By Ryan Tillman
On Wednesday, November 9, I was awakened by a cry of desperation and anger coming from the adjacent room in my residence hall: “What do we do now?! You racist pig!” “Ah, Trump won the election,” I thought as my eyelids fluttered between slumber and consciousness. I decided to rest from the political chaos that ensued the night prior before the next president had been officially named. Despite the resentment I held from the unwelcomed wake-up call, I found this to be a valid question to ask: what do we do now?
With no knowledge of the controversy surrounding the political race, one might have thought that a prominent American figure had passed away or the world was coming to an end after the election concluded. Strong, deep emotions of shame and sorrow were unleashed towards the mass of America and those who casted their vote for someone many see as a tyrannical monster. The Sewanee community as a whole carried itself with poise, however, uniting on the quad that evening where understanding and compassion were the banner of the event, as we are apt and quick to practice as a university in such circumstances. Although when I look outside of this, I see hypocrisy in great measure. Emmanuel Loto (C ’19) offers a fresh, outsider’s perspective on the American political reaction, saying, “As an African college student, I was extremely appalled by the reactions of the people who seemed to preach tolerance but used the results as an excuse to harass others.” The same hatred that the Trump campaign was accused of eliciting over the past year has been reversed and augmented toward Donald Trump himself and those who voted in his favor.
His flaws are egregious and indefensible, and his campaign rhetoric was frightening. However, the election is over. Congress is set. There is little use in joining crowds shouting, “Not my president!” because the reality is he will be the President in January—for everyone. We must now turn our attention to our own personal actions and how we interact with our peers.
C.S. Lewis describes the natural human inclination to become enraptured and “fixated on politics” in his novel The Screwtape Letters. He explains that we are prone to obsess “over the faults of people [we] have never met,” which serves as an “excellent distraction from advancing personal virtue.” There are corruptions and imperfections steeped within every political system, and more importantly, our own hearts. Lewis reveals that any change or improvement in society begins within ourselves, not by the word or pen of one man in an oval office. When we show nothing but disdain and hatred, we blockade our heart from giving love, thus hindering personal and public progress.
Dealing in absolutes is rarely prudent. A pillar of Sewanee is breaking down the stereotypes we place upon others; let us not then turn around and label everyone who voted for Trump as advocates of the extreme declarations he has made. Let us even be so bold as to understand Trump himself. Within the first week of the election, he has given an acceptance speech that centralized his moment of glory as one for all Americans. He has removed any mention of banning Muslims from his website. He met with President Obama for over an hour and amended his view on healthcare. Let us give him a chance before we jump overboard and cry injustice.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes love as a practice that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, [and] endures all things.” Love does not excuse unacceptable behavior without reproof; it does not turn a blind eye. Love is patient, takes sacrifices, and is a choice we make every day to work together to better the community around us though we may vehemently disagree politically, religiously, or academically. It does not shrink in fear of uncertainty, but walks confidently into the foggy future, enduring with one another day by day. Without love, we have nothing, and it is certain we will go nowhere but backwards. Whether or not we like our fellow students, professors, or leaders, we have no hope outside of choosing to show them love. Let us not thwart love toward our neighbor, even when our neighbor is President-elect Donald Trump.