I'm taking a short break from all things higher ed. Please indulge me.
I can’t help but think of January 20 as a real turning point in this still-young twenty-first century. After eight years of Obama, the other half of the nation is getting its way. Obama represents openness – open-mindedness, inclusiveness, welcoming of diversity in all of its manifestations, openness to change, to moving us all forward into an as-of-yet unimagined future. And destruction of an old order.
Trump represents putting a stop to this forward movement into that as-of-yet unimagined future. Trumpists want to return to the past. Why? Well, on the most simplistic level, Trumpists want all this change to stop so that they can reclaim a societal order that is quickly slipping from view. And it’s not entirely selfish and self-serving, though it seems as if it is. Many Trumpists believe that the previous order, in fact, the one in place when the country was founded, is the only right one. When white Christian men held sway. They yearn for the return of that seemingly idyllic structure.
That past is obviously eroding. Every time a woman takes possession of her sexuality or rebuffs a sexual overture; every time a person of color fills a position that, in the old order, would have gone to a white male; every time a non-Christian is elected to office; every time a movie role goes to a transgender person instead of a white male, or a gay couple marries – all of these jeopardize the Trumpists’ past hegemony and make them fearful, which makes them angry. They are going through a protracted period of mourning loss. Anger and fear are a natural part of the mourning process.
The Obamans are angry because they are afraid, too. Because their rivals are winning this time. But not only that. They are afraid because Trumpists are anti-intellectual and less educated. When the powerful are not educated, they cannot take advantage of the wisdom of historians and other intellectuals who know stuff that can help our world move forward.
So, both sides are afraid. And angry. And our country is about to erupt into a volcano of protests in the coming week. There are only two things that can help us ameliorate the anger, but neither of them is going to happen.
One is the adult and mature thing – to sit down and talk, talk, talk. Sustained dialogue would help. Maybe the Germans could mediate. They know first-hand what happens when the uneducated try to restore an old world order.
The other, which is even more unlikely, is found in recent research on ways to calm troubled grade school students, but has been known for centuries by some cultures. Meditation – a practice of solitude. But the odds of us going all Zen/Dalai Lama/Buddha and instituting a nationwide mindfulness practice are probably pretty slim. (I’ve always been a dreamer.)
So, the struggle between the Trumpists and the Obamans will continue. People will shout, carry signs, and scream for justice. People might even get injured or die. When are we all going to learn a better way to deal with our fears and anger?
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.