Every time I think about the upcoming US elections for the last two days I find myself starting to cry, the tears welling up and overwhelming me. Because even when Hillary wins, Trump has clearly delved into a bleeding heart of American pain, angst, fear and hatred, pumped it up, twisted and manipulated it and it is now a robust living many-armed being that will wreak havoc for years. With all of America’s very real imperfections, there is so much I appreciate and value deeply about America – the America of the Statue of Liberty, Abraham Lincoln, MLK. The America that gives shelter and opportunity to those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, whether that mean my own family many years back; my Bosnian friends who came as refugees and have been able to start new lives; the Filipino and Guatemalan immigrant and diaspora leaders with whom I have worked who are helping their communities in America and in their countries of origin, and so many others.
My American is the America that recognizes, is outraged by and ever strives to redress injustice on the one hand and to bolster liberty, dignity, opportunity for all on the other.
This does not mean America always meets these ideals. Far from it, and for so many reasons. And yet. Every society can point to problems and failures. It is our aspirations, what we see and hope for as our best selves as a society, as citizens, and how we try to live up to those aspirations, that reveals the most about a state and society. At its best America sets an extraordinary example for people worldwide, most of all in the expectation and demand for justice, liberty, dignity, respect, equality, which America’s best push for relentlessly.
As an American who has lived abroad for many years I have often seen how these values are a lighthouse for others, and personally they have pushed me forward in so many ways as well. Even when we – collectively as Americans – are called out for failing our own best selves, these values are the standard which we set and uphold for ourselves and others as necessary and achievable goals. The fact that they can be elusive and difficult to achieve does not diminish our determination to make them the norm.
Trump has upended this standard, claiming to uphold it even as he devastatingly undermines it. Even if he loses, Trump has empowered to monstrous proportions terrible aspects of human nature in America. He has done this through America’s own Achilles heels – extreme capitalism, the pursuit of self-interest at the blatant expense of a greater collective good, the perversion of journalistic ethics and the fact that media is also a business and the worse that his candidacy is for America the better it is for business. I fear that the violence and fear that dominates so many countries will grab hold and pervert in ways that we could never envision happening in America.
The fact that America must do much more to live up to its own ideals is not in dispute. But the fact that Trump is able to manipulate people’s fears and losses to make them think that he is the one who has the vision, values and ability to actually address it is the most upsetting. This is the sort of populist manipulation that brought the likes of Milosevic to power. It felt worlds away from America until now. And if it is this bad for America it is equally bad for the rest of the world.
Democratic values and practices require nurturing, cultivation, articulation. They cannot be taken for granted anywhere ever. As an American who has lived in Israel since 1998 and is a dual citizen, and as someone who now works intensively on building shared society in Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens and sees this as a critical pathway to equality, inclusion and better lives for both communities, I know that what I am working on here is critically important both here and ultimately internationally. But I feel quite helpless about what is happening in America.
And, I must confess, because the guilt is weighing down heavily, since my absentee ballot did not come and my efforts to figure out how to get my vote in so far are not likely to work I may not even be able to cast my own vote in this existentially critical election. This too may be why I am in tears. But then I keep thinking — if I could not manage to get my vote in because “the system” did not respond to my ballot request and then my follow-up efforts have failed in time to actually vote, what happens to all the many others who are less educated, less able to control their circumstances, less aware and yet perhaps even more negatively affected than I will be by this election? And even more importantly, what do we each do the other 1,460 days of the four years between presidential elections to ensure that the democracy we live in is vibrant and serving all of us?
For now I can only hope that my outpouring here might inspire a few more people to GO VOTE, and GET OUT THE VOTE.