President Trump’s first 100 Days is fast approaching, and he and his administration are racing to get things done in order to declare success. Many Americans, the news media and political pundits, among others, will offer their own opinions on his performance. But here’s a different question to consider at this juncture of the new president’s term: What about “our” first 100 days—how are we responding to the challenges around us?
There was both extreme anger and elation after the president’s election. Those emotions have only deepened since Election Day. But let’s face it: They alone will not get our communities—our society—where it needs to go. They alone will not help us to find a path to create what we seek. Instead, they pose real and potent dangers to our society.
These emotions lock us into knee-jerk reactions when we hear the sounds of our “opponents” voices and perspectives.
They create a fear of the other—where we inevitably, oftentimes without even realizing it, demonize those who are different from ourselves.
We form lines of resistance as if merely blocking action will lead to the creation of something better.
We raise our voices to advocate as if that will convince others to come to abandon their own view and adopt our own.
We professionals often think that the answer to the conditions the country now confronts is to double-down on our well-worn professional responses. If only we had more data we could solve the problems at hand. If only if we set better metrics and measure more outcomes more precisely. If only if we craft more sophisticated projects. If only our advocacy takes on even more sharp-elbowed techniques.
Of course, these and other responses all have their place in a complex, pluralistic society; but they will not produce the actions we need. They do not tell us anything more about people’s lives and their lived experiences. They do not help us to better understand different perspectives, what different people value, and their real motivations. They do not lead us to open our eyes and ears and hearts so that we may see and hear others. They do not enable us to heal the wounds that people bear and find new solutions to old problems. They do not ask us to set aside our instinct to demonize others and instead see their humanity.
I grew up in politics and political campaigns. I remember canvassing the streets of Queens, New York when I was five years old with my dad. I worked on 20 political campaigns by the time I was 23 years old, the last one a U.S. presidential race. I understand “political battles.” But those political battles have become endless. Politics has become a game that is about winning at any cost. Fear is now the coin of the realm.
This is not a path to a better society; we can and must choose a different path.
Let me be clear: Our differences are real and big, and we can’t simply sweep aside or ignore the policy debates currently raging. Many people’s livelihoods are at stake, and in some cases even their health and lives. We must make choices about these policies.
But there are fundamental choices that relate to something even more basic which will affect our ability to make policy choices and create a good society. These deal with how we choose to engage in our community life and politics. They are about what kind of country we as Americans are creating through our own reactions—and interactions—to the things that we hear and confront each and every day. They speak to whether we will be brave enough to stand together amid our differences with the faith that we can create something better.
There is no magic wand to wave or wish away the challenges we face. Instead we must make the choice to engage—differently.