I woke up today – like half of America – with a hangover from an election party I didn’t enjoy and a fear that the sick feeling could last a long time.
With a strong cup of coffee at my side, I read news reports and answered anguished Facebook posts, consoling especially my young friends of color. There were calls to action. One friend pledged to get off his complacent liberal duff. Another proposed a Million-Woman march on Washington.
Afterward I sent three messages:
- To tell my brother, a Trump supporter, that I know he has a loving heart, not one filled with hate.
- To assure a Latina friend who has lived and worked without papers in the U.S. for a dozen years that my heart is with her.
- To remind 9th graders I mentor that high school isn’t just about algebra and biology. It’s also about learning how to be citizens and doing our part to make this a fairer, more united country.
Then, I ordered a book by Arlie R. Hochschild, professor emerita of sociology at UC Berkeley. Hochschild has made a distinguished career of exploring with great care and compassion the people displaced and disoriented by our radically changing culture – workaholics, Filipina nannies, two-career families.
Hochschild’s latest book — Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right — stems from five years she spent with Tea Party members in rural Louisiana. In the preface, she pays tribute to the Tea Party woman who first introduced her to the world of rural factories and profound mistrust of government. The woman’s trust and outreach that helped the Berkeley sociologist begin construction of what she calls an “empathy bridge”:
“We on both sides imagine that empathy with the other side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin.”
My Facebook feed is a symptom of what ails us: Among the dozens of posts I read this morning, there was no relief that the seething frustrations of white, blue-collar men have been heard at last, that for better or worse, the complacent, polarized paralysis of Washington has been upended. I move in a world of college grads, journalists, writers, not the world of less-educated whites, where life expectancies fell by four years between 1990 and 2008.
When I look at the sharp divisions in yesterday’s vote – by race, education, geography, gender, income – I recognize how wide these gaps are and how difficult they will be to close. The divides also demonstrate how important it is to begin.