It was quite surreal to look at the photograph of President Barack Obama sitting in a chair next to the President-Elect Donald Trump in the Oval office with a framed portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall over a fireplace in the background. It was surreal because the difference between these two men could not have been more different; The first African-American President who had brought a sense of Lincoln-esque dignity and calm to his role as the leader of the free world, and his successor, whose presidential origins point to the birther controversy that questioned the entire legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, and had pursued a scorched earth election campaign that was anything but calm and dignified.
And yet, there they were, seated next to each other. Trump said later that Obama was “a very fine man” and that he would seek his “counsel” in the future.
It is some mind-bending reality that a person that no one took seriously to even run for the job just a few years ago including Obama when he was cracking jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner and yet there they were, involved in discussions about the peaceful transition of power and all the things that would shape the present and future of this country and the wider world for generations to come.
As much as it was a sick punch to the stomach watching the election returns on Tuesday as a Democratic voter, that photograph in the Oval Office was an affirmation of something deeper and more profound about the country I’ve lived in for more than 18 years and became a citizen two years ago, and the principles of constitutional democracy. That no matter how vicious the campaign rhetoric was, or how deeply personal the comments that were made before today, there is a moment that these two, at least outwardly, could set aside those differences because it is in the greater interest of the country.
Of course, Obama once he leaves office on January 20 could revert to sharp criticisms of Trump and Trump could undo a lot of the policies and progresses that Obama achieved in his 8 years in the White House. That Obama carried out steps in the past 8 years that he believed was in the general interest of the nation, and that Trump would also try implementing his vision for the country, because that is what people that voted them in desire, is a powerful thought to ponder. And that if sufficient number of people are dissatisfied with the job that Trump does in his time in office, they could let him know in the mid-term elections in 2018, and that he could be voted out in four years is equally powerful as well.
Trump’s campaign brought to the surface a lot of the fault lines in the American society, of race, of gender, of economy, and of class. As a liberal, a lot of Trump’s campaign principles and promises are a threat to my ideas of the principles of equality, liberty, and justice but with the system that we have in place, it is Trump that gets the opportunity to implement his vision.
Yes, it feels terrible and the knot in the pit of my stomach hasn’t gone away since Tuesday night, and perhaps it may not for a while. But, if Hillary Rodham Clinton can suck it up and get up on the stage and say, “This is painful and it will be for a long time… but I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead”, then, it is incumbent on me as an American to do the same.
And so, I will have an open mind about Trump’s presidency and hope that he will have the country’s best interests at heart as he makes his decisions while in office. In America, it is possible to want to work together on ideas that are for the greater good and intensely oppose ideas that we believe to be detrimental to the basic principles of a free society.
I am going to reach out across the ideological divide and at least try to understand how two people with similar hopes and dreams, and of a vision for a nation, could have such differing ideas of achieving them. So, I left a note for a lady that lives in my apartment complex, on the windshield of her car which has bumper stickers of “Trump 2016”. I have asked her whether she would be open to have a conversation with me, just as an attempt to get to know each other and perhaps see ourselves in each other, and that an elderly white lady in Pennsylvania who supports Trump may not be all that different from a middle-aged man of Indian origins that came to this country as a student and now calls it home. Even if she doesn’t, I will continue to seek out my fellow citizens to inform my understanding of this great society with their realities and hopes.
In his remarks at the Rose Garden on Trump’s election victory, President Obama stated that “we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens, because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy”. This is going to be my effort – as inconsequential it may be – to honor the legacy of the outgoing President who has remarkably been consistent in appealing to the better angels of our nature.
Some may think that I am being incredibly naïve to extend an open mind to Trump’s presidency and the populist movement that while seeming to resonate with people’s frustrations with the political elites, also accommodated undesirable and downright ugly aspects of racism, xenophobia and misogyny, but as Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker, “[I]t’s in the willingness to start somewhere fearless and naïve that change begins”.