Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Liberation from Complacency: Post-Election Musings

I was going to write a post “Buddhists are Trump Supporters” about the many Buddhists, including a good portion of Japanese and other Asian Americans, who voted for Donald Trump for president. (I know because quite a few of my family members, friends and temple members have declared it.) But instead I want to share my personal feelings about the election.

I’ve heard and seen lots of people, such as my interfaith clergy colleagues, depressed about the election results. Our temple hosted ONE-Northside’s community discussion of post-election next steps and in our discussion the woman sitting next to me was trembling and in tears as she voiced her fears as a Mexican immigrant with many friends and relatives in the U.S. I think the forum was good for her and others feeling personally threatened by the election results – to know that many of their neighbors want to support them emotionally and morally in their struggle.

[from the meeting: whiteboard suggestions, mine is in pink]
Yet among all the distraught people, I feel buoyant about the election results. I’m glad that Clinton lost (I voted for Jill Stein, the only candidate who bothered to visit Standing Rock and support the protest against the Dakota Access Pipe Line). If Clinton had captured the winning Electoral College votes, the progressives would think “Yay, we won!” and be lulled into complacency while Clinton could get away with doing nothing for the progressive agenda or even taking actions (as she has done in the past) against it.

As I keep saying to people, the election results were a wakeup call to us, showing us that we have a lot of work to do with our fellow Americans in order to actualize the principle of equality throughout the country. We each have to feel empowered at the grassroots level instead of believing the wealth-accumulating elites* (whether their name is Trump or Clinton) know what’s best for our communities.

Am I getting too far off the track from Buddhism? No, I think the Buddha and the Pure Land tradition teachers such as Shinran recognized our own spiritual awakening develops and deepens with our interaction and appreciation of others, especially those who don’t fit our ideas of “acceptable” (groups disparaged for being “redneck,” “racist,” “uneducated” etc.).  Too many people in other Buddhist groups, and even some notable Shin teachers, have fallen under the influence of the elitist mindset. For many frustrated Americans, marching through the streets helps to blow off steam but a lot of the post-election ranting is about blaming and demonizing Trump and his supporters, creating more barriers and rifts between people. Teachers like Kiyozawa Manshi realized we need to do the hard work of self-examination - challenging our own elitism - and reach out to the people beyond our bubbles of like-mindedness.

*Postscript 11-18-2016 - I know not everyone can see or will read the comments below, but I hope some of you will. I appreciate that Ann called me out for my over-generalizing about Clinton supporters and being too dismissive of them, since just like the Trump supporters, they are a varied mixture of people with different concerns. At the same time I'm calling for more understanding of others, I see that I have a long way to go in understanding people, particularly those I interact with often (I'm assuming Ann is one of our temple members, but I haven't checked with all the Anns and Annas yet). Based on the comments, I could write the whole post over but for now I put the asterisk after "wealth-accumulating elites." The phrase doesn't quite capture what I meant and could be misleading. There are families of modest income who are building up their nest-egg for retirement and emergencies, so you could say they are accumulating wealth. But I meant the less than 1% who take in money and assets way beyond conceivable need/use for it all.


  1. You seem to believe that grassroots action and this "wakeup call" will bring about much needed change for the better in the future. If I am reading correctly, you seem to argue that this is a short-term setback for the greater good because now true progressives will be galvanized into action for true change.

    Is that a correct reading of your position?

    1. My "position" is just an opinion, but it reflects my current hopes that we will try to connect on a personal level with each other instead of echoing the generalizations of the fear-mongers

    2. I wrote a response yesterday, but it disappeared, perhaps because I wasn’t logged in.

      While I agree with your main points—self-examination, avoiding “otherizing,” and connecting better with all people and not just those agree with you—I take issue with the way you made them.

      I am a Clinton supporter who personally benefited from her legacy, and while I wish we’d picked someone less troubling, I supported her because I knew she would maintain Obamacare. My biggest concern is health care. You may recall that she and Bill’s health care reform was thwarted after Hillary was systematically demonized her for not being a proper “First Lady.” Yet even the compromise legislation that eventually went through saved me more than $10,000 in medical bills after I lost my job because it allowed me to keep my health insurance. But it didn’t go far enough, because later when I applied for health insurance when I was unemployed to care for my sick father, I was denied by Blue Cross Blue Shield on the basis of pre-existing conditions. (I kept that letter to always remember.) Only with Obamacare, which was another compromise that didn’t go far enough, did this become illegal.

      Trump vowed to overturn Obamacare. He has since backtracked because throwing 20 million people off health care, well, looks bad. So it may not be tossed in full after all. But as the candidate, that was his promise, and people voted for him in part because of that. Universal health care has always been one of Hillary’s missions, though it got precious little attention during this madcap election.

      I mention these specifics not because I want to argue the fine points of whom you should support. We are intelligent adults who can make our own decision, and we all have our “hot button” issues. The pipeline is clearly one of yours, and I have great respect for that. I mention these specifics because you sweep Hillary supporters into one group then dismiss them, thereby dismissing me. Let me use your own words. If I misread the sub-text, please correct as needed.

      “The progressives would think ‘Yay, we won!’ and be lulled into complacency” –
      Which “progressives”? I was naive about how bad things were, but I am not in danger of being complacent when we still have a national health care plan that doesn’t offer a public option. Those who worked so hard will take exception to this.

      “While Clinton could get away with doing nothing for the progressive agenda” –
      Except save me $10,000 in medical bills, keep me out of debt, and provide me care in a time of crisis. Perhaps the reason the Democrats have become so much less “progressive” is because they DO listen? That they have been listening to the right and compromising yet receive only obstructionism in return?

      “Who don’t fit our ideas of “acceptable” (groups disparaged for being “redneck,” “racist,” “uneducated” etc.)” –
      But “progressives” are prone to complacency, and people blindly follow the “wealth-accumulating elites.” Why is “wealth-accumulating elites” not in quotes in your post but “redneck” is? How do you define “progressive”?

      “instead of echoing the generalizations of the fear-mongers” –
      Again, who? “Echoing”? “Fear-mongering”? My fears are grounded on history, the words of our president-elect, and his behavior. I don’t generalize. If you want specifics on my long list of terrors, I’ll oblige.

      “marching through the streets helps to blow off steam” –
      The spontaneous gathering of grieving masses of citizens is blowing off steam? As someone who plans to march on January 21, I am insulted. The visuals of a protest send powerful messages to the world. Perhaps protests are important and meaningful only when it’s for your causes?

      I read this post many many times, and I think I better understand you. Unfortunately, what I have learned is that you don’t understand me, much less value or hear me. I feel marginalized, as Trump supporters did, and let that be a lesson to me in compassion and empathy. Let it be tool for me to better understand others, fuel my self-examination, and enhance my compassion.

  2. This is probably the best response I've ever gotten for thoroughness. I wish more people (besides my husband) would give me such detailed feedback to my articles, Dharma talks, study class ramblings etc. Sorry you had to spend your precious time and energy in educating me, but I really appreciate it. I almost want to re-write the whole post now. If I ever write a book, I can really use help such as yours.

    1. Yes, it's Ann Y from your temple. I appreciate your clarification.

  3. Thank You Rev. Patti for your Blog, and Thank You Ann Y for your insightful comments.

    In Gassho
    Anna Hightower of Berkeley Higashi Honganji