“I briefly considered that it might be too early to start drinking, but then I remembered that people frequently drink after funerals.”
This was the message that adorned my Facebook wall, four years ago today.
It wasn’t the death of America, of course—though at times it might have felt like it.
Indeed, at times, we mourned.
We mourned the loss of civility. The respect for science and the reverence for expert opinion. The rule of law. Truth and fact. The peaceful transfer of power.
We mourned the loss of life. The 400,000-plus souls lost to a virus that ravaged our country’s shores. We mourned these individuals—family, friends, and strangers alike—even as it appeared that our Commander in Chief did not.
We mourned because, for many, it felt like the demise of America. Like we had forfeited our humanity at the feet of political zealotry. Like decorum, diplomacy, and social mores were forgotten casualties of populist fervor.
We imagined America as a damsel in distress being driven to an early grave, knocking at death’s door.
But the truth is that America—while arguably in distress—had not changed. Donald Trump’s election had not fundamentally altered its fabric; it had simply revealed unseemly truths that had been woven into its fibers—truths that we had previously been content to ignore.
Because Donald Trump was not the disease, malignant though he may be; he was the symptom. And while one would prefer never to fall ill in the first place, at least when symptomatic, we are propelled to seek aid.
And seek aid we did.
When confronted with our own mortality, America, we rose.
We rose up in opposition against racism and police brutality.
We rose up in opposition against voter suppression, waiting in lines that sometimes stretched hours.
We rose up on a micro level, risking our careers to stand tall for what is right.
Because here, right matters.
So we rose.
And we will continue to rise, recognizing that Donald Trump’s departure does not eradicate the disorder but simply cloaks the manifestation.
Still, there is tremendous cause for optimism precisely because when this latent sickness surged out of dormancy, in the face of it, we rose. And we rose in numbers too big to ignore, registering record turnout in the midst of a pandemic.
That does not mean, of course, that there is no cause for concern, as too many in our country seem consumed with conspiracy and hate. And it will take work—hard work, earnest work—to stem the tide.
But progress isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows, takes a step forward and then two back. It never moves with the desired speed. But it moves. Slowly but surely, we advance, with the mechanisms of change strapped firmly to our backs.
It is an oft-shared quote, and I share it now not just for its content but to highlight its author.
Look at social media on Monday and you were sure to see a flood of Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in an outpouring of support and a wave of adulation. An altogether unsurprising yearly event, considering the fact that the man enjoys a 90% favorability rating.
But were you to examine King’s popularity through the lens of history, you would find something quite different. You would find, perhaps, that when Gallup measured the public perception of Martin Luther King using its scalometer, it was just 32% positive and 63% negative in 1966.
Depressing? Yes. Jolting? Absolutely. Yet this fact is not shared to dispirit you but to inspire you. Because it demonstrates just how accurate the content of his quote truly was.
Yes, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it does bend towards justice. Because MLK is now viewed in death how he deserved to be regarded in life.
What was obvious to just 32% of us then is obvious to the vast majority now.
The arc bent towards justice.
So when you feel the urge to despair, do not. Instead, recognize that what the present often blinds us to, history makes apparent. And in retrospect, history will regard the Trump presidency and the capitulations made therein with the same wisdom that we now universally view Dr. King.
On this day four years ago, I woke up feeling sad but hopeful. Sad that so many viewed Donald Trump so differently than I, but hopeful that I was perhaps incorrect about his prospects.
Today, I am also sad but hopeful. Sad that Americans still find ourselves in two different realities, but hopeful that the arc will continue to bend towards justice and that we will all eventually emerge, as one, on the same side.
So on this day of rebirth and renewal, I will assume the same optimism as our new Commander in Chief and pledge to do the work to unify our nation around a mission that history will view kindly.
Because the arc of the moral universe may have bent away from justice these past four years, but the yield strength of its metal is no match for the fire of our torch.
And it will bow to our pressure once again.