Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Has Changed and What Has Not

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Psalm 46:1-3

For many of us, the past few days have been profoundly unsettling.

We were expecting to celebrate the election of the first woman President of the United States and we woke up on Wednesday to find that we had elected a man who is openly and unrepentantly misogynistic. 

Not a happy feeling. 

To take a biblical phrase out of context, some of us feel like strangers in a strange land.

In a blistering article in the Huffington Post, Sarah Ruiz-Grossman writes, “Dear Fellow White Women: We F**ked This Up.” And she follows that up with a startling statistic: “Exit polls show 53 percent of white women voted for Trump — compared to only 43 percent for Clinton.”
“When the demographic split for the exit polls came out, showing the divide between Trump and Clinton supporters, my eyes immediately jumped to one group: white women. Tell me we came through for our sisters of color, I begged, at least this one time. We didn’t.
“So I am ashamed. I am ashamed of my country. I am ashamed of white people. But more than anyone else, I am ashamed of white women.”
It feels like a seismic shift.

But, in fact, it really isn’t. It may be an uncomfortable look in the mirror, but the country really has not changed.

Hillary Clinton apparently will win the popular vote (and we will probably have a healthy debate about the Electoral College, which disproportionately increases the influence of smaller states and makes votes in swing states more important than votes in Alabama or Rhode Island). But regardless of the final outcome, the margin will be tiny.

Basically, it’s a tie.

And when we look more closely at the numbers, the demographic percentages are almost identical to 2012. Donald Trump did as well among white women in 2016 as Mitt Romney did in 2012. 

There are small shifts among other demographics, but nothing major.

Donald Trump won because his supporters were more enthusiastic (and a lot angrier) than those supporting Hillary Clinton. A higher percentage of his supporters actually went to the polls and voted. To paraphrase a campaign slogan, “Anger Trumps Apathy.” He hit a nerve.

The country did not change and yet our trajectory has shifted. 

We may disengage with other nations on climate change, on trade, and on mutual defense agreements. And then there are those all important Supreme Court appointments.

On the positive side, there is at least the possibility of a bipartisan approach to job creation and infrastructure. And the truth is that presidents are almost never as bad as their opponents fear or as effective as their supporters hope.

Campaigns are won and lost at the extremes, but governance gravitates toward the center.

I am aware, of course, that I can take the long view because I am in a place of privilege. Not everyone has that luxury.

On Wednesday morning I got a call from an African-American woman in our congregation.

"Bill," she said, "I'm scared. He's a racist. What's going to happen to people of color?" She was shocked that he could get elected, and she was especially afraid for her grandsons. "Hillary is not perfect," she said, "but she's not a racist." 

And then she talked about what Clinton had done on behalf of children. "All children," she said. "She didn't care what color they were, she loved them all."

We talked about hope and justice and loving one another.

That is not a phone call I ever expected to get in 2016, but it brought home to me how terrifying this is for those who are vulnerable.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

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