Today at noon we get a new President. This makes some of us very sad, and this makes some of us very happy. I “get” that. What I don’t “get” is the “Not my President” response that seems to be so popular as this less than popular President takes office. Deeper than the angry rhetoric and political posturing that this slogan expresses, I detect in it an alarming crack in our national life that weakens the very foundation of our Constitutional Republic.
I certainly get the disappointment of an election that doesn’t turn out the way that you had hoped. I get the very real concern about the changes that a new administration promises to make. And I even get the rejection of the values and the criticism of the character of the people who have been elected to high public office. All of these things have been part of my own personal political experience at one time or another as well. In fact, if the truth be told, I’m rarely happy with Washington D.C., and I am almost always troubled politically. Yes, I “get” it. But what I don’t get is the absence of “Political Grace” that the “Not my President” slogan betrays. It just seems to run so contrary to our best impulses and highest instincts as participants in the American experiment.
It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Jimmy Carter displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Ronald Reagan, the candidate who had just defeated him in a bitter election. It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that George H.W. Bush displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Bill Clinton, the candidate who had just defeated him in a bitter election. It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Bill Clinton then displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of George W. Bush who finally won the closest of elections on the basis of a controversial Supreme Court ruling. It lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that George W. Bush displayed when he facilitated the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Barack Obama who won the election campaigning on a repudiation of the Bush policies. And it lacks the kind of Patriotic Grace that Barack Obama has been putting on display as he has been facilitating the transition of Presidential power to the administration of Donald Trump who won the office without winning the popular vote and that is clouded with evidence of attempted foreign influence on our democratic process. Donald Trump may or may not have been your candidate, but today at noon, he is going to be our President.
So, the question for all of us today, both the glad and the sad is – now what?
On Monday this week I posted a “Soundings” on “Partisan Praying.” If you haven’t read that blog yet, then I would certainly encourage you to do so now. As a Christian speaking to other Christians, this is the most important thing that I would say we need to be doing today. And then, only after saying that, as a citizen speaking to other citizens, I would then urge a quick civics lesson.
After hearing all about it on the news, I took a look last week at “Indivisible,” the political action manual that was recently put together by a group of progressive Congressional staffers on how to get and wield political power when the administration that is in in office doesn’t reflect your values and convictions. They based “Indivisible” on their observations of the emergence of, and their experience with the political effectiveness of the Tea Party in the early years of the Obama Administration. At its core, “Indivisible” is just a basic guide to political organization and influence. It pulls back the curtain of Washington D.C. and shows us how things actually get done there. Its authors clearly have a political agenda, but the process that they describe does not. It’s just as good for the gander, and it was for the goose. In fact, these Progressives say that they learned it from watching the Tea Party! I learned it in my high school civics class, and from my volunteer work at the headquarters of a major political party in my suburb of LA during a Presidential and Gubernatorial election in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was growing up. There is nothing dangerous, subversive or particularly innovative here. This is all just stuff that we should already know and be regularly doing as citizens.
A pretty good list of what involved and concerned citizens should be doing these days was recently put together and posted online by Evan McMullin, an Independent candidate for President in the last election.
- Read and learn the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Know that our basic rights are inalienable.
- Identify and follow many credible sources of news. Be very well informed and learn to discern truth from untruth.
- Pay attention to what the Administration says, decides and does.
- Be very vocal in every forum available to you if you think that rights are being violated and democracy is being threatened. Write, speak, and act.
- Support journalists, artists, academics, clergy and others who speak truth and who inform, inspire and unite us.
- Build bridges with Americans from the other side of the traditional political spectrum and with members of diverse American communities.
- Defend the rights of people who don’t look, think or believe like us. An attack on one is an attack on all.
- Organize online and in person with other Americans about the things that concern you.
- Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.
- And finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, have “malice toward none, with charity for all” and never ever lose hope!
And while he has been a political rival and remains a public critic of our new President, there is nothing on this list that I find to be particularly partisan or pointed. In fact, it seems to me that these are ten really good things for all of us to be doing as citizens no matter who is in office, and even if Evan McMullen himself had been elected to office!
And that’s the whole point.
Whether this is a day of rejoicing for you, or a day of despair, tomorrow’s another day. The election is over, the transition of administrations is complete, and now the hard work of governing begins with a new group of leaders at the helm. You may have voted for them. You may have voted against them. They may fill you with hope. They may fill you with dread. But either way, they are the ones who are now in office. But they aren’t there as tyrants to unilaterally impose their will on us any more than the last administration was, or the next administration after this one will be. They are there to cast a vision and then to try to implement it through a constitutionally established political process.
Choose to be part of that process!
A government of the people, by the people, and for the people, requires the people. In our system of government, being governed requires the consent of the governed, and that means people, all of the people, stepping up and conducting ourselves as responsible citizens in a participatory democracy. So, whether you are glad or sad today, let the full exercise of your citizenship begin, and be grateful that we have the privilege. DBS +