I was stunned by the results of the recent presidential election. I had a hard time believing that the electorate would reject a continuation of the social programs that have been so important to our nation: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various protections of social and economic groups on the margin. My deep roots in the Democrat party and organized labor as well as my study of Catholic Social Teaching led me to assume our national commitment to the common good was strong and vigorous and outweighed our understandable commitment to individual welfare. It is fair to say that I am one of those “liberal elites” who lost touch with the reality of the working middle class. It is also fair to say that the commitment to the common good may still be strong but there are differences in how to protect and strengthen it. Where you sit in the economy and society will have a lot to do with how you see this. Perspective is unarguably important.
As upsetting as the results are to me, they provide an opportunity for me to take a step back and try to understand what happened and what it might portend for me. Walter Breuggeman in his Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks urges us to engage in this process in times of unsettling change: Understand what has happened without resorting to ideology; grieve the loss rather deny it; and construct hope anew from basic values rather than the previous understandings and processes.
While the popular vote went one way, the electoral vote–the only one that determines the outcome–clearly indicated that people wanted a change that would “make America great again.” Exactly what that meant was never clear but it spoke to those who could look back and think that things used to be a lot better for them and the country. Further the campaign was at pains to blame elite liberals for policies and decisions which had caused this decline and loss of “greatness.” The very principles of my own social philosophy were rejected by the majority of the electoral voters and the policies and decisions from came from those principles needed to be reversed, overturned, and negated.
All the early signs indicated that the incoming administration along with the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate intends to dismantle those policies and programs or, at least, revise them to conform to a different ideology. Privatizing Social Security is an example of this. While there will be opposition to these and many other changes, there will be changes in both domestic and foreign policy because the election results require such changes.
It does me no good to pretend this didn’t happen or that it won’t last very long. It is tempting to think that the whole thing was a con, actually the continuation of a con, which keeps working over and over again even to the detriment of those keep buying into the con. Unfortunately that kind of thinking is more ideological than realistic.
As unpleasant as it may be and without giving up my ideals and the need to work in opposition to these changes, I need to face the reality that my ideals and values have been repudiated by the only electorate that counts. My next blog will extend my thinking into the other two tasks.