“When they go low, we go high!” I still get chills up and down my spine, recalling how poignant and electrically-charged Michelle Obama’s message sounded during the Democratic National Convention last summer. Her passion, her conviction, and her genuine fervor are all impossible to ignore.
I’ve watched her speech countless times for inspiration since then, and I’ve tried with all my might to keep those seven words she spoke close at heart as I’ve come to grapple with the reality that today, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Let’s just say, it hasn’t been easy to heed FLOTUS’s call.
As I wrote about recently, my gripes with him extend far beyond partisan lines. This isn’t about being a sore loser that my candidate lost or not being able to accept election results. It isn’t because he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat. This has everything to do with being fearful that this man—who has shown himself to be bigoted, xenophobic, a violence-inciter, a sexual predator, someone who mocks the disabled, a liar—will build walls instead of bridges, divide instead of unite, dismantle democracy as we know it, wreck our global standing as he picks fights with world leaders … and that our children will be watching the meltdown.
My sweet, innocent babies were as crestfallen as I was the morning after the election. I had taken my then 5-year-old daughter with me to the polls to vote for Hillary. Like many people here in Michigan, I was pretty sure that she would win—and felt proud that my daughter was taking part in a historical election. When she woke up and found out Hillary didn’t win, she cried, “How could he win, Mommy? He’s so mean!” All my kids knew of him was what they had seen on TV: him “yelling” and “being a bully” (their words, not mine) to people. How could he have won? I struggled to answer them then, and I still struggle now to put it into words. It’s clear that none of the things he said or did that would normally disqualify a presidential candidate mattered to his voters—and that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Lord knows I’m far from the perfect parent (let alone woman and wife) but I believe in teaching our children a couple key things: to treat people with dignity and respect, as you want to be treated (regardless of what they look like or where they come from); to be kind; and to listen (and not talk over people or at them). Trump—through his words and actions—has proven he is the antithesis of all that, and that’s why I find it so hard to respect him, even once he has “President” in front of his name. He needs to earn that respect.
In Jewish faith, we are taught that the act of forgiveness is a mitzvah. And so each year on Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness to those whom we have hurt, atoning for our sins. This act of cleansing is therapeutic for both the asker and the forgiver.
While Trump himself isn’t Jewish, his daughter and son-in-law are—and I truly wish they’d doled out some Jewish perspective on ways he could help mend the nation’s wounds, many of which he created or incited throughout the election season. He still has not only not asked forgiveness from those he has offended, but he hasn’t even remotely acknowledged the pain others have felt as a direct result of his divisive rhetoric.
Had he truly intended to be a “uniter” during the transition months—as he said he would be during his acceptance speech—he could have started with apologies to those groups and individuals he offended. Instead, he went on a “Thank You Tour,” effectively speaking only to his base and continued to fan the flames and incite divisiveness in his Tweetstorms—most recently picking on civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. Had he extended an olive branch to those who don’t support him, I think many of us would perhaps be feeling slightly less uneasy about his swearing in today.
So now what? How do we move forward?
I see two paths: being paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, or taking action—using our energies to fight for the things we believe in if (or when) they are challenged. Paralysis is not an option, so I am choosing the action path. It’s one I can instill in my own children: to use their voices to write/speak out when we see injustices, and to follow Michelle Obama’s lead and take the high road, even when it feels hard.
I don’t know what the future holds for our country after today, but I have to believe President Obama’s parting words from his last press conference earlier this week: “We’re going to be OK.”
For my kids’ sake—and yours—I pray he is right.