I got an unexpected email the day after the election from my 17-year-old grandson. His subject line was simple: “Hope”
TO my great surprise, I am suddenly 90 years old. As a journalist, I have been privileged to watch and sometimes experience America’s finest hours throughout my career. Many accomplishments, but few huge surprises. Until now.
I am speaking, of course, of the election of Donald Trump.
As I watched the election returns with a friend of similar years, we agreed that we were lucky: We would probably be dead before all of Trump’s campaign promises, as they will, disintegrate. My friend said that he had read that, historically, nations spin into a death spiral after 250 years, the approximate life of our grand republic. Is that what this election is telling us?
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The election prompted me to think about some of the great accomplishments of America during my lifetime, things that I fear are beyond our reach now.
These include the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, who slowly led us out of the Great Depression, in part through enactment of Social Security, which continues to keep many of us afloat.
We slowly built our military strength so we weren’t completely unprepared for the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. We entered World War II in 1941, soon after enacting an inclusive military draft. I enlisted while still in high school and eventually was an infantryman during the last few weeks of war in Germany. As Winston Churchill said, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as being shot at without result,” which was my experience.
I came home and, thanks to the GI Bill, one of the most effective acts of social legislation ever approved, graduated from the University of Washington.
Meanwhile, we set in motion the Marshall Plan, rebuilding much of Western Europe and creating the setting for cooperation among nations that twice earlier had fought terrible world wars.
The North Koreans invaded South Korea a few days after I graduated. A year later, I rejoined the Army. As an infantry officer, I joined the 25th Infantry Division during the dreary stalemate there.
At home, we built the vast interstate highway system and enjoyed a prolonged period of economic prosperity.
So it’s been a great ride. As noted earlier, I do not expect such accomplishments during the Trump regime. But an unexpected email came the day after the election from my 17-year-old grandson. His subject line was simple: “Hope.”
His email was directed to our immediate family, which includes his parents, grandparents, two siblings, two uncles and a cousin, all us living here in Seattle. He acknowledged that we all had expressed our fear of Trump’s election. What happened on election night and in the last year, he wrote, “is truly disappointing and embarrassing. …
“As a young person with a civic duty to help create a national and even global community accepting to all; to help the oppressed seize and keep their rights; to shorten the distance between the wealthy and the disadvantaged; to promote and save our environment; to speak for people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community — last night was nothing short of devastating. My mind is heavy.”
Then came the words that shook me out of my doldrums. “The shift of power in our government has redoubled my personal resolve to step up and do my duty as a soon-to-be adult and a young person gifted power through our prejudiced systems by the variable of race and gender. …
“Now is a time overflowing with anger, disgust and melancholy — all reasonable and merited emotions. However, the coming months and years must also be a time of love, empathy, strength and determination. These will be the cornerstones of a counter-movement that is already starting among those negatively affected by Donald Trump and his supporters.”
If his thoughts are widely shared by younger generations (and I think they are), then I am filled with the hope that, in the words of John F. Kennedy, the torch is passed.