Katrina Kenison writes about the gifts of ordinary days. I enjoy her gentle, probing work, which often centers on the simple pleasures of life. Her focus is on gratitude for our everyday experiences, the ones that virtually all of us can share: sunsets, walks in nature, a home-cooked meal.
Her recent post, "joy, tempered," reflected on the particular joys of the holiday season: twinkling lights, a walk through new-fallen snow, chopping apricots for Christmas cookies. She talked about this year's holiday delights being intertwined with a persistent sense of loss. More than a month after the U.S. presidential election, she admits to grappling with "the profound disconnect between our President elect's values and my own."
She tapped into a sense of helplessness that many of us feel. I know many people who can't bear to follow the news because it's so disturbing to hear the contentious messages that Trump posts on his Twitter feed. Others feel a need to stay informed, but don't know how to speak up when Trump's words and actions veer dangerously close to gutting the ideals that have made America great: civil discourse, a fair and free press, and free speech, among them.
Kenison's post was not a screed. It was not a denial of our president-elect's rightful election. It simply acknowledged a vastly different value system that Trump represents and the sadness that the incoming administration produces in those of us who see these times as those in which, as Kenison neatly sums up, "the civic values, freedoms, and precepts we once took for granted are threatened."
She offered her thoughts with the hope that we can honor our differences and share them with compassion and understanding. I, too, struggle with how to come to terms with Trump's brazen provocations on social media (nuclear escalation, anyone?) and his inability to embrace the diversity of all Americans, not just the ones he caters to on his thank-you tours. Kenison's careful, reasoned words helped sort through these emotions, offering an olive branch of healing based on an honest discussion of ethical and moral values.
Her blog's "Comments" section proved that not everyone was interested in sharing an open dialogue. Most comments offered thanks for her words; they honored the intent in which she offered them. However, the dissenters told her not to write about politics. Some announced their plans to unsubscribe to her blog because of her political views.
One comment from a Trump supporter caught my eye in particular. It read, "A stronger military, jobs for those who simply wish to put a roof over their children's heads and put food on the table, or even have affordable insurance to care for sick children....these are not bad things [and why I voted for Trump]."
These words made me stop in my tracks. What makes this Trump supporter think these aren't shared beliefs?
I'm willing to wager that the vast majority of Americans share these desires, regardless of who they voted for or which political party they support. If we'd talk more with each other, instead of isolating ourselves from one another, we'd know that. Hillary Clinton was as hawkish a candidate as any in 2016. She had the backing of many military generals. I don't think there is any doubt that she would have promoted a stronger military.
There's also no question that President Obama made it a top priority to help Americans put (and keep) a roof over our children's heads and put food on our tables. How? By shepherding us past the great recession with historically low mortgage rates and consistently lowered unemployment rates. While I believe we must accept globalization and automation as part of our economic reality and take personal responsibility to find jobs in this new economy, Trump voters seem to believe that nationalism and corporate welfare are needed to put people back to work in old-era jobs. So let's talk about these diverging views, not make false accusations about each other's motives.
Of course, we all want affordable health insurance to care for our children. But the healthcare system has been broken for decades, long before Obamacare was enacted to promote healthcare for everyone. About 20 years ago, my family was dumped from its health insurance plan with 30 days notice and a premium increase of more than 100 percent. We couldn't afford the new rates and were forced to scramble to find an alternative. Premiums have gone up and benefits have gone down ever since. I believe that the medical/health insurance/pharmaceutical ecosystem holds us all hostage to its unrealistically high costs. A repeal-and-replace Obamacare strategy won't solve this core problem. Others disagree; so let's talk about these differences.
But how, exactly, do we start a dialogue that is based on the similar experiences and hopes we share? And still discuss the root issues and real-world solutions that we disagree on?
I'm going to subscribe to Katrina Kenison's blog for starters. Not because she feels the way I do or voted the way I did, but because she carefully describes her feelings without anger or blame. She helps me understand the deep-seated issues that many Americans are grappling with and that people of all political persuasions should be able to discuss. These are the messages we need to share. Not of right or wrong; good or evil; winners or losers.
The way forward likely starts with us agreeing on the basic tenets of an America that works for everyone. Yes, this includes a stronger military, a chicken in every pot, and affordable healthcare for all. One side cannot claim these hopes as their own and disparage the rest of us because we don't agree on which policies can deliver these benefits to the American people.
If we are willing to listen, to discuss, to care about all Americans and their experiences and ideas, we might have a chance to settle on common ground and move forward with civility. It's time to subscribe to others' voices, not unsubscribe. It may be the only chance we've got.