"The Trumptastrophe," I had called it on social media. I’ve had people unfriend or block me because of it, but as Barbara Kingsolver writes, “Politeness is no substitute for morality,” and it feels like the moral thing to speak out against what I believe to be a disastrous outcome from the U.S. election.
Grieved, appalled, shocked, I have not held back my true feelings online, and kind friends have been checking up on me. And yet, I feel strange being on the receiving end of compassion, especially with how busy I'd been doling it out myself in those first few days after Trump's victory. The day of the election, I held my teary-eyed Hillary-supporting friend as she lamented, “How could America hate women so much they could not vote for a qualified female candidate?” Then came the incoming messages in my inbox: “How will I raise my biracial son in this country?” And then there’s the one with whom I share my bed: In his distress over the symbolic setback on environmental sustainability, he replaced his profile picture on Facebook to one of our blue planet in flames. Everywhere I turned, the sense of hopelessness and helplessness was palpable. This continues to be the first time in my life a political election has felt so terribly personal.
It can feel like whiplash, then, for many Americans who do not favor this election outcome to turn in the direction of celebration this holiday season. Generally irritated by Pollyanna-esque platitudes, I assured my parenting group that if anyone isn’t ready to make superficial peace with family this year, it is OK to be real with our pain. After all, "no justice, no peace." I feel strongly that the priority in this moment ought to be given to the most vulnerable: to provide space for undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities to express their insecurities and fears without conditions placed on their lament. Their distress deserves airtime.
In my progressive Christian parenting group, we talk often of gentle parenting methods. Specifically, when our children are upset and crying, we don’t believe in authoritarian commands to "Stop crying!" Instead, we discuss ways to enter into empathy and make space to hear their cries. The beloved Mister Rogers reflected, "People have said, 'Don’t cry' to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, 'I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.' I’d rather have them say, 'Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.'" But it's also not good parenting to leave our children in distress without offering a hopeful perspective — such as, "You won’t always feel this way." And so good parenting requires us to hold in tension both the hopelessness of our children’s distress and to provide some tools to climb out of their despair.
We are now in a season in which we await the coming of our God incarnate. Krista Tippett describes this beautifully as our Christian proclamation of “God entering the fray of physical existence with us, taking on joy and tears and the flu, our flashes of glory, our relentless return to helplessness.” As the church calendar rolls around to Advent, it is appropriate to project our collective sense of helplessness onto our God, who embodied that vulnerability in an infant child. “Go ahead and cry,” God says, “I’m here to be with you” — literally, in the flesh.
But let’s not forget that this embodied bundle of helplessness was himself a political statement so threatening to the status quo that the reigning king of the time sent troops to slaughter every firstborn boy to ensure suppression of resistance. And so it is, in this Advent, we can hold in tension both the commitment to be present among those who are marginalized, relentlessly returning to their cries of helplessness against white supremacy and xenophobia and a strongman who propagates lies to stir up hate — and to center our narrative on the helpless child embarking upon the most powerful resistance against injustice.
For the last two thousand years, our salvation has come via that peaceful, sleeping baby, weary from being a tiny human. A revolution for a better world begins from the most ordinary of miracles, from small, gasping breaths after a good cry. This is where we will rise, those of us hopeless from the election results, from the margins, from the outside, from the ordinary, miraculous moments of our lives.
May my friend, a Hillary supporter and a teacher, lead her students into critical thinking and wise discernment, equipping them to be citizens who forge a path for equality and inclusion. May my friend, a mother of a biracial son, continue to nurture her boy with a gentle love but a fierce commitment to expose insidious racism woven into the fabric of society, and empower him to be proud of his color, heritage, and right to American liberties. May my husband continue to labor against environmental harm to our planet. May my progressive Christian parenting group raise an small army of resistance against fear, for love, against top-down hierarchy, for bottom-up mutual flourishing, against greed, for the common good, against propaganda, for truth, against injustice, for liberation.
This is my hope this Advent: that though hopelessness reigns for a while, the moral arc will continue to bend. The next president will be inaugurated soon enough. But as Viet Thanh Nguyen writes so eloquently in this Los Angeles Times piece,
“I want to believe in prophecies more than policies. I want to listen to poets instead of pollsters. I want to believe in the people rather than the president.”
My faith lies with the people, the resistance, the helpless bundle who surprisingly grows into a Savior.