Yesterday morning I sat improbably in an airport named after Ronald Reagan and watched the leader of Russia congratulate our Republican President-elect of the United States of America. Then I cried. Then I got on a plane and cried next to a middle-aged woman, who also cried. Then a black man sat between us and didn’t cry but put his hand on my back. Then the three of us talked for two hours about growing up in America.
The woman had a 24-year-old daughter who had been sexually assaulted in her teens and didn’t go out of the house for three days after the pussy video leaked. The woman herself had been asked to leave her Methodist university for “having sex” when a black man was seen kissing her on the forehead. The black man between us worked for the National Labor Relations Board and didn’t know if they’d have any money left in a year. He didn’t say much about growing up, though, just that it was rough in Virginia and his sisters were “lucky enough” to grow up in Japan.
Our deepest wounds haven’t healed. They are papered over. They aren’t even ours to begin with. I mean, to look today at a screen or in a mirror and say we’ve moved beyond racism as a society baffles me. We haven’t gotten past the Civil War. We haven’t even gotten past slavery. We haven’t gotten past those things personally, let alone as a whole society. And that’s just race.
It’s a mistake to say the people who elected Donald J. Trump are clinging to the past. They are not. They are clinging to the present. They are clinging to this moment. And now this one. To say otherwise is harmful. To say otherwise throws a hood over reality. It is the easy way out. We don’t have to do anything—someone else will, or already has. Rosa sat. We saw our mistakes. Now buses and everything else are fine. It was the natural course of things, a matter of time. Time, we know, heals all wounds. The moral arc of the universe is long, we know, but it bends toward justice.
I would have liked to ask Dr. King just who or what is bending that arc. Is it us?
Because time doesn’t change anything. Time doesn’t heal anything. It just kills us. But we—we the hideous, imperfect American people—we can change things. I’ve said here before that the whole point of America is that in many ways, America sucks. That’s because America is a process. America, my brothers and sisters, is time.
The question is, what do we do with it?
Yesterday we saw just what a zealous, existentially motivated crowd—crazed, even—has the power to do. Viewed this way, Trump’s election is in one sense an impressive and even admirable action, and it has shown me what is possible.
I grew up in the mid-Atlantic suburbs, a child of the 80s and 90s. Never worried about much. Things were always okay. My generation had the luxury of learning what was right and wrong academically, without having to learn it the hard way. We never had to do anything. Action isn’t really in our nature.
But we’ve just seen what it means to act. And now I hear and feel my friends across the country moving. It is tragic that it took Trump to teach us, but there you have it. We have learned our lesson. We have exigency now. We know we can take the country any place we want. And we will do that.
Our greatest failings—and yesterday was right up there—our greatest failings represent the hope of their own undoing. Speaking for myself, I’m going to start trying. Let’s act, America. It’s been long enough.