who merely oppose you of being traitors. And no saying “but look what Obama (or Bush or Clinton) did,” since part of your promise was to reform Washington and put all of that behind us.
2. No trust without transparency. Stop repeating campaign slogans and explain how you actually propose to make our country greater. Show us the business plan, the numbers, and the details. Don’t ask us to trust without verifying. You wouldn’t do business that way, and neither should we.
3. No bigotry. Most importantly, prove to us all–through word and deed, rhetoric and policy–that your definition of “We the People” includes all of us: gay, white, black, straight, trans, brown, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, immigrant, native, Spanish-speaking, English-speaking, mothers, fathers, seniors, millennials, and my daughters as equals to anyone’s sons. Realize that, based on the election’s rhetoric, many of our fellow citizens are now frightened–afraid in their very flesh and bones–about how America will treat them going forward. Accept that this is utterly unacceptable to decent Americans, from all backgrounds. Neither I, nor my daughters, nor the vast majority of our fellow citizens are going to accept bigotry. “We the People” are better than that.
Show me that you accept all of this, and I’ll gladly meet you halfway and shoulder my share of the work to move America forward, even if we continue to disagree on many points. Otherwise, I reserve my constitutional right to peacefully resist, to criticize and follow my conscience every minute of every day. In other words, I reserve my right to fundamental liberty, to the basic freedom our founders designed this country to preserve and protect.
I hope all of my fellow citizens will recognize and respect this right, even if they disagree with me in other ways. Because if we have lost this ability–the ability to respect each other’s basic freedom of conscience–then we have also lost the ability to govern ourselves. If that ever happens, God help us all, and forgive us for ruining the greatest nation on earth.
I hope and believe that we are yet far from that. And I promise to do my best to help keep us that way. I’d encourage each of you to do the same: by listening carefully to others, including (especially) people you don’t agree with at first; by following shared rules even when you don’t like shared decisions; and by always resisting injustice, unfairness, and meanness wherever you find them. Sometimes it’s hard to do all of these things at once. But no one ever said that life, or democracy, was easy.
In the end, my dears, it’s our job to raise the standards and keep making America greater, no matter who’s been elected. That’s the challenge “We the People” must always accept, including each of you. It’s been a rough week, but you’re up to it. I know this because I know you. You’re remarkable, powerful, intelligent young women. I find renewed hope for the future in you. Every single day. I’m so proud, and …
I so love you,