The Election: No, This DOESN’T Change Everything

Led by Bill Kronholm

H.L. Mencken, the famous journalist – and cynic – of the early 20th century, once wrote this: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Of course, Donald Trump is not really a moron. Perhaps the real morons are those of us who fatally underestimated Trump. But he was definitely a surprise. When I first signed up for this service, I had intended to talk about how we should look at Trump supporters now that he had been defeated. So much for that.

On Election Day, Joyce and I were in Hawaii with four friends, all progressives, and we had planned a celebratory evening. With the time zone differences, of course, East Coast returns started coming in at 3 in the afternoon. I was in the pool, ducking into the rec building occasionally to check early returns on the television there, and it was clear pretty quickly that things were not following the script.

By the time the networks called Wisconsin for Trump, there was a glum silence in our rented condo, and people drifted off to bed. The next day was gloomy and depressing, and not even the bright sunshine and crashing surf could change the mood.

One of our party declared she would never, ever, the rest of her life, speak to her sister, who was a Trump supporter. Joyce would not allow me to speak of He-who-shall-not-be-named for a solid week. Not his name, not his actions, not his plans.

And I know the reaction and the mood was similar here, and throughout our wider UU faith community.

Since Election Day, CNN has announced that it is coming out with a book, titled “Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything.”

But CNN is wrong. This DOESN’T change everything. That is something that we as Unitarian Universalists should understand and accept, as we move forward.

When I say this, I do not mean to minimize or trivialize our reaction to the election. There is anger. And disappointment. Even a sense of betrayal. And there is fear.

Within our community, there is the real and legitimate fear among women that in coming years they may lose the right to control their own bodies. There is the fear among the GLBT community that they may lose rights and status long sought and recently conferred. In the larger UU community, there is the fear by people of color, and by immigrants and the children of immigrants. There is fear among refugees who came to the United States seeking sanctuary. These are legitimate fears.

(pause) Before I go further, I need to make a disclaimer. In preparing services, I often look at the sermons of UU ministers around the country for their ideas and perspective.

That was easy this time; every UU church that I looked at had this as the topic the Sunday after the election. Over the past three weeks, I have read or listened to sermons from New York, Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, along with a few smaller churches. There was a common theme, which paralleled my thoughts as well, and which I’ll pursue. But my point is, at some point I lost track of where my words end and theirs begin. I am certain there is unintentional plagiarism here, so I don’t want to claim what follows is totally original.

So, back to topic, what hasn’t changed? For one thing, our Fifth Principle, which affirms our belief in “… the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” That principle hasn’t changed.

Elections are part of the democratic process, and in elections there are winners and losers. In this election, progressives lost.  We lost. Losing does not make it undemocratic. The role of the Electoral College does not make it illegitimate. So, sure, sit around for a while. Lick your wounds and grumble and mourn. Then put it aside and look ahead. There is work to be done.

Some are in denial, saying Trump will not do the things he says he will do. Wishful thinking is not a strategy. We need to take him at his word.

He has promised to eliminate President Obama’s executive orders, which may lead to the deportation of adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children and who know only this country as their home.

He has pledged to cancel all payments for United Nations Climate Change programs and to quickly move to repeal restrictions on extracting, shipping and burning fossil fuels as quickly and fully as possible. And, of course, he has pledged to repeal Obamacare.

His campaign was marked by racism and bigotry. Historically, these kind of views are not that old. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson signed the Sedition Act, which made it a federal crime to speak or write anything disloyal about the  United States government or military. FDR interned Japanese-Americans during World War II. John F. Kennedy allowed the FBI to bug Martin Luther King’s phone. We must not forget the Trail of Tears, the Fugitive Slave Act, or the McCarthy era. These are not ancient history.

We don’t know how Trump would respond in a moment of national hysteria, when restricting press freedom and persecuting unpopular minorities becomes seductively easy.

The work before us, to resist such action, is not new, and our commitment to social justice is unchanged. Think of the First, Second, Third and Sixth UU Principles – the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion; acceptance of one another; and the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. None of these has changed.

And as Unitarians, frankly, we should be used to getting beat up once in a while as we fight the good fight. We haven’t had an easy path. Unitarians are not people who wait until the fight is almost won before jumping in.

Unitarians and Universalists did not wait until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed to fight slavery. They were involved in the Underground Railroad and abolition movement in the 1840s and before, back when abolitionist presses were smashed and burned, and abolitionists were beaten and even killed.

Unitarians did not wait until the United States entered World War II to help the victims of Nazi Germany. UU minister Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha were in occupied Europe by 1938, working under the nose of the Gestapo, smuggling refugees out who otherwise faced death.

Unitarians and Universalists did not wait for the Civil Rights Act to be signed before marching with black Americans seeking their civil rights. We marched with Martin Luther King. We crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the March to Montgomery. And UU minister James Reeb was murdered in Selma.

And UU congregations did not wait for the tide to turn on gay rights before joyfully welcoming the LGBT community to join us.

We’ve lost battles before. We’ve never given up on the war. And we won’t now, just because of a setback. That hasn’t changed either.

One UU minister said after Trump’s victory that “now we can see clearly, not only how far we have come, but how far we have left to go.”  And she was right on both counts.  The misogyny and bigotry of our president-elect stands out largely because of our progress in the past. Many of his positions and actions would have scarcely drawn a glance a century ago. We’ve come a long way. And, yes, we see that we have a long way still to go. But this setback doesn’t mean we’ve lost it all.

So what can we ask of ourselves?

Let me quote some of the words of the post-election sermon of the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray in Phoenix. She said:

This moment is calling for more from us. More love, more leadership, more courage, more spiritual resiliency, more effectiveness.

We need to be our bravest, boldest, most loving selves. We need to call on the courage of the freedom fighters of previous generations. We need to remember and learn from the courage of those who supported the Underground Railroad, of the courage of the congregations and ministers who created the first sanctuary movement that helped refugees flee the violence of Central America, of the courage and discipline of the civil rights movement.

We need to be activists of love – for humanity, for the earth – and that will only come from deep spiritual practice that helps us let go of blame, of judging and cutting off from others. We need to develop the courage to talk to our neighbors, strangers, those we may seem to have nothing in common with – especially people we wouldn’t normally talk to or listen to. We need the courage to protect others, to stand and advocate with those whose lives and livelihoods are at risk.

This time is calling for a stronger and deeper commitment to partnership and relationship across race, across class, across gender and sexual orientation, across religious belief.

It’s calling for us to give more generously to communities and organizers who will lead the efforts to resist the threats to human rights and the resources of the earth. Groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Poverty Law Center. And locally, our own Montana Human Rights Network.

We need hope.  We need to move past our fears to realize the power we hold when we are organized, when we are committed, when we are grounded and sustained in love. And we need to nurture each other, hold tight to each other, to love each other, to protect each other, to encourage and lift each other up. For despite the challenges ahead, I know we are up for it. I know we are capable, because in the end, I know we are not alone.

Power is not just about who controls the government. There are other kinds of power. There is power when people of faith hold fast to a vision of a just future. There is power in the movements and institutions that make up our civil society and that have stood for our values more enduringly and more powerfully than any political party or candidate in history. And we are part of one of those institutions.

So let’s support the institutions and the movements that struggle for our values even when the entire political structure is arrayed against us. Now is not the time for retreat. Now is the time to recommit to our beliefs and to our principles. Now is the time to take a deep breath, and go to work.

Amen, and shalom.

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