We're one week into four years of a Trump presidency.
If the trend line of Crazy continues, it will be so far off the charts I'm worried our United States will disintegrate into a tangled mass of splintered humanity, with most people saddened, angered, and frustrated, and a minority cheering the arrival of whatever disastrous future Trump's barely-there mind envisions for our country.
When I wake up in the middle of the night and start worrying about what kind of hellscape awaits our nation, the only thought that calms my frazzled psyche is this:
Here in Salem, we can be a refuge of love in a wilderness of hate; an island of sanity in an ocean of craziness; a town that comes together in a country that is splitting apart.
Look, I realize this may sound unduly idealistic given that 38% of Salem voters cast a ballot for Trump and 49% for Clinton.
There's no consensus among our citizenry on anything, including how to deal with homelessness, whether a Third Bridge is needed, what to do about a Plan B for a new police facility, how to revitalize downtown, and what improvements, if any, need to be made to our schools, mass transit system, roads, bike paths, and other communal aspects of Salem.
This doesn't really matter, though.
Heck, it is rare that my wife and I start off with a consensus about anything. For example, until recently I didn't even know that we needed a new living room couch. Our current one seemed absolutely fine to me. But Laurel gently and persuasively explained why she doesn't like the couch. Yesterday we ordered a new one. She was happy. I was happy. And I'm sure when the new couch arrives, our dog also will be happy with it.
What we did was simple:
Talk to each other; listen to each other; understand how the other person feels; give reasons for why we feel the way we do; compromise; engage in give and take; come to a mutually satisfying agreement; realize that we don't have to see something in exactly the same way, just similarly enough to be able to converse about it.
Hopefully Salem's elected officials, public employees, business leaders, civic activists, advocates for this-and-that, and citizens of all sorts will be able to come together in these Trumpian times, demonstrating that while Washington D.C. may be a place of rancor and people talking past each other, our town can be different.
Which means, of course, that we have to talk to each other. And not just through social media, as President Obama said so eloquently in his farewell speech:
Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.
...For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.
And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other.
...So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.
Salem needs more opportunities for diverse people to come together and talk openly, honestly, and, yes, sometimes heatedly, about what we have to do to make our town better.
Face to face. Eye to eye.
Sure, we always are going to feel more comfortable in our own "tribe." I'm a progressive atheist vegetarian. I readily admit that hanging out with conservative religious carnivores can stretch my ability to empathize, understand, relate, grok. But I need this stretching, a form of psychological yoga. It helps keep me limber.
We here in Salem can get through the next four years, and the four years after that, whatever the future may bring, if we keep in mind a saying that is as true as it is a cliche: what unites us is stronger than what divides us.
We come to understand this most intensely when we break out of our cultural and political shells, daring to peck our way out of hardened beliefs that often bear little resemblance to reality, or to how other people truly look upon our shared world.
Like I said, I had no idea that a new couch was what our living room needed until my wife ushered me into this fresh understanding. All things are possible when approached with open minds.
Let's give it a try, Salem. I really need our town to come together, given the clear and present danger that our nation is going to split apart.