Like many people, I am figuring out how to be in the New Year, in what seems to be a new political reality for my country. I have always taken my country for granted, Americans have the luxury of doing that, and now it is not something I can take for granted, but something I have to think about, talk about.
I am not a hater of Donald Trump, I respect the idea of the open mind, so many people see many good things in him, and I am eager to see if I can see them too. I don't believe that people are inherently stupid, or inherently blind. If anyone was blind, it was me, and so many people l like me.
But my eyes are open now, and I can't say I am at peace with what I see and hear. If I ask myself any question now about the new President, it is this: Is he my President, too? He doesn't seem to be speaking to me or thinking of me, at least not yet, and I have this idea that the President is the President of everybody, that is such an important message to go out, and if it doesn't go out, people get frightened and anxious.
This is, of course, what it feels like to be left behind, or to feel left behind.
My question now for me is what precisely is my responsibility in a society that seems to be a totalitarian society, if not a totalitarian government. The new politics, the victorious politics seem monolithic to me. All public and political institutions now in power, all public manifestations, governmental, institutional, civic, are coordinated. There is no office or job of public significance, from Congress to the executive to the judiciary, in which an unequivocal acceptance of certain ruling principles is not demanded, often aggressively.
Dissent is either unheard of or prohibited or punished in the new politics, facts have lost their primacy and meaning. They are simply ignored or re-cast as fits. Whoever participates in public life at all, regardless of party membership or membership in the new elite formations of the new regime, is now implicated in one way or another in the decisions and actions of the regime as a whole.
My responsibility is not to oppose Donald Trump, or the people who supported him.
He won the election and speaks to and for much of the country, long ignored and left behind.
In a democracy, they deserve to be heard, and he deserves a chance to hear them and respond to them. But the people who did not support the winner also deserve to be heard, they are also entitled to not be left behind. That is the task of a leader in a democratic culture, one that is not monolithic or totalitarian.
The unease I feel is that he seems so far to only speak to them, and not to me. If so, history will repeat itself and create a vast new class of angry victims. It will create whole new populations and cultures of people soon to be left behind and feel excluded, the next culture of permanent disenchantment. I wish he would speak to me, just once, or at least acknowledge that he knows of me and how others like me feel.
Or surround himself with one person who does.
As a former journalist, I know that journalists are a society of skeptics, and revolutions are littered with the corpses of skeptics, there is usually only one punishment for heresy. We are not really supposed to be liked, and have never been liked. The media are a moral mess, and facts have been horrifically devalued. So what am I responsible for, besides putting up pretty photos of interesting animals?
I'm not looking to take sides, but to find my moral space. And stand up in it, rather than argue and agonize about it.
The moral philosopher Hannah Arendt writes eloquently about the moral responsibility of citizens in a monolithic culture. It takes a certain moral quality, she wrote, to even recognize powerless and injustice, the good will and good faith to face realities and not live in illusions and lies. Even under desperate conditions, should they come to pass, the admission of our own impotence and frustration is a last remnant of real strength.
Power can still be preserved, even under desperate conditions.
What are my responsibilities in the coming years? Is he my President, too? Will he and I come to respect one another?
One thing I know is that my job is not to hate and argue, but to think.
To wait with an open mind and heart. No one can predict the future, I am eager to be reassured and pleasantly surprised. My wish for those left behind, is for them to be found. I will be inspired and happy of people find good work and hope again. I do not hate those with whom I disagree, that is not something I will ever permit anyone to do to me.
When I think of moral responsibility, I think of the future.
I think the question I will face, from my granddaughter, my daughter, my wife, from myself over time, from my Gods, is not "why did you obey?," rather "what did you support?" My answer to that question is my moral responsibility, I think. If I ever do run into St. Peter at the gate (not too likely, I suppose) I want to be ready.
In moral matters, there is no such thing as obedience or disobedience. We look inside of ourselves to see right from wrong.
It is not about the left or the right, not a question of obedience and subservience. It is rather a question of thoughtfulness, and the thread of compassion. Thoughtfulness, not politics, is my faith and passion. That is the only label I hope to accept, the only moral way for me.
The challenge for me is not to argue and hate but to think this time through carefully, to retain a measure of self-confidence and even pride. The idea, wrote Arendt, is to retain what in other times we called the dignity and honor of man, not of mankind.
To cherish and preserve the status of being human. Some may argue about that, but I know what it means to me, and I imagine you know what it means to you.
I think I am finding my responsibility in that. I hope my president will be my president, too.