Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Turning Disaster into an Opportunity

I am a proud Canadian. But as the son of a mother from Brooklyn, living one hour from the U.S. border, I share the shame and anxiety so many Americans feel today. The unthinkable has happened: a childish, narcissistic clown has harnessed the worst parts of American patriotism and despair, and ridden it into the White House.

How did this happen? The Democrats got lazy. They thought Hillary was destined to win; they believed the inexperienced, friendless Trump was a dream opponent. For her part, Hillary thought she didn’t have to answer for her Clinton-esque faults: the chasing of money, the association with elites, the questionable dealings around the Clinton Foundation and her missing emails. Her refusal to do press conferences revealed an arrogance that wasn’t far off the far right’s view of her as high-hatted and entitled.

As the Trump train gained momentum, Hillary and her handlers responded haughtily, if at all, to these legitimate concerns. At the Democratic convention in July I thought that both Bill and Hillary excelled in changing the narrative, painting a new picture of Hillary as a lifelong crusader for prosperity, equality and inclusion. But after the convention, the Dems went quiet again, refusing to tell their story while Trump gathered coverage day by day with one outrageous lie after another.

Before long, everyone knew Donald’s story. Hillary didn’t have one. Voters had nothing to identify with. Meanwhile, the media elites missed the anger simmering in the ’burbs and the countryside, over disappearing jobs, falling wages, lower home prices (ie, less money for retirement), social change, gun control and immigration. Where these concerns were acknowledged, they were rarely  addressed, but dismissed through the use of selective economic statistics or the pressure of political correctness.

So the passion for Hillary faded, and Trump emerged as an unlikely national champion. His shallow world view, his inbred, ego-feeding business career, his inexperience, his racism and his twisted view of women, are all frightening traits in a chief executive, especially a nation’s moral leader. Today, many Americans live in fear of what will happen next, given the outdated values and opinions that Trump and his team will bring to the Oval Office. In California last month I met entrepreneurs of Mexican descent, children of illegal immigrants, who have no legal status in America. They couldn't believe the rhetoric coming from the Trump camp, and will now be fearing for their futures. These are professionals who employ dozens of people. All they ask is a path to citizenship in the only country they’ve ever known. Trump’s victory will leave them shaking – as it does so many women, blacks, Jews, gays, and others who don't fit the #MAGA mold.

But this is not a time for despair.

Of all the many Republican candidates for president, Donald Trump was the least ideological, the least rigid, the least devoted to sucking up to the Tea Party. He’s a New Yorker, confident and unafraid, allegiant to no partisan principles. He’s self-centered, vulgar and uninformed, but a pragmatist, beholden to no one. I compared him earlier to Toronto’s disastrous mayor, Rob Ford, but Trump is his own movement, not the standard-bearer of a conservative counter-reformation.

He is, in a word, malleable.

So let’s not demonize Donald Trump. Let’s not write him off. Let’s build bridges. Let’s appeal to his better nature and help guide him to wise decisions. There is already tension in Republican ranks over his casual takeover of a party on a serious, long-term ideology-driven mission. The Republicans vote-chasing machine has served its purpose, and Trump is now free to disregard it in the same way he abused and underpaid his suppliers once their products and services were safely delivered to the Trump organization.

At worst, this is a time to re-evaluate and re-emphasize liberal principles. Let’s start by showing that Hillary was right: #LoveTrumpsHate. Let’s continue to show as much kindness and generosity as we can, to those who need it most, to our friends, family and communities, and to our opponents as well. (Edit: I just volunteered to help a struggling organization, and made a donation to Planned Parenthood in Florida.)

Let’s ramp up our commitment to each other. Let’s show Trump Nation what real social and economic progress looks like.

And let’s give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt. He is eager for approval. Let’s engage him, and guide him in his unexpected new role. Wouldn't it be ironic if he were the guy who broke the extremists’ hold on the GOP?

Let’s encourage him to be his own man and do the right thing. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get through this.

No comments: