Today is the anniversary of two huge historical events in Germany: the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in 1938. Because it is also the dawn of President-Elect Donald Trump’s era, the irony of these anniversaries really hit me. On November 9, 2016, I woke after maybe three hours of sleep following the election feeling crushed, depressed, and despondent, wondering both what happened and how history will judge this moment.
The strange confluence of these events happening on November 9 represents two ways our country could evolve. During the bitter and endless campaign, I feared Trump’s rallies in which his followers cried, Lock her up, Drain the swamp, CNN sucks, or Jew-S-A. This was a dark vision of America that played into the fears of apparently the majority of us. Our country needed to be taken back and made great again. And it felt to many of my fellow Americans that the best way to do this was to exclude or demean the Other: Women, Muslims, Jews, people of color, the LBGTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities…the list is endless, but so many people I love and care about are on it.
The dark part of my mind goes to Kristallnacht, which many see as the beginning of the Holocaust. Burning, looting, and smashing the windows of Jewish synagogues, homes, businesses, and schools marked the beginning of the end for the Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe. Is this what we are seeing when our country elects a man like Trump, who welcomed the support of the Alt-Right, KKK, NRA, and almost every group I loath and fear?
Ironically, on the anniversary of the day the Berlin wall fell 27 years ago, our country elected a man who has pledged to build a wall between Mexico and us. So I am sad and afraid and left trying to figure out what happened. But I am also looking for ways to tear down the walls that separate us and work together for the common good.
As I reflected on this beautiful autumn morning following the election, I realized that living in a college town (Evanston) in a blue state (Illinois) was like living in a bubble. Most people I know in my daily life think what I think and believe what I believe. But the values we share in my little corner of the country are not those of people throughout America who live in small towns and rural areas and the exurbs of our large urban areas.
Despite our political differences, I choose to believe that most of my fellow Americans are decent folks. Many struggle to maintain a middle class life style and worry about how their children will fare if we don’t change something about our country. Many have family members who have disabilities, are gay, or are people of color. I have to believe it is change, not hatred, the motivates most people. Obama represented one type of change and I supported him. Trump also represents change, just not the kind of change I was hoping to see.
Perhaps because of it being the anniversary of Kristallnacht, I am thinking of Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary,
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
There is a Jewish concept called Tikkun Olam, which teaches us that we should perform acts of kindness and repair the world. I have always believed that the best way to begin is with your little corner of the world and radiate your love and good deeds out to whatever you can reach, creating a caring community. The divisiveness of this election has to end. Healing must begin. I wish us all peace, kindness, caring, and love.