Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

In my own cynical way, inauguration day reminds me of New Year’s Eve – it’s a huge non-event.  As you count down to midnight, you are filled with optimism, excitement, resolve, trepidation, whatever – there’s this shared expectation that upon that fateful stroke of the clock, the world is going to change drastically.  It never does.  You wake up the next morning, bleary eyed and (if you’re in ohio) the world outside is just as grey as it was the night before.  The resolutions you’ve made for yourself, full of promise and hope are suddenly just more items on your to-do list and not the inspirational dreams you’ve convinced yourself that they would be. 

Inauguration day has been the same for much of my life.   Approximately 50% of general population feels “This is the end of an era of goodness, development, change, hope, equality, financial prosperity and the end of the world as we know it.  America is going to the dogs.”  The other 50% is crying out “finally we have someone with some sense in the driver’s seat, the country will finally be headed in the right direction, everything will be better now.”  In my experience, neither group has ever been fully correct. 

As a child, a new president was not a thing that mattered.  A new face would show up next to flags in some places and my parents would be either glad that the person they voted for was now president or upset that he wasn’t for approximately a day, but it would not keep them from their true calling in life, which was clearly to push me on the swings.   I returned to school to face the same expectations, same curriculum and ….?

I have reached the age where new presidents matter.  Being in the army,  the new political head of our country is my boss’s boss approximately fifty levels up.  While I don’t anticipate running into him or her at the Christmas party, decisions that this president makes effect my life on a day to day level.  Where I live, what I wear, who I treat.  Where I deploy.   Where I could die… and why I die.   Now that I *get* to pay my share into the government coffer, I have surprisingly strong opinions about how much and how it is used… and so the president matters. 
Impractically, these are not the aspects of this particular president closest to my heart.  The president shapes the American culture – and the American culture shapes all of us.  Culture is a complex organism with a lot of competing value systems, voices and influences.  The president is not the sole influence, but he is certainly one of the loudest.  The rhetoric he uses to discuss education, the diction he uses to describe women, the very manner in which he speaks to other people – these things set a tone for the country and much like throwing a rock into a pond, have reverberations far beyond their original target.  The fact that our new president seems unaware of this reach is distressing to me.   Many things about him are distressing to me.  I fear that if our newly elected president is a brash bully who belittles intelligence, scoffs at experts and judges people by their appearance instead of their merits then our culture as a whole will begin to do the same.  Contrary to the mindset of athletically blessed and intelligently lacking bullies running high schools across the country aspiration, knowledge, brilliance and inspiration are to be celebrated.  These qualities are by far the best hope for our future.

The will of the people has spoken and Mr. Trump is now our president.  I don’t claim the luxury to say “not my president”, because he is - I am a part of the system that elected him and the one that elected him democratically at that.  Sure, the system may be flawed, but he has come to power and we can’t claim to believe in free elections and then immediately turn on the result.  On the other hand I cannot step back and wash my hands of the situation and expect to be innocent of any consequences.  We are still the country that enslaved an entire race and imprisoned an ethnic group during the second world war.  Our current point is not our lowest.  There was rampant drug use and gun violence last week and it will still be there next week. Children are hungry, schools are underfunded and often times we are too busy shouting about it to simply do what we can. 

I am an American. 

I am proud to be an American.

We are still the country that was founded by a group of intellectuals on democratic principles with the goal of equality.  To quote the Newsroom (Want to feel hopeful about being an American again – watch something by Sorkin – the Newsroom and the West Wing fix everything except procrastination) “America is the only country that has said over and over and over again that we can do better.” (Ref.)

We know ourselves by our “American spirit”, our freedom, our democracy, our commitment to values.  Around the world, identifying oneself as an American evokes different imagery.  An already unpleasant caricature is likely to become more grossly proportioned as we shout and riot and loot. 

The world isn’t wrong about us, they are just reacting to what they see and what they’ve known.  Why should we settle for that?  Be better, do better and change the stereotype. 

Inauguration day SHOULD be a non-event.  The changing of the political head does not in itself change the dreams, passions, culture, beliefs and spirit of the American people.  AS john locke said, the government should be afraid of its people, not the other way around. If the new attitude of this country is defeatist and cruel with the outlook that things “could not get worse” then that is the seed we have sown and we have to reap that harvest.  Instead, embrace this change, encourage your neighbor, protect your rights, read more, volunteer more, learn more.  Discussion and open communication will always be our best weapons against fear and violence.

 As always, the easiest way to make this world a better place is to simply get out and do it.