Watching the US election results come in, I couldn’t help but think of my grandchildren. As so many parents and grandparents must be thinking, what kind of world do we want our children to grow up into? What type of message does Trump’s victory send to young people about the behaviours, principles and attitude to others required to succeed in life? My biggest concerns include the possibility of an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court, while hard-earned progress on equality, women’s rights, immigration and climate change are at risk.
The last 12 months have shown just how divided Americans are on nearly any social and economic issue today. The tone of the campaign trail has reinforced that division. The vicious personal attacks and stinging barbs have made me wonder if political discourse can sink any lower than this.
However, now is not the time to create more division. We do so sadly, but have to accept the outcome of the election. We must hope that some of Trump’s rhetoric was just that and common sense and the checks of the democratic system will prevail. American leadership in this multipolar world has never been in greater demand – whether to fill the vacuum of power gradually devastating Syria and Iraq and forcing more refugees to flee their countries. Or to help move the world’s leading economies from climate talk to climate action and to conserve the ocean from irreparable damage - perhaps two of the most daunting challenges the world has ever faced.
Yet America can only rise to the challenge if she stands united. A divided nation cannot lead, nor can it inspire. My parents often talked with great admiration of the “Greatest Generation” of World War II, a generation that came together as one in a time of great crisis, harnessing its fantastic strength for the greater good, setting aside differences and seeking common ground across the entire political spectrum.
It became the America that was greeted as a liberator and moral authority the world over; the America that welcomed the world’s refugees, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” with open arms. It took on those humanitarian duties and seized the tremendous economic and social benefits of an open and positive society for decades. It was America that put a man, twelve men in fact, on the moon, demonstrating that a shared vision and purpose can move mountains.
At its best, America is a democracy that thrives on constructive discourse and functioning checks and balances; not on misinformation, hate, and stubborn obstruction. It is a country that has prospered by welcoming the world to shape their lives there and follow the American dream. The words of two great American leaders come to mind:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! - how consoling in the depths of affliction! ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’” – Abraham Lincoln.
Momentous challenges lie ahead to heal the divide and reinvigorate the belief and faith in the political system. This election has undoubtedly caused lasting damage, both to America’s collective psyche and to the political will of its leaders to collaborate. But there is much to be done: to protect democratic processes, to stand up to intolerance, and to support each other in these challenging times. After all, it is not up to one man to shape the world we live in – it is up to all of us.