Columns

Krishnamurthy ’19: A republic of hope

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, November 10, 2016

At moments like these — on a campus simmering with the heartache of young liberals and those who simply yearned for decency in their president — it’s hard to feel proud as an American. Donald  Trump, a man whose displays of toxic bravado, wealth and cavalier racism catapulted him to prominence, is now the chief executive of the United States. That is a tough pill to swallow.

In the coming days, pundits and politicians will scramble to explain how a reality T.V. star with a penchant for dubious accounting felled a seasoned Washington veteran. Commentators on the right have already begun to predict a renaissance of American glory and rejoice in the promise of an America only for Americans — or at least, for white, straight American men. The left, in contrast, will mourn the dissolution of a longstanding dream: the election of America’s first woman president. Either way, the nation is polarized, its people traumatized by a cantankerous contest and an unpalatable outcome.

Right now, though, I am less scared of a Trump presidency than the prospect of a broad cross-section of American society driven to political disillusionment, no longer amenable to future civic participation, susceptible to a rhetoric of fatalistic hyperbole. Trump’s victory might feel like an unwarranted sucker punch, but history routinely challenges our republic with critical tests — make-or-break moments that compel us to find within ourselves resolve and compassion in times of anxiety and darkness. This election was one such test. No matter how agonizing the defeat of our beloved candidate is, we must remember that our democracy is not dead; that the country, as we know it, has not yet collapsed; that our vote and our advocacy will still count in the years to come; and that life will go on, and it will continue to go on, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. The republic, after all, comes undone only when we believe it does.

In times like these, when oblivion seems imminent, we must also remember that presidents are not omnipotent masters of the universe. Defeated Democrats and heartbroken liberals will still exercise significant control over the American destiny. While Americans have been subjected to a disorienting array of progressive sales pitches in the last year-and-a-half, there has been a quiet revolution going on in Brown’s own backyard ­— a revolution that has gone beyond electoral rhetoric and effected real change. Rhode Island has proven itself a leader in the progressive movement — and the state is proving every day that, whatever happens in the grandiose chambers of Washington, D.C., the progressive agenda can be transformed into a progressive reality at local and state levels.

In a deft amalgam of Bernie Sanders’ ideological ambition and Clinton’s patient pragmatism, Rhode Island’s leaders have presided over an ambitious program of development that is worthy of national notice. The state is now home to America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island. Thanks to its commitment to Obamacare reforms, Rhode Island has expanded access to affordable healthcare, kept premiums low and reduced the uninsured rate to 5 percent. In the past two weeks, Rhode Island officials have unleashed a reinvigorated assault on the glass ceiling, appointing the state’s first female state police superintendent and a female state poet.

However, Rhode Island’s greatest contribution to the American political scene has nothing to do with its numerous political victories. Instead, Rhode Islanders have made a mark on an entirely different plane. They have reminded us that, in this most un-American time, we can still find solace in the most American of endeavors: hope. In a brilliant defiance of all-too-pervasive trends, Rhode Island has shown that change can happen in spite of federal dysfunction; that community can mitigate national disunity; and that local progress can prove far more meaningful — for our democracy, and for the American spirit — than the televised rituals of Capitol Hill.

Indeed, while a Republican may reside in the White House three months from now, liberals and opponents of Trump are still capable of building a more united, more prosperous America. Granted, it will be tougher, and aspirations of federal-level transformation might need to be put on the backburner. But citizenship does not end at the ballot box, and our obligations to our country — to vote, to stay informed, to treat our fellow human beings with respect and kindness — will persist long after election day. Thus, the challenge for Americans now is not how vociferously we can contest the results, or how snidely we can denounce our adversaries, but how calmly and inclusively we can chart a vision for the future — one that will both withstand the whims of President-elect Trump and support him in his efforts to ensure our people’s greatness.

Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19 can be reached at anuj_krishnamurthy@brown.edu. Please send responses to this op-ed to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.