Reconciliation Or Resistance: Post-Election Dilemma

Nov 23

Huffington Post, November 22, 2016

It will be an understatement to say that the world changed in the wee hours of Wednesday, November 9. For some in America, it marked the beginning of a new dawn as the party and ideology they voted for won and won big — not just winning the presidency, but also both houses of Congress and majority of state legislatures. For others, it felt like a descent into darkness. A return to the days of internment, mass deportations and rising hate crimes. However, the presidential elections of 2016 did not divide America. It simply laid bare the festering divisiveness that were never adequately addressed in the first place.

Post-election, there were calls for unity from both the losing and winning sides. But how does one unite with someone who is calling for people of a certain religion to register into special government databases or threatening to deport untold millions or remain paralyzed by inaction in the face of hate crimes? Unity seems like a death-wish particularly when the winning side has made little effort at reconciliation. Appointing a person, who can only be described as a propagandist for White supremacy, to be the senior most adviser to the president, can hardly be the beginning of reconciliation. Having advisers and potential cabinet members go on TV to harken back to our shameful past of internments, mass deportations and dragnet surveillance, sends an unwelcome signal to vulnerable minorities. Even if such odious ideas are scaled down for political expediency or beaten back by the courts, their remnants can be damaging to any attempt at unity. I am under no illusion that the U.S. Congress will be an effective check on Donald Trump’s imperial presidency.

In light of a fast changing landscape that may very well redefine what it means to be an American or who counts as being American, any hopes of reconciliation appears a bridge to far. Having a collective amnesia about the one of the most vitriolic elections in recent memory, also seems like asking a bit too much. In this environment it was jarring to hear Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talk about cooperating with president-elect Trump. President Obama went as far as to say that he is now “rooting” for president-elect’s success. But successful doing what? Establishing a special registry for Muslims? Deporting millions using crude dragnet operations? Pushing millions off healthcare insurance? Ignoring the impact of climate change? Giving Wall Street a free reign in controlling our economy? Using the White House as a conflict-of-interest free zone? A president’s success is usually a country’s success. But when a president gets elected by less than majority vote and receives over 1.5 million fewer votes than his rival, how can that president’s ideas be considered the will of the majority?

Resistance appears enticing. It allows the losing side to channel its righteous anger. As much as I want to fling myself unconditionally into the camp of resistors, I am worried too about its efficacy. Resistance without well-defined goals can be a recipe for anarchy. In my faith tradition, anarchy is worse than oppression. President-elect Trump’s chief strategist told The Hollywood Reporter that “darkness is good.” It is good for those plotting to exploit anarchy. For the rest of us, darkness is darkness.

According to Gallup, Donald Trump’s net favorability rating is the worst among all newly elected president’s since 1992. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both came into the presidency with a net plus 23. Barack Obama was a whopping plus 41. Donald Trump is a minus 13. He surely does not have a mandate, his ideas remain deeply unpopular and his potential cabinet as already elicited concerns across America’s political divide. Under these circumstances, resistance to an unpopular and divisive president-elect not only seems to be the moral thing to do but also the most politically effective strategy to adopt.

But what if Trump reaches out on areas, such as infrastructure spending, where he and progressive Democrats see eye-to-eye? Will cooperation imply acquiescence to his abhorrent ideas? Cooperation on issues of common concerns has to go hand-in-glove with resistance to divisive ideas. Achieving this delicate balance will be an unprecedented test. Even when resisting a Trump administration, we should make sincere attempts to reach out to our fellow Americans who despite having some concerns with Trump’s misogyny, racism and xenophobia, were willing to subordinate those concerns for economic empowerment.

Liberal democracies like the U.S. need a reexamination of its core ideology. It needs a new form of advocacy that is less based on identity politics and more based on those liberal ideas that transcend racial and religious boundaries. American democracy is in serious trouble as this election cycle has shown. Fake news got more traffic than real news while voter turnout was anemic. Massive civic education programs that inspire the younger generation to discard cynicism and choose engagement will be a good start. A populist push for making voting more accessible should be a priority. Marrying direct action resistance with thoughtful engagement is a must.

Reconciliation and resistance do not represent polar choices. But rather demonstrate a new paradigm for intersectionality. Resistance to a Trump administration must be married with an effective strategy of reconciliation with Trump voters. America remains the promised land even with a dangerous demagogue at its helm. We must still believe that the moral arc of the universe will bend towards justice. The road ahead got a lot tougher. But it is not an unfamiliar road. We have been on that road many times and each time we overcame often at a significant cost. Why should this time be different?