DON'T BELIEVE IN KINGS
Election Night 2016, Chance the Rapper, and the Change the Country Actually Needs
Election night… did that really, actually happen?
If you’re like me, and you might not be, you watched the results come in with disbelief and you woke up the next morning with more than just an uneasy feeling about who we elected as our next president.
This election cycle in particular has been a pretty challenging one to my usual self. First of all, I rarely delve into politics. I believe there are good (and not-so-good) people on both sides of the aisle and often, our team colors turn into our greatest distraction from helping others. Also, I think most of the time, social media is the least productive outlet for those thoughts.
And I thought that one very destructive personality only grew more powerful with attention– even negative attention. I didn’t want to provide any more mentions, web-traffic, or “buzz.”
Then again, I also kind of want it preserved in pixel that I was never okay with this. That I was never okay with sweeping generalization of Mexicans as rapists and criminals. The blatant mockery of a disabled reporter. Absolutely disrespectful exchanges with purple heart recipients and the family of a fallen soldier. The whole grabbing thing. None of it was okay with me.
For a long while, it seemed like he was going down a list of people to disparage. I wondered how much of the U.S. population didn’t fall into some category of people he’d antagonized. Most of all, I thought about what kids see when a grown man brags about how being rich enables you to get away with sexual assault. I know I wouldn’t want my own to see that sort of behavior reinforced with a win.
And while crude personalities aren’t anything new to the world, I can’t help but notice that he’s brought a little more venomous behavior out of everybody. There’s a pretty solid link between the time he took control of the public spotlight a year ago, and the time my Facebook feed started to become exponentially unpleasant.
As election night drew closer, I grew more and more hopeful that it all would be ending soon. While his opponent wasn’t exactly my favorite politician either, I hoped that the political bickering would die down and some civility would reemerge.
As it turns out, November 8th wasn’t the end, but the very beginning, and this one-way, para-relationship that I had with the president-elect wouldn’t be going anywhere for the next four years.
I keep trying to remind myself that he, like all presidents before him, is human.
It’s a reminder I try to cling to every election cycle. Presidents and presidential candidates are simply people. People who have to deal with a crazy amount of attention and scrutiny that I’ll never understand, but still, people. And this one is too.
That reminder helps me to replace any loathing I might have towards him with pity. Because his actions, his comments, and his public presence so far all seem to come from a place of anger. Because in his life he’s acquired wealth, fame, and now, power, and yet it never seems to satisfy him.
Sadly, I don’t think he’ll find that satisfaction in the White House either.
I still remember the first election I voted in pretty vividly. 2008. Obama. The historic one. I voted for him.
That year, I saw the map turn overwhelmingly blue. I was living in a college dorm in Santa Barbara, so as you might imagine, most of the people I was watching with were thrilled.
I remember a girl turning and telling me how eight years before she had an opposite reaction of dread and anxiety as the electoral college map seemed secured for George W. Bush. I had a very hard time relating to her apprehenson. For starters, I was in middle school during that election. I’d also lived through presidents all over the political spectrum without noticing a significant difference. But I smiled, because at least she was enjoying herself that night.
This year, as I watched a map change colors, and I realized that there weren’t enough counties left in Michigan, Ohio, Florida to change the outcome of those states, I started to feel something similar to what my dorm mate must have felt in 2000.
I do not think our country made a good decision.
I do not think we chose a good leader; even a half decent leader.
I do not think he respects women.
I do not think he respects the poor, the sick, or the marginalized.
I do not think he understands the value and beauty diversity.
I do think he can change.
I could be wrong, I suppose.
The next morning, I walked to my office in the middle of a university in the middle of a very blue state. I was curious what that day was going to be like.
It was gorgeous. The sun was up overhead, and the sky was blue, and in Oregon in November, you can’t take that for granted.
I was also struck by how quiet the campus was. It was eerily quiet. Hardly anyone was around and the few people that I saw spoke of the election only in hush tones. I reminded myself that in other pockets of the country, the attitude was starkly different. But I lived here. This was my world.
That song from Hamilton kept popping up into my head. It’s Quiet Uptown.
The protests wouldn’t hit until later that night.
Going through the unimaginable.
I think the American system does the checks and balances thing pretty well. Big decisions are often made in Congress, the Supreme Court, or at the local level. Outside of a few key tasks, the president’s power is usually greatly overrated as he functions as a highly visible PR person.
That’s not to say a highly visible person can’t have a whole lot of impact for good or bad. It totally can.
The publicity and the spirit of the election leaked out of headlines and news articles and into people’s everyday lives in devastating ways. It wasn’t even noon yet and I read stories of a girl in a hijab in San Diego who was robbed in a parking garage as her attackers yelled slurs at her. I saw photos of a black woman in the midwest who came back to her parked car to find all kinds of attacks spray painted on its side.
Right on my own campus, that day, I heard reports of some kids running around in blackface. This was only a week after a professor– yeah, a law professor– disrupted the community by doing the same.
These sorts of episodes are what concerned me most about the election. Not the political stuff. People all over the world can adapt and thrive under different models of government. Big. Small. Authoritarian. Libertarian. Strong and weak economies. We’re adaptable.
What gets people killed- what turns people apart and results in catastrophes like apartheid, Aleppo, and Jim Crow, is racism and hatred and attacking other people because of their differences. And it looked like blatant racism was starting to emerge at a national level in a way it hadn’t throughout my lifetime.
My parents lifetime? Sure. But not my lifetime. And I heard enough stories from the past to know it wasn’t a good thing, and that it really needed to change.
It’s easy for me to think that the capital-P problem in our country is political. It turns out that politics is just the most visible stage for the problem. It’s roots are a whole lot deeper than that.
When I watched the red states light up, I suddenly turned into a futurist. I started to think about how the 2018 Congressional elections could gain momentum from the inevitable pendulum swing of public opinion.
I thought about what it meant to win a battle but lose a war. Younger generations seemed to see the lack of civility, the racism, and the hatred in this election more clearly than the older ones, and they’re the ones who will start taking over the voting demographics sooner than we think.
Suddenly, I started to do that thing where I try and solve a problem before I really take the time to digest its significance.
Then there’s the inevitable demographic shift that is coming. Latinos will be the majority ethnicity by my 50th birthday. Even sooner than that is the time when whites will make up less than 50% of the country. And that’s assuming we even talk about race and ethnicity in the same way by then. I doubt it.
I started thinking of these different infographics I’d seen. The electoral college map if only minorities voted. If only women voted. If the votes were proportionate to projected demographics in the year 2040. The states were blue. Almost all of them. There was West Virginia, Montana, and then blue everything-else.
Then I stopped myself.
Do I think an election in my lifetime will ever look that one-sided?
Do I even want it to?
No. Not really.
A Democrat takeover would also produce an incredibly flawed system. And we would lose so many of the valuable things conservative minds bring to the table regularly.
The earth is old, and throughout its history we’ve seen rulers rise and fall, systems develop and crumble, and nations that were impossible to defeat eventually collapse. These powers seem imposing, until one day, they just don’t exist anymore.
On the contrary, the virtues of loving your neighbor, praying for your enemy, and rushing out to help the poor live on, no matter how counterintuitive they feel. These are the virtues that have become novelties, and that’s where the real problem lies. They’re what we were designed to thrive off of.
I’ve been listening to Chance the Rapper a lot lately. (And by lately, let’s face it, I mean since June.)
There’s a line from Blessings that always sticks out to me.
Don’t believe in kings, believe in a kingdom.
As things change in the next few years, and as discourse grows more hostile, I think that mindset is going to be one I’ll have to fight to keep.
At the moment, I want things in our country to change pretty badly. I want people to see the destructive results of spreading hatred, I want people to be willing to examine themselves for racism and bigotry instead of constant defensiveness, and I want respect and civility to guide constructive debates.
At the moment, these hopes feel like long shots, but they’re still hopes.
I get frustrated when people preach a message that totally dismisses politics. It’s partly because people have a lot of feelings wrapped up in politics, and I’ve seen plenty of people who intend to be comforting come across as dismissive.
And while I do agree that God has the last word no matter who wins an election, part of my belief in God includes a redemption of all things. Including the icky, dirty world of politics. And it’s hard to redeem that sphere if you don’t care about it.
Sometimes an indie rapper can speak to me more effectively.
Don’t believe in kings, believe in a kingdom.
The change I hope for isn’t found in a new president or a shift in Congress. It doesn’t look like a red map or a blue map. It doesn’t look like a Supreme Court Justice.
My more liberal friends are right in thinking we need a change of heart that prioritizes the poor and vulnerable. My conservative friends are right in understanding that you can’t legislate morality. And my faith tells me that change happens from the inside out. From the bottom up.
That means for every hour I spent examining government systems for what could be better, I better spend five examining myself.
That means that conversations moving forward aren’t about winning debates, they’re about winning people. Not to a politial party, but to a place of Love.
That means that we all could use a little more Chance the Rapper in our lives.
Are you ready? Are you ready?