Reaction to the 2016 US Presidential Election
Like many people I know, I woke up to the shock that Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States. It’s heartbreaking how this election has divided our great country, perpetuating misogyny, bigotry, hate and fear mongering. In the wake of the contentious election, my father sent the following letter members of my family. I hope you find some comfort in it, as I did.
I am sure you are shocked, concerned and perhaps a little afraid about the future as a result of the election outcome. Your mother and I are the same.
Let me share some thoughts from someone twice your age. During my lifetime we have seen. ——
A vice president rise to the presidency who had been dismissed as inconsequential, a former haberdasher. He had been routinely excluded from the inner circle of power. He did not even know about the Manhattan Project. History judges him as one of our best presidents for his guidance at the end of WWII and through the Korean War. He sacked the popular commander and would-be Napoleon who wanted to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. When the general showed up late for a meeting on the presidential plane, he stated “I don’t give a damn what you think of Harry Truman but you will never leave the President of the United States waiting again.” His name was Harry Truman.
There was a very powerful senator who via his demagoguery and lies created a Red Scare, which victimized many people in the arts and the military. In the end Congress and brave individuals stood up to him saying “Mr. McCarthy have you no shame!” He fell. His name was Joe McCarthy.
There was a president who had a very dark side. He was obsessed with “enemies” and kept an enemies list. The atmosphere of his presidency was us versus them. That atmosphere fostered all types of abuses of power, some criminal. He himself committed crimes while in office. In the end our strong institutions, a vigilant press and Congress managed to guide the nation through the Watergate crisis. The rule of law prevailed and the nation survived. His name was Richard Nixon.
There was a president who was routinely ridiculed as a former football player who had taken too many hits to the head. Against enormous criticism, he had the courage and wisdom to pardon Richard Nixon as a first step in healing the wounds of Watergate. It took years before that wisdom was recognized. His name was Gerald Ford.
The Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, Feminism and the Hippie Generation created enormous social stresses. One group was pitted against another. Long held class privileges were attacked. There was great hatred and violence. Your uncle was on standby to patrol the L.A. streets during the Watts Riots. The Army had to protect a black girl as she integrated a southern high school. Idealistic Freedom Riders were murdered. Four black girls died in a church bombing. Families splintered over lifestyles. In the end, our institutions and the leadership of three principled but personally flawed leaders brought us through and gave us the Civil Rights Act of 1968. They were John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson.
The Vietnam War came the closest to breaking the nation. As the war raged 100 to 200 soldiers were dying every week, as we bombed North Vietnam with more tonnage than was dropped on Germany in WWII (a Navy pilot remarked “we made the rubble bounce”), as we engaged in a “secret war” in Thailand where the fields were sowed with cluster bombs that still kill and maim today, as our soldiers massacred over 100 civilians at My Lai, as we secretly supported a coup that resulted in the assassination of the President of South Vietnam, as our own president was assassinated, as his successor declined to run for re-election probably because it became too difficult to hear the chants everyday outside his gate of “Hey, Hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today’’, as four students were killed by the National Guard on the campus of Kent State University, as the mayor of Chicago stood at a window overlooking the mass rioting against the Democratic National Convention and made throat slashing motions to his police force, as we peaked at 650,000 troops on the ground, as we got to watch it all 24/7 on TV and as we heard again and again about the light at the end of the tunnel. We separated into two camps; for and against the war. Everyone was in one or the other. There was no compromise or middle ground. It took the act of a trusted, fatherly journalist, “Uncle Walter”, to begin the end of our involvement. He went to South Vietnam and spent several months observing the situation. On his first nightly news broadcast after returning he told the nation we couldn’t win the war. Little by little the idea of disengaging gained momentum and we finally left, not before over 55,000 of our US soldiers died. “I know a soldier in Saigon fightin’ off the Viet Cong, they’re still there but he’s all gone.” -Bruce Springsteen.
This informal and jumbled history brings us to about the time you were born. Everything from 1978, 1979 and 1981 is now “in your lifetime.”
So what’s the takeaway from all of this?
History does not guarantee the future or prevent making the same mistake again: witness Iraq. It does point out the resiliency of our country and the ideals upon which it was founded.
Presidents can grow in office. Heroes can emerge when needed.
New crises, fools and demagogues are inevitable. It is the response to them that matters.
Our institutions, our checks and balances and the basic goodness of most of our leaders and most of our citizenry will bring the nation through any crisis, perhaps battered and bruised, but whole.
So: be vigilant, be involved and don’t let the bastard get you down. He will be history before you know it.