On Thursday, President and First Lady Obama met with President-Elect Donald Trump in the White House. It was the first step in one of the most unexpected transitions of power in US history, and a hard meeting to imagine after such vitriolic campaign rhetoric. As the dust and shock of these elections settle, Washington and the world are now asking, what’s ahead?
Will Trump’s openly xenophobic, racist, and misogynistic rhetoric during the campaign translate into divisive and dangerous policies? Or will campaign trail bluster give way to the necessities of practical policymaking in a multi-ethnic country and undeniably interconnected world?
For those of us working to promote a more peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable world, it is hard to imagine how to advance positive change with a Trump Administration. At the same time, if there’s one thing we have learned from our work with local peacebuilders, it is that even in the most difficult and uncertain times, hope, human dignity, community, and the struggles for a more just and peaceful world do persist.
Every President must work within a system of checks and balances, laws and institutions, and with accountability to the full spectrum of the American public. The Trump transition team will have to fill more than 4000 political positions, and thousands more civil servants who have committed to serving the public good regardless of the political winds of the day will carry on the practical daily work of shaping and implementing policy.
People also voted for more than just the President on Tuesday, and some other historical wins are worth noting:
Ilhan Omar won a House seat in Minnesota, the first Somali-American to ever do so. She lived in Somalia during the start of the civil war and spent some time in a Kenyan refugee camp. Her family moved to America and maintained their Muslim traditions. She has been the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network.
Catherine Cortez Masto won in Nevada to become the first Latina Senator. Previously, she was the Attorney General of Nevada and has been paving the way for Latinas in government in a traditionally conservative state.
Oregon elected the first openly-LGBT governor, Kate Brown, to office. She gained respect for her previous service as Oregon’s Secretary of State, and her election illustrates the growing acceptance and respect for the rights of people of all sexual orientations that is becoming the norm across America.
These women are a push in the right direction for the United States, role models for all those young girls who cheered for a first female president, and are paving the way for future change to come.
We should not sugarcoat the realities of drastic setbacks that can be expected under the Trump Administration on issues from human rights to climate change to promoting more peaceful communities at home and abroad. Neither should we deny the harm that has already been done to the fabric of our democracy, our communities, and our families by this election. My own hardest moment was having to reassure my five-year-old Mexican-American son that he will still be able to visit his family in Mexico. But many other families will suffer.
As we turn to organizing for whatever may come, we should remember that the work of social change and peacebuilding is long-term, measured ultimately in decades and lifetimes, not campaigns and elections.
My moment of hope this week came the day after the elections, when I stopped at a bookstore before family pizza night and my older son picked out some new books. With excitement, he chose biographies of Malala, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and a book about the Great Wall of China. We bought them all on the spot. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the long moral arc of history does bend toward justice.
For peacebuilders in the US, the most important next step is to clearly reject the tactics of fear and division that drove these elections and instead demonstrate the America we want for our families, communities and world. The day after the elections I asked a Rwandan peacebuilder and dear friend for his advice on what we should do next. He replied simply: “The work of compassion.”