Some of the wisest words I’ve heard came from Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, who once said, “The idea that some lives matter more or less than others is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”
Wars, poverty and inequality have manifested the truth of this quote, and throughout our shared history, society has consistently struggles with balancing self-interest with compassion. Over the past few months, I believe we have forgotten this fact again.
Most who know me have never seen me cry, but last week, as I watched Hillary Clinton deliver her concession speech, the tears ran down my face. And, as I think back on it, they did not come because I was a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. Rather, they came streaming because her concession speech portrayed a certain sincerity, compassion and commitment to equality that appeared to be on its way out. Throughout the campaign, we have created a culture where it is acceptable to feel that others are less than ourselves. Whether it was the usage of waterboarding as an accepted form of interrogation, a call to ban an entire religion, insults towards a disabled reporter or labeling millions of Trump supporters as deplorables, much of the rhetoric, especially from the winning party, was based on a sentiment of fear that created an opening to value other’s lives less than our own.
Now, many (including myself) find themselves in a lose-lose situation. We want to support the President-elect because if he does well, we all do well. Yet, I personally can’t help but think how his success would validate the toxicity of his campaign — a campaign in which truth and reality were radically debased in the name of selfishness, ignorance and fabrication. Only time will tell if we will ever mature as a nation to bilaterally decry the nature of the President-elect’s campaign.
Ultimately, this election is too much for one article, graph or data set to decipher. From the ways President-elect Trump reorganized the map to Donald Trump winning the white women vote, it will take numerous books and research to summarize this election cycle into a few central themes. One of the better explanations provided of this election was offered by Lewis Ho, a former Deep Springs scholar now studying at Yale. Ho cited Jürgen Habermas, philosopher and sociologist, who, in the 1960s, defined the public as “individuals and groups associated to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible … reach a common judgment about them.” This election has shown that a) either our notion of the public has disintegrated, or b) this notion has never truly existed at all, as the public has been only accessible to the educated bourgeois. Educated in our bubbles, we have created ideas of “rational discourse” and “impartiality,” believing that these ideas somehow were held by all, even those who have never had the chance to be in the public. For a long time throughout history, the public only ever consisted of the bourgeois (often white) male, to the exclusion of others. Now, we live in a globalized society at Stanford where we all are members of this public, yet we cannot forget that many are not.
Instead, the writings of a scholar like Professor Nancy Fraser offer a more nuanced perspective of the phenomenon of this election. Fraser, a feminist theorist, argues for the creation of counterpublics, “parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter-discourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs.” While offered up as a way to empower marginalized communities, this election is evidence that the growth of these counterpublics, from Vox to Breitbart, has made it difficult to see each other as humans rather than a statistic or a voting block and has kept us in silos. America can change and unite for the better, but it will be difficult and perhaps more complicated than we ever imagined it to be.
In spite of all of this, I felt weirdly reinvigorated the night of the election and the next morning. I currently feel ambivalent and perhaps unsure of how we can deal with these problems of this new presidency and these social trends, but I firmly believe that sometimes it takes being brought to a cliff to wake us up and to act. Faith is only rediscovered when we are pushed to witness and deal with suffering and the inherent imperfections of reality.
This election made us realize that we as a nation do care about politics — we do care about our future. We can use that care and passion to factionalize or use it to care for not just ourselves, not just America, but also our world. I remain more hopeful than ever and believe in our potential to do great things for each other and our planet.
I know of many who have never felt more alive, more ready to work for America. We need to win for America, for those ideals that no longer don’t have to be fought for. Lives are on the line; our very core identity is on the line. To achieve any real success, we need to listen to and care for each other and set the example by helping not just our community, but also our sisters in Oklahoma and brothers in Florida realize their dreams. It’s worth it, and it’s only possible by valuing each other’s lives on the same level as our own.
Contact Kyle D’Souza at kvdsouza ‘at’ stanford.edu.