Global Mom: Resisting Despair, Stoking Hope After the US Elections

Global Mom: Resisting Despair, Stoking Hope After the US Elections

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US elections
Paris protest on November 19, 2016 against Donald Trump election © INSPIRELLE

The news slapped me awake. After hours of tracking the US presidential race, I’d dozed off close to 3:00 a.m. here in our home in central Europe. Now my husband was tapping me on the shoulder, whispering, “Honey, it’s looking really bad.”

From demi-snooze to straight up in a millisecond. Shot through with adrenalin, I lunged at the glow from his cell screen. Two breaths and the unthinkable. Just as he had said: really, really bad.

Predawn. Postelection. Preposterous. I was apoplectic.

Was this my country? Had the US actually elected a platinum-plated demagogue, a caricature of every last thing that defines “The Ugly American”? I could neither stand it, nor could I understand it.

Donald Trump with his supporters in US Presidential Election campaign. © George Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Donald Trump with his supporters in US Presidential Election campaign. © George Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

During our 25 years living outside its borders (and paying its taxes), had the US I’d described to the rest of the world as diverse and large-hearted turned into the xenophobe’s fortress Donald Trump endorsed? Had the country I’d told others was not driven by wanton hedonism, racism, or misogyny now shrugging off those evils by picking a commander-in-chief who embodies and emboldens every one of them? Our country’s hallmark traits of global leadership and multipolar cooperation, where were they? A president nixing NAFTA and NATO? Building WALLS?

Days later, my head still thick with grief, I was rattled yet again when Trump announced his first cabinet appointments. With each new name my dismay turned to dread, then my dread to disgust, and finally my disgust to despair.

ALMOST despair.

Hillary Clinton Pantsuit Nation
© Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been fighting back despair because, however justifiable it would feel right now to slump into a mound of gloom, life has taught me that despair deadens. Hope, on the other hand, animates. Hope is spiritual fuel. It keeps you moving. And heaven knows, these days we need something moving.

Few speak with more authority about despair and hope than does Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Holocaust survivor, and author. His voice cries to us as we stand in a precarious crossroads witnessing a detailed recap of many of the factors that led, only 80 years ago, to the scourge of a world war. Were Wiesel still living, (he died this past July), what watchwords would he offer us in our present turmoil?

© INSPIRELLE
© INSPIRELLE

Stay Awake

Wiesel has written that “We are moved by despair, but we must never be moved to despair.”

If we despair, if we abandon hope, we will be immobilized, anesthetized, our humanity even deadened. Maybe you’ve observed that when injustice hits hardest you might rally, but you might also slump, then shrug, and finally you shut your eyes, roll over, and burrow into your slumber. It is, ironically, a deceptively small step from despair to indifference. And indifference is as much an enemy of the good as is injustice.

“The opposite of love,” said Wiesel, “is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

To guard against the numbing effects of indifference, we keep our eyes riveted on the political landscape. We watch with heightened scrutiny for any signs that intolerance, extremism, injustice, discrimination and violence are normalized or even celebrated in the media. We respond with alacrity, gravity, and dignity. We hound news sources that wink at that which is unpresidential and unlawful. We give Mr. Trump “a chance” (as the democratic system requires us to do), but never do we grant him impunity.

And we act. “Action,” said Wiesel, “is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” How, specifically, do we act? We begin by disciplining our own political discussions, refusing to mimic Trump’s itchy Twitter trigger finger and his attacks – verbal or otherwise – on anyone of an opposing opinion. We open up our echo chambers and engage in respectful dialogue from multiple angles, knowing that the most important angle is often the one we not only never saw, but had never imagined existed.

© INSPIRELLE
© INSPIRELLE

Stand Up and Speak Out

When we respond to wrongs in society with alacrity, gravity and dignity, even if our voices are not always heard and changes we seek are not always made, we have at least maintained our integrity. A meager triumph? Not according to Wiesel, who in his Nobel acceptance speech said, “One person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death.” At a time when there appears to be a vacuum of integrity at the chief level, our private integrity might indeed be our greatest public service.

Which reminds me of a parable Wiesel once wrote (and I will paraphrase) of a young man who wanted to save Sodom, the most decadent of all cities. The fiery activist wore out his life warning Sodom’s inhabitants of the falseness of their ways. At first, folks listened, but only because this man was an oddity. Soon, they stopped listening altogether. …

Years passed, and the man, who’d grown old, was still relentlessly trudging through town yelling, “You are destroying yourselves and each other!”

A child stopped him one day and asked, “Why do you keep yelling if they don’t listen? Isn’t this a waste of time?”

The man nodded, “I know. It’s not changing them.”

“Then why keep doing it?”

“Because,” the man said, “I know I’ll never be able to change them. But if I keep shouting and calling and warning, it’s because I don’t want them to ever change me.”

While I set out today to write a hopeful message about US politics, I realized that task was many times harder than I’d imagined. There are thorny times ahead. Still, they are not without hope.

It’s too early in the process, perhaps, to be full of hope. But I’ve concluded that it’s never too late to not become hopeless.

 

Want to get more involved?

If you’re looking for a way to stay engaged after the US elections, join the parallel Women’s March on January 21st, 2017 in Paris the same day as the planned Woman’s March on Washington.

More details to be announced by local organizers in the New Year.

Melissa Dalton-Bradford
Melissa Dalton-Bradford is an award-winning author, (Global Mom: A Memoir, named AML’s Best Memoir of 2013, and On Loss & Living Onward), poet, essayist, blogger, polyglot, soprano, popular public speaker, and mother of four. Former long-time residents of Paris, Melissa and her husband have built their family in Vienna, Hong Kong, the greater New York City area, Oslo, Munich, Singapore, Geneva, and Frankfurt. Her work explores the globally mobile life, and delves into the role of community in providing stabilizing strength when “globility” and major loss collide, as occurred with the death of her eldest, Parker, which inspired her involvement as a founding member of Their Story is Our Story: Giving Voice to Refugees, a non profit organization bringing artists and writers together to transmit stories, create connections, and inspire compassion.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Michael,
    Although I don’t know you, I would like to mention that I don’t appreciate the way you expressed your opinion. I would like to make some suggestions next time you post comments. First of all, the term “cognitive dissonance” is associated with one having behaviors that conflict with their beliefs. Now, since you don’t know Mrs. Dalton-Bradford beyond this article that she’s written, you don’t know more of her beliefs and behaviors. How can you then adequately state that this article is a case of her having cognitive dissonance? It’s possible you were looking for a different phrase.

    Second of all, your own opinion is as valid as Mrs. Dalton-Bradford’s, of course. But expressing it in a condescending manner is not going to make you any more “right”. In fact, it will only weaken your opinion to resort to making personal commentaries rather than explaining your opinion in a reasonable, human manner. Example: You saying, “look outside of *your* insular world of the circle of friends who believe as you do…” I assume you must be personally acquainted with her or at least know her circle of friends to be able to make that comment?

    Thirdly, how can you state that hers is “wrong” opinion? What makes it “wrong”, according to you? You say that that “half the American electorate thinks that the election results are a GOOD thing…” Clearly, Mrs. Dalton-Bradford thinks otherwise, which simply makes her opinion “different”, not outright “wrong.” An opinion is not “correct” based simply off of the number of people who believe such, even if it’s half the American population. In the case of American elections, not supporting a certain presidential candidate is a totally subjective decision, and cannot be termed “right” or “wrong”. It would also make sense for you to mention that “there is a 50/50 chance that Mrs. Dalton-Bradford’s opinion is not the same as other Americans’”, because that is all that that statistic really means. After all, Benito Mussolini’s party won 374 seats in Italian Parliament — a landslide victory. Were those voters inherently “right” because they were the majority?

    It would show a bit of courtesy on your part, Michael, to not belittle her voicing her views. We all *must* be willing to share our views, however different they may be, and engage in political discussion, rather than shut each other down. But you must rise above the tactics of the typical political tv ad and be able to express why you believe your opinion is right without trying to tear down the other’s, otherwise you’re simply adding to the upset. Thank you!

  2. Dear Ms Dalton-Bradford,
    Rejoice, do not despair.
    If you are able to overcome your cognitive dissonance (not an easy thing for us humans) you will see that your fears are, for the most part, unjustified.
    And next time you write on this subject, please remember that half the American electorate thinks that the election results are a GOOD thing, which means there is a 50/50 chance that your opiniion is the wrong one, so try not to write in such absolutes.
    The early signs, if one takes a minute to note them, are that the economy is already doing better, just on the anticipation of Trump’s presidency, and he hasn’t eve taken office yet.
    And the polar ice caps haven’t melted, Rowe vs. Wade has not been overturned, there have been no lynchings of Blacks in the South and No nukes have been dropped.
    Calm down, look outside your insular world of the circle of friends who belive as you do, and see the broader world – – – It is not nearly as horrible as you imagine it.
    We survived eight years of Obama, we can certainly survive four-to-eight years of Trump.

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