I went to a local park and had lunch with a friend of mine today. It’s beautiful here, but we can tell that it’s Summer’s last attempt to hold Autumn at bay, and we’ll be suffering through the misery of sixty degree afternoons soon enough. There’s even rumor of an inch of rain before the end of the year, which we both know will turn our freeways deadly. Um, it also seemed like a good excuse to walk away from the computer and enjoy actual human contact for a change. While we ate sandwiches and watched little kids chase each other, we talked about the election. We’re two small blue spots in a sea of red here, and we’d shared hopes and fears over the last several months.
“I guess we’re supposed to be gracious in victory,” I said, “but I’m profoundly offended to hear ‘we need to look forward and not backward’ and ‘we need to stop being so partisan’ from the very same fucking motherfuckers who have been telling us that we hate our country and love terrorists for the last eight years? These are the same people who worked really hard to make sure that I and everyone who didn’t agree with their blind support of Bush and Bush policies didn’t feel welcome in our own fucking country for eight years!”
I looked down at my hands, which had involuntarily clenched into fists. I felt a frightening and unexpected, uncharacteristic fury rise in my chest.
“I want to grab these people by the throat and scream at them ‘HOW DO YOU LIKE IT FUCKER?! YOU LOST! YOU FAIL! YOU GO HOME NOW!’”
I kept my voice low, but was really worked up, shocked and horrified at the level of anger I was feeling.
We looked at each other for a moment. I was embarrassed by my outburst. This really isn’t like me. Fortunately, my friend is incredibly cool and unflappable. She is also incredibly wise. She put her sandwich down and wiped the corners of her mouth with a paper napkin.
She pointed out at the different people in the park and said, “They are home. We share this country, all of us, whether we like it or not.
“We voted against intolerance for people that don’t share ‘the right’ views because we and people we respect and admire have been the victims of intolerance for too long. We voted against hypocrisy and fear and hate. We voted for a chance to change.”
I unclenched my fists and looked at little half-moons in the palms of my hands. “I should feel celebratory. I should feel happy and relieved. Why in the world do I suddenly feel so angry?”
“Seething quietly and privately is understandable and totally warranted. Just, every time you want to grab someone by the throat, try to remember how both Obama and McCain have always reacted to boos from their audiences. One man said ‘we don’t need any more of that’ – and that’s the administration we voted for. Because we don’t need any more of that. We need to chip away at the havens of hate in this country until there is nothing left for the haters to fight with. Because that is going to be the biggest payback of all.
“Someday, the people that ‘don’t feel welcome’ in a tolerant and just place aren’t going to feel welcome anywhere.
“We don’t need to take any shit from anyone, but we can not become the bullies we’ve hated. Or else we didn’t win anything at all.”
While I processed all of this, she smiled and added, “Yes, my horse is very high, and I like it that way. I can see a long way from up here.”
“Damn. You’re wise,” I said. “I’m going to have to write down ‘We don’t need any more of that’ and use it to get over eight years of resentment. It’s going to take awhile to get over being called a traitor and being told to, effectively, ‘shut up and sing,’ but you’re absolutely right. We can not become the bullies we’ve hated.”
We finished our sandwiches, and walked through the park before we both had to get home to our families.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have had a second cup of coffee this morning,” I offered.
“I’m sure you’ll get your cool back once it wears off.”
I hope she’s right.
Afterthought: This doesn’t mean that progressives suddenly drop our agenda to fundamentally change things. This doesn’t mean that we don’t fight for what we believe in over the next four and hopefully eight years. This means that, as human beings and as Americans, we can choose to live in John McCain’s vision of an angry, divided, fearful America, or Barack Obama’s vision of a tolerant, united, hopeful America. It’s not going to be easy for me, especially after the hateful, divisive campaign McCain ran and eight years of being screamed at by George Bush’s True Believers. But as my friend said, “We need to chip away at the havens of hate in this country until there is nothing left for the haters to fight with. Because that is going to be the biggest payback of all … we can not become the bullies we’ve hated. Or else we didn’t win anything at all.”