Too Attached to the Election

but it doesn't mean that everything will 'be all right'

This is a political post. It was written after a lot of thought. There are a lot of words here and I already know that it might not be the best written work I’ve ever done. It might not ‘flow.’ And it may not seem logical to you. Or you just might disagree. But it’s the only way I can move on. I became too attached to the election.

I’m a conflict resolution guy. It’s what I do. Conflict resolution comes in many forms. When I was a full-time lawyer, we practiced conflict resolution through the courtroom. Most people I know practice conflict resolution by simply avoiding it. Once, while I was speaking to the command group at an air force base about conflict management, the base commander reminded me that his supersonic bomber crews and maintenance personnel were all in conflict resolution. My line of conflict resolution, while direct, has an ultimate goal of restoring relationships and building a better future. And that’s why I became too attached to the presidential election.

Everyone had their reasons for voting for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.

Some were substantive. You really studied and were in favor of one political platform over another.

Others were relational reasons. You come from a long line of Republicans or Democrats and you find comfort in supporting that continuity of direction and honoring your heritage or your close group of friends — even though we know that neither party has been overwhelmingly consistent through history AND that the collective judgment of most social groups is suspect.

Some of you voted one way or the other because of religious motivations. Many of you told me how one candidate was the devil while the other one was the instrument of God. I think that those of you who voted out of religious conscience, for the most part, did so because of your genuine desire to build a society on godly values. That is a good thing.

However, for some of you, it gave you license to act in ungodly, menacing ways. And it hurt me, it hurt others, and it hurt God’s cause when you decided that any means would justify the ends. Jesus’ consistent story line was that the means were the most important thing. In fact, his promise was that if we line up our lives to do good, to speak well, and to love all, the ends would be taken care of — by God’s mercy and love. At this intersection you can follow all sorts of side trails to topics like faith, hope, and love. I’m just leaving this here.

Some of you voted to satisfy symbolic interests. Mr. Trump is going to shake up the establishment. Mrs. Clinton is going to be the first woman President. Mr. Trump is going to show the rest of the world that the United States is a dominating force. Mrs. Clinton acts more presidential. Symbolic interests are important. However, they prove to be a destabilizing factor if there is no foundational support.

So, we all had our reasons for voting the way we did. And we voted. And our system allowed us to make a decision. The decision was made. Yes, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. More voters wanted her as President. But remember that’s happened before. Mr. Trump won the electoral votes needed to be President.

I’m not going to get into the arguments over the Electoral College. But go back and look at the history of that process. It highlights the voice of the people with the interests of the states in balancing power between high-population and low-population states. (We would be remiss in failing to recognize that one of the most prominent interests of the states at the time had to do with whether they were abolitionist or pro-slavery.) So if you want to move to direct election of a president by popular vote, there’s a process for that. Pursue it.

Some people know that I never supported Mr. Trump during the election. In fact, I never liked him as a celebrity. He is a bully who has made his fortune and set his reputation through meanness, deceit, and, in my opinion, illegal means. I fear that he will continue to act in the same manner, even as the “leader of the free world.”

On the other hand, I would never have thought that I would vote for Mrs. Clinton. While her list of qualifications for President is long and she has shown moments of greatness, her past is littered with the wreckage of scandal. I’m not talking here about the multitude of, often preposterous, conspiracy theories and email controversies. I’m talking about the way that she and former President Bill Clinton built a machine to trade influence for dollars. Their hands are dirty.

But I did vote for her, because I felt the need to keep Mr. Trump from soiling the White House and the reputation of our country. That didn’t work out. This portion of my post will most likely result in many people unsubscribing from my email list and unfriending me on social media. I really regret that. But therein lies my point. Please read to the end before you unsubscribe or unfriend me. And, if you have any sense of fairness, I listened to and read a lot of ill-conceived rhetoric that some of you wrote or passed on — and I didn’t unfriend you.

I accept that Mr. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States of America. I will continue to honor the office even when I disagree with the individual who holds that office. I’ve done that in the past and I will continue to do that.

However, the positions that Mr. Trump has taken in regard to women, minorities, immigrants, and anyone who differs with him are untenable and, in most cases, abhorrent. We should not simply say that ‘everything will be all right.’ When we demean people, rob them of their dignity, and make simplistic policy decisions that ignore the underlying interests — interests that are woven into the fabric of our Constitution and our society — it is not all right. We must speak up.

I have to confess that when past presidential elections have not reflected my vote, I have simply shrugged and said, “It will be all right. Four more years. We’ll survive.” I still believe that God has all of this. I still believe that we will survive.

I believe even more strongly that we cannot just shrug and remain silent. It’s not what peacemakers do. It’s not the appropriate way to resolve conflict and to build better relationships.

Washington is broken. The Democratic Party is broken. The Republican Party is broken. Let’s not mourn that. Let’s build something better. Mr. Trump’s rejection of the Washington machinery might play into that. But only if Mr. Trump sets his personal self-interest aside and truly desires to serve this country.

A Call to Personal Action

Something different has to start with some personal action. Here’s my list:

  1. I acknowledge that I could be wrong about some things.
  2. I will do my best to know the issues, to understand the issues, and to communicate my stance in a way that helps others understand where I stand.
  3. I will continue to listen and explore when others differ with me.
  4. I will never demean another person, even when I believe they are wrong, stubborn, and disrespectful to me.
  5. I will never stand by when others demean someone else. My voice will be heard.
  6. If I discover I’m wrong, I will change my position and make amends if necessary.
  7. I will pray for our leaders and for all people — both within and without the United States.
  8. I will pray specifically for Mr. Trump.
  9. I will not tolerate bullying by anyone. While I may have no other power or authority, I have a voice. I will firmly oppose those who seek to control others for their own gain.
  10. I will encourage and work for a system that seeks the common good of all people.

That’s what I’m going to do. It’s too little too late for this election. But it’s there for the future.

So, do whatever you will. I hope you will join me even if you don’t agree with my positions on all things. That’s the wonder of America. It was built to reflect the beauty of diversity. We are better together.


Voting Early

fear and relief in one action

People are rushing to the polls and voting early.  They’re driven by fear and seeking relief.

It’s not so much the same fear that has driven so much of this political season — the fear of others, the fear of loss to entitlement. It’s the fear that yet something else will be revealed about one or both of the major party candidates that will give the voters pause on their electoral decision. It’s a fear of being forced to wade back through the grit and the slime that has dominated this presidential race.

And it’s not really relief about the candidate they’ve chosen and the job he or she will do. There is that, of course. But it is a relief from doing what can be done and letting the rest of it go. It’s a relief to know that our personal role in this entire debacle is coming to a turn in the road.

Now that we’re done voting early, it’s time to take that turn on move on. There will be things to do. For one thing, we all have to come together to find a new source of leadership. This, what we have, has proven unworkable — regardless of how you vote or which party you claim.

Yes, your fear is subsiding and you feel some relief from voting early. But it’s time to get up and move toward something better. History repeats itself. People have been in worse spots before. And they have emerged, fearless and calm. Shall we ?

And Now, for a non-political, Political Announcement

I’ve been wading through the issues in this political season trying to decide my vote for president. Not once have I ever leaned toward Mr. Trump. I tried to listen. I tried to make this election about the political issues and ignore the non-political. But I can’t. Because at some point, the non-political elements will become political.

For all those, including some dear friends, who have tried to justify what Mr. Trump says and how he acts, I have just accepted the fact that you and I are in far different places.

Some may even challenge me over the question of grace. Doesn’t it mean anything to you that Mr. Trump apologized and that he says he’s a changed man? they will ask.

First, a non-apology (a statement that sounds like an apology but that is worded to place blame on those who were hurt or offended) is not an apology. Remember, Mr. Trump is the one who told us that he has no need for forgiveness. I have not heard a genuine apology yet. (He’s only on version 2 of his apology as of the writing of this post, so perhaps he’ll improve.)

Second, I’ve heard a lot of locker room talk and locker room talkers over my lifetime. That’s what Mr. Trump says this is — just locker room talk. Locker room talk is not ok.

The inner compass of locker room talkers does not change when they’re not in the locker room. They still objectify people, start rumors, cast blame on others and avoid taking responsibility. They just shift to a more subtle and, some would say, more acceptable mode. I believe Mr. Trump truly feels that he has made some major changes only because he has changed his language for the public. That’s applaudable, but not my primary concern.

Mr. Trump is still a locker room talker. It’s classic bully positioning. He must make others look bad and show his power over them because of his own lack of self esteem. If that means inciting racial violence by espousing white supremacy or trying to downplay the mistreatment of women, he knows no boundaries. And talking has a bidirectional element to it. Talking can reveal our inner selves and it can also mold our inner selves.

Mr. Trump has openly admitted that he has behaved badly. His language and demeanor almost guarantees there is more bad behavior to come.

For non-political reasons, I will never vote for Mr. Trump. For those of you who believe you can, just remember that non-political reasons transform themselves into political realities for us all. This will not make America great.


What can I do?

unrecognized answers to prayer

With each news story of a black person losing life in a police-related incident, I have become increasingly anxious. Despite my friends and acquaintances of color telling me stories of such occurrences for many years, only in recent years have I begun to fathom the problem and the tragedy. I stand convicted of chosen ignorance and inaction. As I left the office yesterday, I was praying, “Lord, what can I do?”

[photo credit: Patrick Tomasso]

Traffic was heavy and I decided to explore a new route home. The slower pace through a neighborhood of large, expensive homes had a calming effect on me. This wasn’t the most efficient route — there was a 4-way stop at almost every corner. Still, it was a break from the congestion.

As I approached one of those intersections, I saw a vehicle waiting. At first I thought that the driver was intending to turn. Then I noticed that it was his emergency flashers that were blinking. Even though he was there first and to my right, he waved me on. I understood. He was having car trouble. Moving ahead, I saw for the first time that he was black.

Fifteen minutes later, still on my commute, the reality of his situation suddenly occurred to me. He was a solitary black man in a disabled vehicle in a predominantly white neighborhood. For all I knew, he lived nearby. But even if he did, was he sitting and waiting for help in fear for his life?

I wouldn’t be. I’m white.

I couldn’t keep from thinking how that would be different for someone with a different skin color.

Lord, what can I do?

I always feel pretty shallow when God gives me an answer and I miss it. I could have pulled over, offered my phone if he needed it, been a friendly stranger offering company, and stood close by until he was safely on his way. Yes, I know the arguments against that stemming from personal safety concerns.

But at some point, we have to do something. Particularly if it’s an answer to prayer. Don’t we? What’s God telling you?


it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.