Words to Pave a Safe Passage Across
On Friday, January 20, 2017, I was in attendance as Donald J. Trump and Michael R. Pence were sworn into office as the 45th President and 48th Vice-president of the United States of America.
I wasn’t there because Donald Trump had my vote for president (he did not). I was there because I prize the peaceful transfer of power that occurs every 4 to 8 years, because I respect the controls of our Constitutional Republic and because I treasure the democratic freedoms that are so often taken for granted. While more than 90 million (40%) of eligible voters did not vote in the November 2016 election and President Trump may not have been swept into office by an overwhelming mandate of the people, he is our President nonetheless. I don’t believe my presence at his swearing in offers any indication of my private feelings regarding his ascension. It was simply a statement of my love for my country.
So it was with wonder and contemplation that I took my place among the Blue Ticket section in front of the Capitol steps and waited to hear what my new President’s first words to me would be. President Trump’s brief inaugural address resembled little that I wanted to hear. I wanted Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I wanted a speech that bridged political divides, united believers and naysayers, soothed hurt feelings and mended splintered fences. I wanted a love letter to unity, democracy and promise. I wanted the Golden Globes speech I felt Meryl Streep should have given. Where were the words of optimism and harmony I had waited for?
Dr. Erica Brown wrote in a recent essay “Words can communicate hope, or they can confirm hate. Words can lift the spirit or send listeners into a depressive tailspin. Words can be a tool of the arrogant or an obstacle to the humble.” To this, I’ll add that words can cleave an expansive chasm or they can pave safe passage across. Words should be used to connect people to their highest aspirations, not to their basest, most repugnant selves. Too many of the words spoken during the 20 months preceding Inauguration Day had been pejorative, disparaging and inflammatory. To say that 2016 election rhetoric brought out the worst in the media and all sides of the electorate would be the biggest undersell since Manhattan sold for $25 worth of exchanged goods.
I believe we have an obligation as citizens to help our nation’s leaders succeed regardless of party affiliation; that we have a responsibility to use our words to heal, even if the words of others continue to harm. That we have a duty as one united people to maintain hope when others find it too much of a burden to carry, so that together we can rise above the tide of despair and deep cynicism that threatens to swallow us whole.
The word hope in English often conveys doubt, as in “I hope everything’s ok.” In the Bible the Hebrew word יָחַל, “to hope” is also translated as “to wait”, “to be patient”, “to endure”. I have hope that the words I so badly wanted to hear on Inauguration Day will rise up from all of us and with such power that we will be heard in the highest offices in the land. And I propose that we use the time it will take until we are heard to listen to each other with respect and understanding.
This weekend we witnessed a fellow American take the oath of the Presidency in a 200+-year-old tradition of peaceful transition. On Saturday, we witnessed hundreds of thousands of Americans exercise their right to free speech and assembly in an ideal example of peaceful protest during the Women’s March. May they herald progress in days to come.
Mahra Pailet, WHP Alum (Dallas 13), is originally from New York City, but now lives in Dallas, TX with her husband Kevin and three children. She is a Senate Club member of AIPAC, national Development Vice-chair for the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and a member of the board of Directors for Levine Academy, her children’s Jewish Day School. She can be reached at email@example.com.