In the week before the official election day of November 3, 2020 in the United States, I saw more and more people asking about or talking about how we heal the nation from all the division we have experienced in the last four years. It is not just writers on other blogs here at Patheos, but also friends and acquaintances on social media, celebrities, journalists, politicians, and more. I understand the desire to heal, but this mess is anything but over, and there are too many wounds yet to come.
I am terrified of what will happen if we focus so much on healing past grievances that we risk failing to defend against the fresh wounds still being created. I am terrified of what will happen if we prioritize the false unity of making amends with white supremacists, instead of prioritizing the needs of the minorities damaged and threatened and excluded by their past and continued actions.
This is Not Over, Not by a Long Shot
I desperately want this to be over, and to be able to move on to the long and hard work of healing the nation. I think all sane and compassionate people want that. For those of us who have any caring or concern for our fellow humans, this has been a very hard four years, the last year of which has been made of the kinds of catastrophes which will grace the pages of history books for centuries to come. For those of us belonging to targeted minorities, the last four years, and this year in particular, have been nightmare fuel.
It is natural, normal, and healthy to want to look at the election deadline of November 3rd, and think, that is it! That is the turning point! That is when we will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel! We desperately need hope more than ever to keep us going when things are this horrible.
But, it is not just because November 3rd has come and gone.
In past years, usually the outcome of the electoral process was easily predicable by the end of the election day. That is not the case this year. Not only is there the issue of massive numbers of mail-in ballots which will still need to be counted, there is an overwhelming likelihood that the current president will bring suit to challenge votes he does not want counted (such as those given to his and his cronies’ opponents), just like he did in 2016. The truly frustrating part of this is that the popular vote only influences who wins the presidency. It does not determine it.
The Problem of the Electoral College
On December 14, 2020, the electors of the electoral college will do the real voting for the president. I know it seems like forever ago, but back in 2016 I remember desperately hoping that electors would choose to vote in line with the popular vote. I was desperate, because I did not want what to live through the vile actions Trump as predictably taken, and those electors were our last tangible opportunity to prevent it. The popular vote is not a guarantee of who will be president, the electoral college is. Some states require all electors to vote with the majority in their state, but not all.
Also, the number of electoral votes is equal to the number of seats each state has in congress, which is not proportional to the number of citizens in the state. In other words, according to the 2010 census data, in California nearly 700,000 people are represented by a single electoral vote, while in Wyoming, every roughly 200,000 people receive one electoral vote. That means in the presidential election, the per-person voting power of residents of Wyoming is roughly 3.5X that of each person in California. This bias is so undemocratic that it creates a dramatic undervaluing of votes in more populous states, further negating the power of the popular vote. This year, the only way the popular vote guarantees who becomes president, is if the winner is by such an overwhelming margin that his election cannot be contested. It does not look like that is happening.
It is not until January 6th, 2021 that the votes are officially certified and the elected president finalized, that is, as long as no members of Congress object to any of the certificates in writing. That, my friends, is terrifyingly uncharted territory.
January 20, 2021, the new president is inaugurated.
If the president was elected by popular vote, the process would be much more straightforward. A huge chunk of the maneuvering we will see in the coming months would not be possible. If not for the electoral college, we would not be in this position in the first place, because Trump would have lost the election in 2016. If the president was elected by popular vote, I would have absolutely no doubt what the outcome of this election would be.
Oh, and if you want a third-party candidate? It is the electoral college system that prevents a third-party vote from being anything other than a throw-away. Please help us work towards abolishing the electoral college, and then I will be happy for more options in future presidents.
Trying to Heal While the Wounds Keep Coming
It is always important to heal and to tend to old and new wounds. However, when you are actively being attacked, that is a profoundly difficult thing to do.
Using the analogy of a physical fight, when your action hero in a movie takes a few licks with an hour to go, things typically go a couple different ways. If they have enough down-time, they will tend to just about everything as best they can, so they are stronger for the fight ahead. When the enemy is pressing in, they minimally tend the really serious wounds, just enough so they can keep going and win the day. It is extremely rare that all wounds have a chance to fully heal before the final showdown, and in those movies where it happens, it usually comes off as so colossally unbelievable that it ruins suspension of disbelief in even the most suspensioniest of suspension disbelieving movies (Dark Knight Rises, anyone? Yeah, that’s not even remotely how healing from a spinal cord injury works.).
Using the analogy of an ongoing, chronically abusive relationship, things also typically go a couple different ways. If the abuse is intermittent, the victim usually has time between bouts to tend to physical and emotional wounds, and convince themselves of whatever justifications and excuses make being in that situation bearable. If the abuse is continual, the victim usually struggles to tend to any of their wounds in a timely manner, and the wounds are refreshed so frequently that true healing is impossible. Every day becomes a constant struggle.
In the physical fight analogy, focusing on tending to the wounds already inflicted is not going to help you much if it means you ignore the knife still busily being stabbed into your back. Stopping or escaping the current attack is needed before tending to your wounds.
In the abuse analogy, focusing on tending wounds can easily become a compulsive spiral which does no good at all, because all the work you do is quickly undone by the next assault. That is why escaping abusing situations involves not only healing, but placing boundaries and slowing the assaults. You must defend yourself and hide from attacks, in addition to what healing you can manage, so that you have the ability to heal enough to recognize the gravity of the situation and your worthiness to escape that cycle. True and complete healing is impossible while the abuser is in control and the abuse cycle continues.
We Need to Heal the Nation
We do need to heal the nation, but for the foreseeable future, we are still in field medic mode. We must tend to the most pressing wounds while we continue to fight for the ability of the democratic process to continue in the United States. The most wounded of us need to be sheltered for deeper healing, and if that is you, please do take care of yourself! The rest of us, as best we are able, need to lick our wounds in our downtime, while we continue to fight.
We need to help each other survive this and keep going. Our focus needs to be on that emergency healing, and helping each other stay afloat while we continue to fight white supremacy and fascism. Most of us do not have enough resources to divert to extending an olive branch, especially when, if that branch seems to be accepted, an embrace of reconciliation is likely to result in being stabbed in the back. They are fighting for the values of white supremacy at least as hard as we are fighting for values of equality, and they will take any opportunity they find to advance their cause, no matter how underhanded.
And make no mistake, when an abuser is crying victim, they will use that false victimhood to declare stabbing you in the back an act of self-defense. That is called gaslighting, and it is a staple tool of abusers everywhere.
White supremacists love to claim they are the victims when they are expected to treat other human beings with anything remotely resembling dignity and respect. They love to claim they were afraid for their lives when they justify their maliciously violent acts. Expect more of this. This tactic works so well for them, they are not going to give it up anytime soon.
The Turning Point
In all honesty, I have no idea how this is all going to play out, or how it is going to end. There is so much at stake, but what we need to do will depend so very much on what the major players do in the weeks ahead. We will be in the defensive and reactionary position, guarding against assaults on the democratic process.
Yes, election day is a turning point, because the results determine what the major players do in the following two-three months. It is how they and we deal with the fallout of November 3rd that will determine the future of this country, and no matter how it falls out, it will be messy and it will be difficult and there will be a lot more wounds to come.
The only thing I can say for certain is that we, as individual citizens, need to focus on insisting that all votes get counted.
I am expecting a lot of violence in the weeks and months to come. I contemplated digging up news articles highlighting the sheer number of violent and terrorist acts which have been committed by Trump supporters in recent months, but odds are you already know about all of that, and if you deny it, I don’t think any amount of linked articles will change your mind or make you admit it. Instead I will link you to a single article on the most recent wave of bad behavior perpetrated by Trumpites in clusters of vehicles.
Not only are we going to continue to receive wounds from the sitting president and his cronies, but we will continue to receive wounds from his sycophants and followers. I hope that things go easier than I am expecting, but I am bracing for the possibility that they are willing to fight to win at all cost, democratic process be damned. We must be willing to fight in kind, to uphold that democratic process, regardless of violence, intimidation, and maneuvering. Most difficult of all, we must do so with restraint, as peacefully and firmly as possible, so that our defense is an affirmation of the democratic processes we wish to preserve.
When Can We Heal the Nation?
I very much hope for a positive outcome to this election, which would mean Trump and his cronies being successfully removed from their offices. I do not see any chance of genuine healing the country if Trump remains in office, because as I stated above, you cannot truly heal while new wounds are still being inflicted. I genuinely have no desire to contemplate what new wounds those would be, because it is overwhelming and terrifying to contemplate living in a post-democratic fascist country.
The earliest chance we will have to begin the work of healing as a nation will be on January 20, 2021, when the new president is inaugurated. How that healing proceeds will in large part depend upon what he and the newly elected members of Congress do to correct the course of this country and begin to undo all the massive damage done in the past four years. That is, of course, assuming enough people are elected to Congress who care about healing over hurting.
And in all honesty, I do not know if some of those wounds can be healed. I am not going to embrace white supremacists just because we have a more equitable president. Their philosophies are rotten to the core, and a change of politicians is not going to erase that. I am also not going to give a pass to any casual racists, because their complacency was a huge part of what allowed all this mess to happen, and enables the ongoing growth of fascism. As long as white supremacists continue to believe they are inherently superior, or other humans are inherently undeserving of equal treatment and rights, they will continue to work towards those goals and act in support of those values. They will continue to support and elect politicians with those values. They will continue to work to obtain positions of power as judges and law enforcement officers, where they will take actions in line with their personal biases.
It is a product of privilege to think the most important thing for healing our nation is to build bridges to join with those who have created the division in this country. We need to focus on building bridges and creating unity with those who have been disenfranchised and excluded all along. If we focus on “healing” with the aggressors (white supremacists and other assorted fascists), we become part of the problem creating division. Make no mistake, they will never be willing to unify with those they target, and being cozy with them means tolerating their actions and tolerating the division they create. It is the paradox of tolerating the intolerant. If we, as a nation, want unity, they need to join with us, not us join with them.
Is there any way to help those people understand that we are all human, equally deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Or are they too drunk on the euphoria of believing they are superior to someone, anyone, no matter how arbitrary and erroneous the reasoning? Can they come to terms with the fact that they do not have to kick the person below them on the ladder, or tear down the person above them, in order to continue climbing? Do they want to develop compassion and empathy for people who they do not personally know and already love? Can they bring themselves to understand that we all have different needs, and that when we respect and meet the needs of those around us, our needs are more likely to be met as well? Will they learn that when we all lift each other up, we all achieve more than we could alone?
I do not know how to teach them those things. I do not know how to get through to them. So much has happened in the last four years, that I do not know how to explain it in ways that have not been explained a thousand times over. Some people have learned better than to be white supremacists, or that ignoring white supremacy enables it, but far too many have doubled down on being horrible people or sticking their heads in the sand. I highly doubt very many of them are even willing to try to be better to their fellow humans. If they will not try, they will not change, because ultimately changing is up to them. It is not up to me, or you, or anyone else. No amount of explaining, coaxing, cajoling, screaming, or begging is going to change that.
How do We Heal the Nation?
There is a lot that can be healed, and healing we do need, but be careful of where you put your energy when you focus on healing the nation. A large part of well-rounded healing work involves defense of the wounded, and refusing to aid those who are creating the wounds and will only come back to cause more harm.
Some people do not want to be healed, and some people will continue to work for the ideals of white supremacy. Those are simple facts. If we want to heal as a group, we will need to be extra vigilant of their attacks, so that we can prevent new wounds from being opened. We need to focus on uplifting minorities and undoing structural violence and institutionalized oppression. We need to focus on building a genuinely functional and robust social safety net.
We will not be truly healed as a nation until none of us are oppressed. We will not truly be healed as a nation until all of us genuinely receive equal treatment under the law. We will not truly be healed as a nation until all of us have the opportunity and ability to seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rather than simply struggling to survive. We need to create a new status quo, because the old one ran on structural violence and institutionalized oppression that prevented millions from seeking any of those things, let alone achieving them.
We need to focus on those things, not offering olive branches to those causing the harm and division in this country. I am sure there will be those who do the daunting work of trying to build bridges and help racists and bigots and so on understand why their views are so horrible. Those people can put their energies where they feel it is most needed, but I do not think it is work that should be a top priority. We must heal despite the racists and bigots and so on. When you focus solely on the bully and ignore the needs of their victim, you only enable more bullying and further victimize their victim. We need to give a hand up to the victims before we give a hand up to the bullies.
We need to prioritize and uplift those who have been marginalized. The more marginalized, the more they need to be prioritized. Do not follow the example of white feminism, insisting that when we uplifting the least marginalized, the rest will naturally follow. This is the sociological equivalent of trickle-down theory, an approach to economics which universally increases wage gaps and only empowers the richest to be even richer. If white feminism was sincere and correct in its philosophies, all women would have had the vote in just a couple years after white women achieved suffrage in 1920. Instead, as soon as they (white women) had the vote, they declared women’s suffrage to be won. Instead of lifting a finger to aid more marginalized women, they simply basked in their personal victory. As the American Bar Association put it on their Women’s Suffrage Timeline, ”Its work completed, the National American Woman Suffrage Association disbands.”
The timeline for women’s voting rights spans decades after 1920, and voting rights in general are still in question for many people today. In 1924, Native Americans were granted citizenship, but denied the right to vote. It was not until 1962 that Native Americans finally had the right to vote in all states. In 1952, Asian people were finally guaranteed the vote. It was not until 1965 that black women were finally guaranteed the right to vote. It was 45 years after women’s suffrage before all women genuinely had the right to vote, and even then it was only won because those more marginalized groups of people continued to fight for their rights, with little to no help from those white women who already had theirs. Trickle-down human rights are as much a fantasy as trickle-down economics.
We need to stop this pathological culture of exclusion, where in order to be legally safe from discrimination, a person must belong to an explicitly defined minority. We need to create a legal and social culture where “all” genuinely does mean “all”, and saying “do not discriminate” naturally includes everyone. As long as we cherry-pick who is protected under what circumstances, white supremacists will continue to exploit and create loopholes by which they can discriminate.
If we want to heal, truly, completely heal, it will require a restructuring of the legal and social systems of this country. I believe that is possible, as the structures we have now are vastly different from the ones we had one hundred years ago, and dramatically different from the ones we had just four years ago. Our society, legal systems, and political systems are mutable, and over the course of decades they do tend to follow the ethical priorities of the majority, which are shifting in a more inclusive and intersectional direction.
Will it happen in my lifetime? Probably not. That is a lot of work, and most of it will be incredibly slow, but I do hope that we are able to get on that path in my lifetime, and that when I do die, it looks like we have a good chance of staying on it.