Listening for whispering hope

Polling the electoral "whitelash"

by Ken Sehested

“The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
—Ezekiel 18:2

        “What on earth are you going to write [about the election outcome]?” a friend wrote this week.

        “Don’t know yet—still sorting through my own emotional reactions . . . something between flamethrowing and fetal crouch,” I responded.

        I went to bed Tuesday night hours before the final tally, but not until the news anchors’ faces began to blanch as the number began piling up, telling a different story from their teleprompters’ received wisdom. Early on I instinctively doubted polling guru Nate Silver’s prediction that Clinton had a 78% chance of winning. Trump had confounded too many predictions over the past 18 months.

        Nevertheless, despite my measure of realism, the next morning it felt like a gut punch when I turned on NPR and heard the outcome.

        “I’m so glad I don’t have to preach this Sunday,” Nancy said, coming into the kitchen as I sipped coffee.

        “There is that comfort,” I said sarcastically. Months ago I agreed to sermonize this Sunday.

        “Talked to Jessica,” she said. “This morning Sydney [our too-tender-hearted 8 year-old granddaughter] was so upset at the election result they kept her home from school.”

        My avenging impulse (I am, as Caesar Chavez wrote, a violent man learning to be nonviolent) went to Jesus’ stern warning against any who would cause a little one to stumble, saying “it would be better if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

        Then I instinctively altered John the Revelator’s similar indictment of imperial hubris: “Then a mighty angel took up a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying ‘With such violence Donald Trump and all his Towers will be thrown down, and will be found no more.’” Even the dust drowned.

        Just last week I was joining in syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts’ imprecatory prayer.  “I don’t want the GOP defeated," he wrote. "I want it immolated. I want it razed to the foundation, reduced to moonscape, left unlivable even for cockroaches. I want it treated like boot heels treat ants and furnaces treat ice cubes. . . .”

         As if domestic forewarnings were not sufficiently alarming, the spokesperson for one of several jidahist groups in Syria tweeted, “Trump’s victory is a powerful slap to those promoting the benefits of democratic mechanisms.”

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        Then I remembered that quote about the need for suspicion when God persistently looks and thinks like we do.

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        The exit polls in this election have produced some head-scratching conclusions. Some for-instances.

        •Despite the fact that for the first time in history a woman was a major-party candidate, Trump received more women’s votes (53%) than Clinton (43%).

        •Stunningly, 81% of personal-morality-boosting evangelical Christians voted for Trump. In 2011, only 30% of white evangelicals said a notoriously immoral candidate can fulfill their duties in office. This year, 72% took that position. I guess the other 9% just winged it on this one, as in other ways: Nearly a quarter of his supporters also acknowledged that The Donald lacks presidential qualifications, and just as many knew he doesn’t have the temperament for one with access to nuclear launch codes.

        All in all, an emotive middle-fingered salute to The Way Things Are.

        •The American public’s temperament is no less under suspicion. Only 56% of eligible voters did so. Combined with the facts that (a) neither candidate secured even 26% of the voting population’s ballots and (b) Clinton actually tallied more votes than Trump, I’d say we have some tough questions to answer about our assumptions to democracy.

        •Interestingly—and this surprised me—exit polls found no evidence to suggest that income status affected the likelihood for Trump support.

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        A cell phone video at York County (Pennsylvania) School of Technology recorded some students walking the hall with a “Trump/Pence” campaign poster chanting “White power.”

        Middle school students in a Detroit suburb chanted "build the wall" during lunchtime on Wednesday, hours after Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States, according to school officials. —ABC News

        On Wednesday morning someone at New York University’s (my alma mater) Tandon School of Engineering wrote "Trump" on the door of Muslim students’ prayer room. (See Sean O’Kane’s “Day 1 in Trump’s America” for other examples of post-election hate mongering.)

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        CNN commentator Van Jones spoke some of the most emotionally-wrenching remarks on election night. "You have people putting children to bed tonight and they are afraid of breakfast. They're afraid of 'How do I explain this to my children?”  He then went on to coin a poignantly appropriate term to describe the electoral results: whitelash.

        To be sure, Donald Trump is pretty much the poster boy for misogyny (and we can be thankful that, because of this campaign, more people know what that word means). To be sure again, there are powerful economic forces compounding our class divide evidenced by swelling levels of income economic inequality, though its perpetrators include both the Republican and Democratic parties. And to be sure yet again, there is an enormous cultural divide in this country pitting rural and urban communities, driven both by competing economic interests and popular media.

Above: LECTION & ELECTION; During election week members of Circle of Mercy Congregation, Asheville, NC, are creating art—using phrases from Isaiah 65, the lection for Sunday 13 November—as a reminder of our post-electoral horizon.

        But we would be hard pressed not to say whitelash. At the outset of the last century W.E.B. DuBois, in The Souls of Black Folk, said “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line,” though with this election a more global picture comes into view, given Trump’s emphatic, repetitious disparaging of Mexicans and Muslims and all manner of racial dog-whistling. In this sense, as William Faulkner noted, the past isn’t dead—it isn’t even past.

        Compounding domestic racial tension is a virile, broader nativism holding the rest of the world in contempt. Is this what will make America “great” again?

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 “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and
brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.”
—2 Corinthians 7:10

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        Asking what are we to do? is always appropriate—but I find it frustrating, too, because too often the question is asked as if there were a grocery list. Something far more demanding is at stake.

        I’ve long felt that the church’s loss of its rituals of lament is our greatest frailty. We hardly know how to moan together—grieving for loved ones lost, to be sure, but moaning, too, over the state of our neighborhood and nation and the nausea of the earth itself. The work of grief—grief, not shame—is not an exercise in despair but in fact is premised on the expectation that trouble’s rule will one day come undone. The liturgy of grief transforms the pain of lament into passion for an outcome forged in justice and tempered in mercy.

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"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak / Whispers the oe’r fraught heart and bids it speak."
—William Shakespeare, “Macbeth,” Act 4, Scene 3

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        The work of reconciliation will involve an extensive list of personal and congregational initiatives, along with advocacy with other people of faith and conscience for larger public policies—local, national and global—that nudge the arc of history toward justice. Among them are complex issues requires our best intelligence and moral passion. But as we go charging into that thicket we need forming—predispositioning—as to our proper role and posture.

Right: Art: by Dan Trabue

        The soured grapes of wrath and generational trauma ferment with a fury we hardly understand and catch us up in a bedeviled history beyond our knowing. The work of unraveling the tangled knots, treating the festered wounds, and restoring neighborly bonds and bounds will require more than seasonal attention and pious enamel.

        To move toward healing streams, though, we must be subjected to godly grief’s refining fire; we must lose our innocence if we are to stand with the innocent; we must breach the boundaries that obstruct a critical assessment of our own complicity; we must return to the edge of our seats, listening to the Spirit’s plea from above whispered by voices from below.

        “Then when the night is upon us, / Why should the heart sink away? / When the dark midnight is over, / Watch for the breaking of day. / Whispering hope, / O how welcome thy voice, / Making my heart in it's sorrow rejoice.” (Hymn lyrics by Septimus Winner)

©ken sehested @