This past Saturday, millions of Americans marched in concert together in civil disobedience and out of the most fervent patriotism there is—love. I had the opportunity to participate in the Women’s March that filled the downtown streets, sidewalks, and storefronts of Los Angeles. It was gratifying, cleansing, and edifying. It made us all feel less lonely, less afraid.
American democracy and goodwill are stronger than this government.
America is filled with good people, of all creeds and affiliations, who are willing to embrace one another in a public display of both dismay and solidarity. In Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and so many other places, strangers hugged each other, and defiantly chanted songs of peace. They improvised hopeful preachments, and encouraged the feeling, the certainty, that American democracy and goodwill are stronger than this most unwelcome and monolithic government that is in power for now.
My daughters and so many friends are heartbroken, shocked, and try to dispel disillusionment about the country they love. How could that man actually be president? What about the last fifty years of social legislation in favor of justice? What about the founding principles of this nation of immigrants and the realization (we thought) that diversity is our very strength? What about the nobility of the American presidency itself? (This has already been shattered to the ground by the impetuous behavior and childlike protestations of the man in office.)
President Trump seems to think that China is a good restaurant on the Upper West Side and that C.I.A. stands for “Conceited In America.” He surely believes that Mexicans have no self-respect and that women have no dignity.
But I heard a white Uber driver several months ago tell me, unsolicited and within an assumed racial kindred spirit, that “you can’t get anything anymore if you’re a white man.” This haunted me after the Electoral College delivered the presidency to the whitest man in America. As David Remnick wrote in The New Yorker, Trump was apparently “tuned in” to “the frequencies of white rural life, the disaffection of people who felt overwhelmed by the forces of globalization, who felt unheard and condescended to by the coastal establishment.”
Maybe so. But we will survive. One of the problems with American society is that our media-saturated national memory is weak and short-circuited. The Union endured in 1865 after a four-year rupture and brutish Civil War during which 600,000 Americans died—more than in all the other wars we have fought combined.
A young American president was horrifically shot and killed in Dallas fifty-three years ago; the republic continued in constitutional order. We suffered the criminal malfeasance of President Richard M. Nixon—democracy prevailed and the disgraced executive flew off in resignation and we continued shopping and going to ball games. Even the apocalyptic nightmare of 9/11 failed to stop this nation from breathing even as we remain cognizant and grief-stricken.
America has a resiliency about it that we need to draw from once again. We are bigger than Trump’s smallness. We have always had the ability to correct ourselves—about slavery, about a woman’s right to vote or run for president, about the rampant consumption of energy and fuel, and even about the cosmically misguided war in Vietnam. In my own lifetime as an immigrant to this nation, I have seen more inspired corrections than mistakes mark the national story.
Yes, we are at a low point. But Americans have never failed to look skyward and will never surrender that freedom to anyone or anything. As Dr. King stated, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”