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Looking to the future with optimism, post election. Shutterstock/Maria Savenko

An American in Ireland 'In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart'

People might be feeling outrage and sadness but we need to be optimistic too, writes Sue Norton.

IN THE WAKE of Donald Trump’s victory, it is almost impossible to think of something optimistic to say. Yet people are being optimistic.

For every editorial expressing alarm over the fate of democracy, for every report tallying the dismal electoral data, and every Facebook post decrying the rise of this new popularism, we come across some other editorial that shines journalistic light on pockets of resistance. Or we see another report reminding us of the statistically narrow victory, and the many posts of our friends declaring, in one way or another, how hope springs eternal.

This American election has left the world reeling. As an American living abroad, I have found myself too still for words. I am not sure that I have ever felt so quiet. But I greatly appreciate the solidarity of sympathy my friends here have shown me.  I admire the energies of others in my life and on its periphery, who have been at pains on social media to share their humane observations, their questioning intelligence, and their compassionate outreach to those who feel, as I do, personally belittled by the ideological priorities of Donald Trump, by the casualness of his rancour.

shutterstock_359922935 It is almost impossible to think of something optimistic to say. Shutterstock / Marian Weyo Shutterstock / Marian Weyo / Marian Weyo

I, too, have wondered how to explain this election outcome to my children, particularly to my twelve-year-old daughter. As a family, we go back to America regularly, and I worry now that the already unspoken licence to leer has just received official status. How long until we are in some public space, and she experiences an entirely unafraid sexual stare?

I fear it will not be long, because I know that behaviours model other behaviours, and the behaviour of this new commander-in-chief is outwardly sexist, and, in easily identifiable ways, racist and homophobic too. If a cavalier misogynist can occupy the White House, what hope have we for reigning in other forms of aggression? And, given his bent for tirade, how much more bombastic will American society become in just four years?

Positive thinking

But, people do keep finding optimistic things to say. I read one article called ‘Don’t Panic‘ which reminds us that gay marriage has overwhelming support nationwide. Another reassures us that many of the things this new president wants to do are not only terrible policy, but flagrantly unconstitutional too. And the Safety Pin Campaign, gaining popularity through social media, offers confirmation that people everywhere want to show those around them that racism has countless opponents.

Indeed, it seems that outside of the United States, whole populations are appalled at Donald Trump’s rise to power, and I will not be surprised if The Million Woman March planned for January 21st in Washington DC, the day after the inauguration, inspires sympathetic protests around the world.

But for all of us still feeling a knot of anxiety in our stomachs, a knot tied tightly by our twin reactions of shock and dismay, four years seems too long to endure abject moral repugnance in the leader of the free world. We can all think of actual wars fought in exactly that amount of time.

We need clichés and poetry

Nevertheless, a single cliché keeps holding itself out to me as truth. Its author is anonymous, but we all know how it goes. It goes, “you may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and how you deal with it.”

shutterstock_458190886 “You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and how you deal with it.” Shutterstock / Maria Savenko Shutterstock / Maria Savenko / Maria Savenko

The poet Emily Dickinson put this sentiment more lyrically when she wrote:

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

To those of you out there expressing optimism in the face of what the editor of The New Yorker called “An American Tragedy,” I say thank you. Please keep doing that. I will join you soon. Right now, I am regaining my equilibrium.

But I know that there are reasons to be hopeful, and I know that those reasons reside not so much in the individual enumerations of how the Trump presidency may not be as damaging as feared, but in the very impulse of so many people in the world to enumerate those ways. It is as though the long lost Anne Frank is speaking through the multitudes, saying, “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

I know that I will shore myself up. We all will. We must, because there are millions and millions of twelve year olds out there.

Opinion: ‘Tuesday was a dark day for feminism but we’ll keep fighting’>

Opinion: Four reasons why Donald Trump won the election>

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