Doris Kays of San Antonio MacArthur High school, circa 1970s-1980s, was the best high school Latin teacher in the history of the state of Texas and probably, anywhere. That is a stone cold fact. She gave life to a dead language and improbably transported bored teenagers across centuries to experience the greatest republic before ours. Only because of Mrs. Kays do I know that the story of the Roman Republic, written broadly, was always the conflict between the aristocracy and the citizens. The Greeks may have invented democracy, but in the ancient city it was given a workable form that moved civilization forward.
She left us far too soon, but last night caught me wondering what Doris Kays would think of today’s electoral America. She would be concerned about what the decision means for public education. She would abhor the tone the campaign took. She would shudder at the facile way we use language to avoid or even to hide the truth. And she would mourn a missed opportunity for feminism. But more than anything else, I think she would have brought perspective. In her honor, I have tried to think about electing President Trump the same way.
We live in the moment, but society evolves slowly. The events of yesterday and the next four years may be dramatic; it will be decades before we know if they are momentous. Plenty of people were distraught when Benjamin Harrison took the White House away from Grover Cleveland through the quirk of the electoral college, but 128 years of distance makes that election far less earth shattering. It is hard to generate viewers, subscribers and internet clicks with headlines that scream “Election Might Not Be The End Of The World” so we were sure to be bombarded with the mirror image of that message no matter who won.
One also needs to recognize that the push and pull between “the elites” and “the people” did not begin with this election cycle. It will not end with the next. As long as we have a republican democracy protecting a capitalist economy, we will have winners and losers. Human nature compels the losers to try to change the system and the winners to protect the existing structure. Last night only reminded us of that dynamic.
All of that is comforting and would have been just as comforting had Hillary prevailed. But my biggest obstacle to peace about the election is the way we all characterized the other side. Trump’s litany of attacks, both direct and implicit, on anyone not off the Mayflower has been well documented and decried. Lest we forget, however, Hillary labelled as “the deplorables” many who were supporting Trump only because they saw in him a willingness to fight for jobs through which they could support their families. Yes, the nation houses more than a few racists and snobs, but when the election degenerated into a name-calling contest, a neutral observer could easily have concluded we all fell into one of those two camps.
I know better. We know better. For every Muslim who supports Jihad, there are a 1,000 Humayun Khans willing to fight and die for our country. Show me a closet white supremacist who thinks the swamp being drained means a “purer country” and I’ll point to a multitude of rural citizens willing to work shoulder to shoulder with anyone willing to lift a shovel. Mexicans emigrating in droves to take advantage of our American largesse? My long history with the city of San Antonio tells me that story is a twisted distortion. Concerns about welfare, Social Security Disability and Obamacare as a cover for not wanting to share the country’s wealth with the oppressed? More likely, someone honestly believes we are straying from a path that would create opportunity for everyone’s children and grandchildren.
Yet we fight so bitterly. Why? My answer comes straight from Doris Kays. While we disagree on policy, strategy and tactics, we are all passionately devoted to this country. The Clinton supporters who gave their heart and soul to her campaign shed tears; the Trump supporters who voted for the first time in years yelled in happiness and those who could not muster enthusiasm for either candidate furrowed their brows in deep anxiety. All of those emotions drew from the same well. The intensity of this election is ultimately a positive because we lose only when we quit caring. The American story has not changed. Our destiny, always shaped by competing interests, remains shared among us. Out of many, one. Or has Doris would say “E Pluribus Unum.”
God bless you and the United States of America.