For many in our community, the results of Tuesday’s election came as a surprise. In the immediate wake of the election, it appears that President-elect Donald Trump’s victory came as a result of concerns about the effects of globalization and a dysfunctional culture in Washington, D.C., as well as fears about changing demographics and the place of women, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans and others in modern American society.
We can and should have robust debates about some of the concerns that Trump and Trump’s supporters raise. A large portion of Americans, especially in the economically depressed Rust Belt, clearly feel disenfranchised and left behind by the political process. Trump was able to tap into a sense of deep frustration deserving of investigation, not demonization.
But in a liberal constitutional democracy, we must also recognize certain positions should not be respected and fall outside the realm of legitimate political discussion. While we need to be tolerant of reasonable differences in political beliefs, we need not tolerate positions that advocate racist, xenophobic and sexist behavior. These positions oppose the values of our democracy and our campus community.
The clear influence of these unacceptable positions in the current election has left many feeling deeply fearful for the future and safety of themselves, their friends and their family. Over the past week, students have reported an increase in harassment both on and off campus. On campus, students of color have heard individuals chant “Make American white again” and “Build a wall!” Outside of Rice, female students and students of color have been sexually harassed and told to go back to where they are from. In the face of fear and insecurity, these students and others across the country would understandably vocalize their frustrations and fear through protest or other means.
Contrary to what many pundits have argued, these students are not privileged “crybabies.” They are afraid and angry precisely because they lack the privilege that could protect them. They object to the outcome of this election not because they question the legitimacy of the process, but because they believe their fundamental rights and security have been threatened by its results. I wish I could say everything will be okay, but we just don’t know for sure. All any of us can do is get involved, care for one another and show compassion.
In this situation, compassion may be harder to pursue than we would like. I think we are all tired. We are tired of understanding, tired of waiting, tired of living in fear. Whether you are on the left, right or center, the past eighteen months have been emotionally taxing and have weighed heavily on everyone. In spite of this we must try to find compassion for those in our community.
Many who are fearful or still grieving the outcome of the election may not be ready to find this compassion for others, and that is okay. We should remember that half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. inspired compassion not because those at the time necessarily felt it, but because he convinced those around him that compassion would heal them so much more than hatred and anger ever could. He encouraged civil disobedience in the face of injustice and oppression, but he did so with hope for the future. In the coming days, weeks, and months, we must try to summon this capacity for compassion and start the process of healing with the understanding that history bends towards justice and slowly, too slowly, things will get better.