What’s clear to me now is that, while enduring the Trump Years, I suffered no uncertainty about how I saw him. He was, and is, a self-serving crook evading all consequences of his despicable behaviors. I felt suffocated under his relentless affection for authoritarian power and White nationalism. I was never ambiguous.
I’m grateful for the Biden Harris team. I don’t miss the brutal ugliness of Trump’s assaults. But having “my side” win, which is how their November victory seemed to me, isn’t necessarily a victory for democracy. As Nate Cohn opined in a recent New York Times’ essay, the most evident threat to American democracy is the danger “of a hostile and divided citizenry.” In other words: sides.
We’re trapped, said Cohn, in “two hostile identity groups who not only clash over policy and ideology, but see the other side as alien and immoral.” I’m afraid that feels about right. I can easily see Trump fans as an army of aliens loving hatred and fueled by racism. “They” want to take away the ability of Black Americans to vote while promoting sales of AK-15s as teenager toys.
I think Cohn’s correct. If I want to prove my loyalty to democracy, I should reach out with compassion — or at least with curiosity — to The Other. We’re living in a ripped-apart America. There ought to be no “sides” despite my sizzling suspicion of all things Trump, especially that of the acolytes who gathered around him and destroyed Federal agencies, our global reputation, and the hopes of every family of color. He was the Great Enabler with scores of brutes waiting to be enabled including the thugs battering their way into the Capitol on January 6th.
But I’m stuck thinking Cohn is right. What’s needed isn’t my judgmentalism but my confidence that America needs healers and bridge-builders, people who can get above and beyond “Us and Them.”
It’s ironic that I could so easily forge loving connections and a sense of genuine community while I was working with women in Africa. We spoke different languages, knew different traditions, came from different worlds. But we were united, first, by being women. And when they learned that I was HIV-positive, as they were, we were one. We sang together, danced together, laughed and wept together — despite the vast differences between us.
What I need to find now, in America, is that kind of common ground. I need to focus less on what divides us and search for what might bring us together. If I’m not willing to risk myself in reaching out, how can I ask others to do so?
It isn’t a forced action, this search for oneness. When I’m honest with myself, despite my anger, I ache to have my nation united once again. I long for an end to the divisions that Cohn so pointedly defined. We need community, all of us; me too. A gathering composed only of “my side” is a clique, not a community. I need somehow to scale the barriers of mistrust, break down the walls of misunderstanding, and embrace my fellow-Americans as warmly as I was once embraced by the women of Rwanda. I admit to being ambiguous simply because what I long to do is at odds with how I feel.
Seeing the end of her life approaching, the late, great comedienne Gilda Radner embraced what she said was a “delicious ambiguity.”
“I wanted a perfect ending,” she wrote. “Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
I love Gilda. I treasure democracy. I believe in healing. I want to listen to those whose views I do not share, and embrace them. I need to see them not as “the other side,” or the enemy, but as my fellow-Americans.
Frankly, my ambiguity isn’t delicious. It’s more like terrifying. But I mustn’t let it be paralyzing.