After the election, I like so many Americans were stunned with the outcome. While my intuition told me that Trump would win months before it became reality, a voice deep inside me wished this nation of immigrants would see through this sad but brilliantly navigated narcissist roadshow.
The truth is that racism and fear of others not quite like us, has always been front and center, especially for the white man. I grew up in that world. While I may not have been surrounded by Confederate born conservatives, I was surrounded by people who told me to stay away from the other side of the tracks, you know, where poor black people lived because, well….it wasn’t safe. My thinking as a child was that if it wasn’t safe, why don’t we invite them over to our side of the tracks where it was safe. Seems logical doesn’t it? At least in a child’s mind, who hasn’t learned about fear and hate yet, it is.
I started traveling because I craved diversity which my small home town in upstate New York had very little of. I wanted to know how others thought and lived and ate and slept and walked. My grandfather was a conservative and while he had his own prejudices that he often shared about the Poles, Italians, Czechs, Dutch, Germans, Jews and others who lived among us, it was often with humor.
That said, underlying tones would remain, enough for me to want to see their worlds first hand. That same grandfather voted for Reagan and sent my uncle to New York Military Academy, the same school Trump went to and during the very same years. Founded in 1889, this private school,which we visited on more than one occasion years later, is spread across 120 acres in rural Cornwall. I think it was perhaps therapeutic for my grandmother or somehow confirmed their decision that sending him there was the ‘right’ decision to ensure he was on the ‘right’ path. I was sent to private catholic school by the very same grandparents for the very same reason.
You see, there was so much fear that we’d end up on the wrong side of the tracks if we didn’t have discipline in our lives and military and catholic institutions are designed to bring you just that. For me, discipline is internal, not external as defined by an institution, school or political ideology. When we stray from our own voice, our own knowing, our own intuition, our own understanding, we can get in trouble.
Forgive the musings, but the reason I bring up this story is because it has to do with divide, something which plagues our world right now. My grandparents believed in the rags to riches America, that this country was the place that his granddaughter could most succeed. When I used to talk about living in Europe, he said “if you want to be astronaut one day, you can in America, you can’t achieve dreams like that in Europe. Even though there haven’t been any women presidents, why couldn’t you be the first?” As hard and difficult as he was at times, he used to say things like that to me all the time — anything was possible. This was rare for the male generation of his time and while he expected me to set the table and help my mother clean the dishes after supper, he never expected me to only consider teaching or motherhood because that’s what women did.
I guess my mother knew that too since I never gave birth to a child, I’ve supported more than one man and have worked my ass off since I was 14, starting with washing dishes for Italian-run restaurateurs who never stopped screaming at each other. When you’re raised by a man who runs their own business, you learn to have an entrepreneurial spirit. From as long as I can remember, I’ve made my own source of income.
To make a living, I’ve mowed lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, wheel barreled sand, sold chocolate, cosmetics, and books door-to-door, worked in rural fields, sold art in Holland, picked greengages, grapes and oranges, patched and sewed in foam and glue factories, washed dishes, milked cows in Israel, managed restaurants, taught English in Kenya, bused tables in Belgium, waited on tables and tended bar on five continents and 8 countries, photographed events, performed plate smashing and dance ceremonies in Greece, sold ice cream in Australia, played piano in England, co-led swing dance classes, created direct marketing and advertising campaigns, written articles, authored photo books, led communications and marketing teams, run departments at a software and hardware company, given presentations and speeches, managed accounts and clients at PR agencies, launched start-ups, run my own communications consultancy, drafted creative briefs and written strategic plans.
Whoah Nellie – are you tired yet? I am and that’s the point.
When people are surprised that anyone with a brain voted for Trump, I’m not. I know this other America because I grew up in and around it. My America was one where you could buy a house and afford to send your child to college. It was doable for the working class family and even easier for a middle class one. It’s 68 years since my grandfather paid $4K for our corner house, the one that would become my childhood home. They made sacrifice after sacrifice to make sure I had a better life (after all, that’s what most parents do) and yet I still can’t afford to buy a home in THIS America.
While I may live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and a former Google employee apparently paid $2 million in cash for a tear down house on my street, I realize that San Francisco and the Bay Area isn’t reality. I get that. What is reality is that while house prices may not be $2 million in Phoenix or Seattle or Denver or Dallas, they’re still far beyond what most Americans can afford today. College is through the roof and our weekly grocery bill is absurd.
My monthly rent would make anyone with an above average salary bowl over, my health insurance payments even with a high deductible are nearly $700 a month (that’s nearly $9K a year) and they just went up again and I have no health issues. I’m told that because I’m over 40, they’ll go up even more with Trump’s proposed healthcare plan, which quite frankly simply isn’t doable. I can’t work enough hours in a day to sustain these growing costs and so savings get depleted every year.
I think to myself often: it’s not as if I haven’t proved that I can do whatever it takes to make a living and am humble enough to go there. But…I’m tired. Most people are. And, this my friends, is why American born citizens are angry. It’s not just white laborers and manufacturing plant workers who are wondering how to survive but 90% of the country. Will there even be a retirement fund? The Silicon Valley bubble I live in don’t understand this ‘other world’ and that’s why they were shocked when Trump won the election and I wasn’t.
There’s too much pain out there. While we were all immigrants once upon a time making a living on this great land, many of us expected (or at least hoped) we’d be better off 30 years later rather than struggling more than ever to pay bills, college loans and a mortgage. We all have our own stories of how we struggle and why we’re tired even with a great education, skills and oodles of rich tried-and-true experience.
This tired group voted for Trump.
While I may feel some of their same pains, I couldn’t conceive going there, because I don’t believe in divided nations, divided communities, divided families, the result of a fear based approach to governing. After every decision and tweet, there seems to be more racist rallies, marches and incidents. Why? Because these decisions and words violate how we feel as unique individuals who make up the United States of America: Asians, Jews, women, blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Italians, the list goes on. Conde Naste so elegantly wrote in a piece about the executive order on immigration which has turned into a Muslim ban, many of whom see as a religious war.
“Above all of it loomed the spirit of the order itself, a sharp and cynical act from the highest office of this nation that, in spite of its many stumbles, has stood more than any other in modern history for refuge, for openness, for fairness and opportunity.”
As a born marketer and brand expert, I saw it coming — Trump is a brilliant rally chief. Making America great isn’t about turning back the hands of time, nor is it to create a mantra that suggests we aren’t great as a nation today. Let’s face it, we are at a crossroads and the decisions we make during this very pivotal time will determine whether we continue to lead the free world — or not.
NPR’s Robert Siegel interviewed Yale historian Timothy Snyder this week, who is known for his sprawling books about war, genocide and the descent into dictatorship in mid-20th century Europe. His latest book “On Tyranny” addresses the concern about the rise of Donald Trump, and his lessons range from establishing a private life and listening to dangerous words to being weary of paramilitaries.
Says Snyder in his interview:
“The president has never given any indication that he understands or respects the rule of law and the things that the presidents have done so far. And this speaks directly, I think, to the central threat, suggests that he is deliberately spreading a world of unreality. And this is exactly why we have to understand history, because where fascism, to use your word, begins is with the neglect or the repudiation of the real world. Fascism says what you and I experience as facts or what reporters experience as facts are irrelevant. All that matters are impressions and emotions and myths.
And so when the president and his aides set out to create a world of alternative factuality, that is the catalyst which helps us slide from one system to another.”
As alarming as that sounds, it’s what many people feel is happening to our democracy (we do live in one right?) yet can’t quite put the same words to it. They’re feeling a loss of control. A loss of fundamental freedoms.
Why these new orders are impacting so many Americans, including third generation white ones, is because it feels like a betrayal of our nation’s history, principles, laws, and customs. And, as Conde Naste also writes: “a betrayal of her spirit and aspirations.”
Since the beginning, America’s attractive power enticed millions of immigrants to leave the comforts and security of their homelands for the promise of hope, opportunity, and a liberty the world had never known. They also unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit that created unparalleled prosperity and spawned the greatest generosity ever exhibited by a country.
Several years ago, I wrote a book review on Rescue America, which devours why we’re flailing and how we can return to an America we can be proud of again. They make countless references to American history, the Constitution, the principles behind freedom and what it means to be “free.”
They take a deeper look at the Declaration of Independence, why it was created and what our forefathers wanted for Americans as a result. Equality and improving the human condition was a large part of what the “greats” who ran this country wanted; they also wanted a unified America.
“The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition…is so powerful a principle…(it is) capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity…(and) surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions.” – Adam Smith
Thomas Jefferson didn’t really propose an ideal on equality, but rather recognized and acknowledged an equality that already existed. What Jefferson meant by the Pursuit of Happiness and a “free” America was the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness that one is free to become the best self that one is capable of becoming.
I love this as much as I love the benefits that Abraham Lincoln envisioned for Americans: the capacity and the freedom to choose, by the quality of one’s decisions and by the inherent value and ownership of the fruit of one’s labors.
“The man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year, he will hire others to work for him.” — Abraham Lincoln
As a nation, we have achieved astonishing wealth — if you combined the wealth of the Greek, Roman, Chinese and English empires, the wealth generated in America over the recent century would supersede them. And yet as free and democratic as our virtues are, most of us are struggling in today’s America.
It’s clear from the recent chain of events, we’ve lost a lot of important things along the way, the concept of gratitude being a big one and that attitude needs to come from the top so it can trickle down. The way out of this mess of course is action from the bottom — continuing to exude gratitude regardless of how tough it gets, fighting for our freedoms and personal voices, ensuring that we always have a free press, not a constrained one and a healthier and happier life for all, not just the wealthy white.
Those who voted for a different America didn’t think of the consequences of a leadership that uses fear to increase their power rather than service to lead with integrity. Diversity is after all, our biggest strength and guidance from the top matters a lot. Our children ARE watching and that’s the point — this generation is learning about what kind of leadership is acceptable for the most powerful leader in the western world.
“The direction in which education starts a man, will
determine his future in life.” — Plato
The mentors we meet along the way and the guidance we get determines our direction even more than education. It also determines our resilience and our ability to take one more step amidst negative set backs.
This is why voting for someone with a moral compass matters more than the laws they implement. As a nation, this guidance is what makes up our core ethics, values, the way we treat others and the way we look at the world.
What happens when the principles that gave you all you possess eventually lead to distracting and damaging habits and attitudes that take you away from those principles and lead to the wasting away of prosperity?
Do you abandon those principles, or do you recommit to them through honor, discipline and commitment? Isn’t it time that as a nation we unite more than ever and work on restoring and recommitting to America’s core values before its too late?
“Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves
neither liberty nor security.” Benjamin Franklin
Photo credit: New Ten Commandments Website
Entitlement stands at polar odds with personal responsibility and gratitude. When we come from a place of gratitude, it’s astonishing what’s possible in our lives and how it flows to others around us. Everyone benefits. Gratitude is critical to restoring our spirit and our values, individually and collectively as a nation.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy
The best thing we can do is to sit in another man or woman’s shoes as often as possible. By demonstration, we show that we embrace all Americans, not just those who look, dress, act and worship like us. These acts will not only squash the hate and fear-based rhetoric that suggest that all Muslims are dangerous, all blacks carry guns, and all Mexicans are drug dealers, but it will set our hearts free as humans.
From this place and as united citizens, we will only vote for and hire candidates who will truly serve this nation, not destroy it. Remember it’s not just the economy that is flailing, but our spirits too, which is a far cry from what it means to be American. When our spirits crumble and shatter, our nation’s spirits will too. And this my friends, is far more dangerous.