Of Thee I Sing

11/11/2016 07:17 pm ET

"By the rivers of the Ohio, we sat and wept”

How can we sing the songs of America

while in an unfamiliar place?

- Psalm 137 (adapted)

On a rainy evening in early November 1968, my father picked me up at a friend's house. It was the day after the election.

During the car ride home, he went into a rant about Richard Nixon. Despite being a minster, he knew how to swear - a talent I’m sure he picked up while serving as a Navy Chaplain during World War II. I remember him calling Nixon a "crook" and thinking to myself that “crook” seemed a little harsh. Of course, he was right.

What I remember most about that car ride was how devastated he was. I’d never seen him so distraught before, and would never see him so again.

On Wednesday, I was aware of my four sons as they watched me respond to the election results. Unlike my father, I was silent. But my boys saw the same devastation in me that I heard from my father 48 years ago. For me, it felt like the moral equivalent to the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. In one day, I felt like I had lost everything. For 45 years, I have worked to champion democracy, to build community, to establish trust and to inspire Americans to be our best selves. On Tuesday night, I felt my entire life's work had been rejected.

During this election season, I heard two things again and again from Trump supporters: 1) that they could never vote for Hillary and/or 2) that they weren’t really voting for Trump, but for Trumpism.

Instead, America voted to:

• Deport millions of people living in our communities.

• Restrict the rights of women and limit their access to reproductive health care.

• Eliminate medical coverage for millions of Americans, including countless low-income individuals and families suffering from unemployment or underemployment.

• Dismiss global warming as a hoax.

• Cement Citizens United as the law of the land and ensure big-money from anonymous corporations and wealthy individuals will continue to play a significant role in politics.

• Install as vice president one of the most openly anti-LGBTQ+ political leaders in America.

• Jeopardize our place in the world with military allies who have maintained relative peace over the past seventy years.

• Negate years of complex and delicate trade negotiations and treaties in favor of the promise of protectionism (and the possibility of economic chaos).

I wonder…when Mexico does not pay for any wall, when steel mill jobs don’t come pouring back into Ohio, when Hilary Clinton is not "locked up," how will we feel?

Despite the rhetoric, Planned Parenthood will still exist, abortion will remain legal, ISIS will continue to be a threat. Obamacare will be replaced…but what will take its place? Perhaps we will replace it with individual, family, community and global instability.

Back in 1968, that 9 year old boy in the car with his dad wanted to be president. Because I wanted to be president, I worked hard, was polite, went to church, was kind to people, served in the community, and sought to earn people’s trust and gain their respect. The president’s role was to embody the best of America, and get the American people to do the same.

On Tuesday night, my image of the presidency was shattered. The person we elected to be our president embodies nothing of the qualities I grew up aspiring to, nothing of what a role model or representative of American values should be.

In our quest to “make America great again,” we embraced an America that is alien to me. I woke up on Wednesday and realized that one could be in exile without ever having to leave their home.

And then I remembered the words of the Psalmist about the days of the Babylonian captivity and applied them to today:

"By the rivers of the Ohio, we sat and wept…”

How can we sing the songs of America

while in an unfamiliar place?

How can I sing the songs of America that I love - of my sweet land of liberty – in a place that now feels so unfamiliar?

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, as the election results became clear, I texted my friend David asking: “Now what do we do?”

His response was as short as it was clear: "We go to work in the morning."

President Obama assured us that the sun would rise in the morning, and so it has. What it revealed is a devastated landscape of discord, anger and fear.

So like those who’ve survived devastation before, I wake up today with the resolve to start over, to rebuild and repair the breach. Because that is what I was taught America expects of me. To get back up, to work hard, to hope, and yes - to sing.

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