For most of the election season, we’ve been regularly treated to pundits telling us that “America is divided.” Indeed, this campaign provided repeated evidence of division, alienation and resentment. The balkanization of the United States seemed real.
Along the way, some people became fond of saying, “We live in two Americas.” Along with that, evangelical Christians began saying, “Those evangelicals for Trump are not real evangelicals.” We wanted to handle the divisions — often disappointing — by mentally separating the “others” into another America. Or we sought to question their credentials as “real” or “genuine” Americans or evangelicals.
One-third of the country “couldn’t believe” other Americans supported Trump. Another third “couldn’t believe” there were supporters of Clinton. And a third “couldn’t believe” anyone could ever support anybody in this election. We handled our disbelief by grouping all the “others” into an imagined “different America.”
Beloved, we all live in the same country. I understand we have different experiences in this country, and those experiences — from the very profound to the numbingly mundane — shape our perspectives. But even with all the differences and divisions, we live in one United States of America.
I’m not pointing this out as some escapist exercise to soothe personal disappointment in election results. I think escapism has been killing us for a long time. President-elect Donald Trump will be, Lord willing, my president in about three months’ time. I didn’t vote for him. I actively opposed his candidacy. I think his campaign was built on fear, hate, nativism, isolationism, religious bigotry and intolerance, racism, and sexism. I think he represented America’s version of #Brexit. I’ll be on guard against all I find unrighteous according to God’s word.
But he now stands ready to serve this country — my country — as president. Which means, in part, that many people in this country — my country — either actively supported his campaign or were at least willing to overlook deeply problematic aspects long enough to vote with hope that some other positives might carry the day.
This is our America. We share this land and participate in this republic, one that the writers of the Pledge of Allegiance hoped would be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” And there’s the rub. “Liberty and justice for all” has been difficult to gain. And it turns out to be messy and sometimes contradictory business. Some see a Trump presidency as an “existential threat” to liberty and justice in the best sense of the American promise. I’m among them.
But we’re not helped if we now shrink away into our enclaves loathing Trump and “those people” who voted for him. We’re only helped if we participate more fully in our government ensuring, as Lemuel Haynes put, liberty is “further extended” rather than contracted.
You see, this election was indeed about a referendum on what kind of people and country we want to be. It was a battle, like all elections, of competing visions. That competition affects us all in time. What really matters is how well we pay attention to those affects on people “not like us.” Selfishness is easy. Celebration in victory requires no character or effort. The true test will be whether we can celebrate what we think is good while also protecting against what we think is bad.
Having a chance to appoint Supreme Court justices should not be touted as a grand, unqualified victory if we also suspect the freedoms of ethnic groups will be restricted or ethnic peoples mistreated.
The prospect of immigration or health-care reform should not cause us to turn a blind eye to encroachments on civil and religious liberties. For this one America has historically shown tremendous capacity for contradiction. The “greatest generation” could rise to the challenge of global fascism and despotism, but also tolerate racial segregation and prejudice in their own homes.
America could, in God’s providence, fashion the Declaration of Independence while systematically exterminating Native Americans and enslaving Africans. The United States found it no trouble to its conscience to promote democracy around the world while for most of its history denying women and African Americans the right to vote. My country finds it too easy to live with glaring liberty-threatening inconsistency.
The most troubling outcome of this election will not be Trump’s presidency. The most troubling outcome could be our willingness to retreat deeper into self-interested and self-idolizing divisions that pay little attention to our “other” neighbors.
We have not been a country that has consistently taken “love your neighbor” literally. We’ve been a country of self-justifying Pharisees who retort, “Who is my neighbor?” My friend, every American is your neighbor. We would do well to love them in word and deed.