Thoughts from a writer/scientist, on Inauguration Day


I’m wearing black today.

I’m not mourning “the death of democracy” or “the end of America.” I’m not protesting that my favored candidates lost in both my state of residence’s primary and the presidential electoral process. I’m not whining that a Republican is now president of the U.S. If a Republican like John McCain or Mitt Romney were taking over the executive branch, I doubt I would be as affected as I am today.

I’m mourning the celebration of willful ignorance, of hate, of division, of misinformation, lies, and propaganda. I’m mourning the priority of corporations and millionaires/billionaires over people forced to work three jobs to be able to feed their kids. I’m mourning the millions who will suffer from the rollback of eight years of social and economic progress in this country due to the vitriol and entitlement purposefully stoked in this year’s campaign season.

I’m very likely not one of those millions. Minus a couple of my life philosophies, I’m a member of arguably the least-marginalized demographic in this country. I expect my life will change little on a day-to-day basis, at least compared to others. But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean that I’m okay with the trajectory that we as a nation seem to be on now. For unrelated reasons I increased my social media use this past year, but it’s certainly been eye-opening to inadvertently experience the fear generated by recent political developments. I’ve spent the last several months stunned, bewildered, and angered by the seeming surge in prejudice and the us-versus-them attitude that very well may have become “validated” by the incoming administration.

Now, despite holding an advanced degree, I’ll readily admit that I’m not a very well-informed member of the electorate. I’m also not particularly brave or outspoken about much of anything (partly because I feel I’m not informed enough to be so). But I’ve tried, especially recently, to read more, to be more aware, to get more involved. It’s not saying much, I know, but this year marked 1) the first time I voted in a presidential primary, or any election not on a general presidential ballot, for that matter, 2) the first time I actually cared about and followed a gubernatorial race, and 3) the first time I contacted my state of residence’s senators on a serious sociopolitical issue. And when the presidential election was decided, the first thing I did was donate money to a number of organizations doing important social, economic, legal, and scientific work in this country, organizations that will likely face at once a surge in their necessity and newfound threats to their existence.

Does that make me a bleeding-heart liberal? Fine. I’ll wear that label proudly. Why should empathy and compassion be mocked? Why is it acceptable to care only about “me and mine”? There are 323 million people in this country besides “me and mine”. It’s simply horribly narrow-minded to think that they should, should want to, or should be able to live the way “me and mine” do. People on both sides of the aisle, from all walks of life, need to learn that not-understanding the “other” does not legitimize ramming beliefs, philosophies, values, and priorities down other people’s throats. “Different” does not equal “weird,” “criminal,” “immoral,” or “wrong.” Social, political, racial, ethnic, and economic statuses do not grant superiority. If you’re not infringing on other people’s civic rights and freedoms, your way is just as “right” as anyone else’s. Replacing empathy and compassion with shouting each other down and caring only about “winning” or beating the “other” (metaphorically or literally) just exacerbates the problems we face today and will face in the coming years.

So I ask, I urge, I implore: learn more about the concerns of others unlike you. Try to understand different viewpoints or, at least, accept that different viewpoints are not immediately invalid just because they’re different from your own or you can’t understand them. Don’t judge or dismiss people’s concerns and fears; your life experiences were nothing like theirs. Instead learn what caused them to be concerned or afraid. Engage them personally, constructively, non-confrontationally, if they are willing. Read about social issues and problems, from reliable, factual sources. And above all, acknowledge that they are people too, trying to live their lives and provide for their families, just like you.

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