Summary: The dangers of the coming Presidency are real and shocking and have left many still numbed; all citizens, most pointedly teachers of the youth, have a role to play in buttressing rights and freedoms we may take for granted.
A President-elect walks to the American stage with an apparent meager understanding of the strength and fragility of the Republic he will lead. In his attacks on immigrants he strikes at deeply held practice that has peopled this continent and created the commonwealth. In his court of the racist alt right he denigrates the right of all peoples to exist on equal footing. In his admiration of dictators he betrays an ignorance of government by the people that is breathtaking. And in his creation of voice at frequent odds with reality he undermines the democratic discourse.
The republic has undergone many fractures and subsequent repair in its existence. I am inspired by James Fallows of the Atlantic, who writes that in “its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself.” Fallows calls this the “American idea,” which he has chronicled in the fertile reinvention of small and medium size communities across the country, even as the national political scene has increasingly descended into acrimony.
To this “American idea” clearly must be added equality before the law, the opportunity to better oneself, and the choice of leaders by the sanctity of a transparent vote. The President elect gives little reason for confidence that he will preserve and protect these underpinnings of American culture.
In a recent column David Brooks addresses an implicit abdication of governance in the coming president’s chair, and opines that the vacuum will be filled by the staff he hires, or Congressional Republicans, or the federal bureaucracy; in short, the inertial engine of government may be able to carry normal discourse despite the incumbent’s characterological misdirection.
Those of us of a more progressive bent ironically may find solace in the hope that the Rex Tillersons and James Mattis’ of the world, or the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams, though espousing what we regard as chauvinist ideas, are nonetheless patriots and responsible human beings.
In our grasp at straws, note also the fiasco of the Republican effort to gut an independent ethics tribunal, and the storm of protest from citizens and citizen groups that cut the effort off at the knees. Though we yet grieve, the long game is far from over.
Remember that we are the people, as individuals and collectively. Let us do what we can within our immediate spheres of influence, in the classroom, the school, the community. The American project has a positive inertia in the institutions of government and in the byways of community, but also in the values and energies we bring to bear as individual citizens and professionals in the complex American matrix.
These have been tough years for schools and school people. The ascendance of testing and its dominance over other more classical rhythms has distracted from educators’ connective instinct toward students, in which we care for them, like them, and take pride in their growth toward adult franchise.
The threats posed by an untoward President-elect alert us to the duty, ultimately as patriots, but also as stewards of the young, to reorient our students to the dangers posed in the present, and to recommit to the teaching in myriad ways the rights of free speech, respect for others, and the preservation of opportunity, however ragged, for all. As these self-evident values are embraced by the young, so the President elect will have his day but fade into history as a warning to our vigilance.
We the people. The beast slouches toward Bethlehem. The time to grieve is past; time to go to work.