America, it’s our country

Nov. 18, 2016, 12:30 a.m.

The day after the election, I was having dinner in Lagunita with one of my pre-major advisees. I had come back late the night before from Nevada, where I was poll watching. As my advisee and I were in the food line, another student walked by with a white cardboard sign around his neck. On it he had written “F— Trump.” I sympathized with the sentiment, though not the language. But underneath that message was this one, “F— America.” That one troubled me deeply, and still does. Because I was a guest of my advisee and was there to visit with her, I did not stop to talk with this young man, but rather suggested to one of the RAs that she might do so. Had I talked with that student, here is what I would have said.

I have been deeply depressed and grieving since the election. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a Muslim, let alone an undocumented person, in this country knowing who is our President-elect and what he has said about them.  And not just about them, but about women, transgender individuals and many men too.

But I also know that after grieving, I need to pick myself up and try harder because I have no choice. We have been through tough times before when I thought that a majority of Americans had deserted the values that have sustained the United States. Our country not only survived, but ultimately flourished anew, stronger for having been tested by adversity. It will again. Meanwhile, I commit to those who were subject to the venomous attacks in this election every ounce of energy I can muster for compassion and decency.

I make that commitment because America is our country — it does not belong to the President-elect or to any political party. And being ours, it is up to us to give it our time, our energy and our effort to ensure that the values of its founders are maintained — values of decency, of compassion, of caring for the most threatened among us. It’s never ever easy to do this. It is so much harder when the nation’s political leader has spoken and with the words of the President-elect.  But this makes it all the more important for us to press on with courage to sustain our values.

Those who voted for the President-elect thought that his leadership would make their lives better and the country as well. I think they were profoundly wrong but not that they are other than decent women and men. Most importantly, the electoral process spelled out in the Constitution led to the choice of the President-elect.

In this presidential election, only one quarter of those eligible voted.  The percentage of young people who voted was lower than that of other age groups. Here at Stanford, I was struck by how few indications I saw during the fall that it was election season. I know some Stanford students were actively campaigning, but many seemed silent. My own generation certainly did not perform well in this election, and I am not pointing fingers.  Rather, I underscore that we — of all ages and backgrounds and beliefs — need to be more engaged in the civic and political life of our country.

John F. Kennedy closed his Thanksgiving Proclamation in the year of his assassination, 1963, with these words:

“Today we give thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers — for the decency of purpose, steadfast of resolve, and strength of will, for the course and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate.  As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live them.”

Let us all this Thanksgiving re-dedicate ourselves to doing our upmost to live up to those ideals. Do not desert America, our country.

-Tom Ehrlich
Visiting Professor of Education

 

Contact Tom Ehrlich at tehrlich ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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