On the third Monday in January, we reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through his fight for civil rights, Dr. King broke down barriers between Americans and brought people of all colors together, uniting them against the common enemy of racism. He advocated for, in the face of dehumanization and abuse, peaceful dissent coupled with passionate protest. Through this, he believed, people would see the good in each other and put down their prejudices in favor of a more perfect Union. Instead of calling for violence, Dr. King urged his followers to treat their oppressors as countrymen rather than fighting fire with fire.
Now, fast forward forty-eight years from Dr. King’s time. What we see is not the unified America that he envisioned. In fact, the recent months have drove a wedge between many Americans, rather than uniting them, as the welcoming of a new leader should. We now see violence in the name of justice, justice being called violence, and virulent disagreement over which actions constitute justice in the first place. 2016 marks the year that tensions blew up between both political aisles and the year that people, not just the entities that they represent (Democrats, Republicans, etc.), became more polarized than any time since before the turn of the millennium. Much of this can be attributed to the presidential election, in which Republican Donald Trump won the presidency through the electoral college, but lost the popular vote to Democratic contender Hillary Clinton. No scenario could have made such a large group of people feel as wronged as they did in the aftermath of November 8, and their feelings of resentment and anger showed through public demonstrations and protests across the nation. These demonstrations came in the wake of contention around issues such as LGBT rights and alleged police brutality, which served only to incense the passions of protestors and partisans on both sides. It is no disputed claim that the United States of America aren’t too united at the moment.
Despite this, we must look forward to the inauguration of our shared President-elect, Donald John Trump, as it’s coming, whether we’re ready or not. Instead of dreading this day, though, it would benefit Americans to look at it with hope. This doesn’t necessarily mean liking our new president, but it does mean viewing this new year and this new era of American politics as a clean slate, one in which Americans can put down their political labels and come together in spite of their disagreements. Much like how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tore down the barriers of race, we face a unique opportunity, today, to tear down the barriers of politics and become the more perfect Union that Dr. King envisioned and that we all truly want. America is far from a homogenous society, and this is a good thing. Diversity strengthens us by introducing us to new points of view, new philosophies, and new people with whom we would have never had the opportunity to bond, had nobody first reached out their hand, past the lines dividing us and into our lives. We have the opportunity to say that we are Americans before we are Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and that our views will not keep us from our countrymen.
To those who supported Hillary Clinton in the recent election, defeat is always bitter, and it is understandable that you are angry. It is important to remember, especially in times like this, though, that people tend to make poor decisions when they are angry. The outcome of this election, as discouraging for you as it was, is not the end of the world, and treating it as such will only elongate the healing process between you and your neighbor who owns a “Make America Great Again” yard sign. Come on, you guys were friends before the election. Why did he suddenly turn evil? Reach out and, instead of demonizing him as a bigoted racist, sexist, etc., ask him about his views. Meet up and discuss the election and your differing opinions. Get to know this guy as a person, rather that as a Trump supporter. Each face at the mega-rallies that Donald Trump held has its own story, and getting to know those stories and the people to whom they belong will show that behind the politically-charged trucker hats and rainbow flags, we’re all people. And no, it’s not too soon. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.” The sooner we come together, the more resilient we will be when tough times try to break us apart, as they did in 2016.
To those who voted for Donald Trump last November, congratulations on your win. Donald Trump was an underdog from the moment that he entered the GOP primary and you should be proud that you played a part in such a historic election. Despite this, though, there is no need to sit on your pedestal of victory and leave half of the nation feeling betrayed by the nation behind the flag that you both pledged to in elementary school. You have your President, but how important is that, relative to the unity of the nation? The inauguration of President-elect Trump will be protested, counter-protested, and probably counter-counter-protested. The cycle of contention has to stop somewhere. The ball is in your court to say that the election is over, and that the contention around it should be as well. Talk to the person who still has the “I’m with Her” bumper sticker on their Nissan Leaf. He has reasons for his beliefs and a story that doesn’t deserve to be stuffed in the same one-size-fits-all box as all of the other stories that came together to form the protests that are now taking place. If you don’t like the vitriol coming from the other side, show that your side isn’t deserving of it. Extend the olive branch in your community and make the Union more perfect. Make the Union more united. And no, gloating is not justified because of how you have felt for the past eight years. In the words of Dr. King, “It is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.”
For the sake of the nation and for the sake of the world, trust each other (“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.) and trust God (“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” -Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence). In this new year and in this new administration, put politics aside in favor of people. Remember Dr. King and make his vision of true unity a reality.
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