Last Tuesday evening, I sat down with a heaping plate full of Chinese food, surrounded by some of my closest friends, ready to watch history be made. Amid the hopeful excitement, a brief thought entered my mind: “What if this doesn’t turn out how I think it will?”
As the evening continued and Donald Trump gained more and more states, I was filled with a sense of dread that felt all too familiar. I had been here before. The hope of a sure win, slowly crumbling – replaced by fear, uncertainty, and the sight of my future falling apart. It was eerily similar to a scene I’d witnessed two years before.
My first job out of college was a nonpartisan fellowship at the Governor’s Office – the ideal path toward a lifetime of political advocacy. I believed that the best way to share my gifts with the world was to give myself fully to politics – to change the system from the inside, working to serve the people and better the world. This all hinged upon the Governor under whom I began my internship – a role model and someone whose career inspired me – winning his reelection.
In a turn I didn’t expect, on a night that should have been filled with celebration, my candidate lost…badly. Suddenly, I went from visions of social justice and a job waiting for me at the end of the year to all of my friends, co-workers, and colleagues losing their jobs. Aside from about eight other young adults, everyone I had worked with would now be fired. I was sad for my co-workers. I was scared for my state – afraid that the many programs whose growth I had witnessed would now go away. And I was terrified for my future. I couldn’t follow the path I had expected. I couldn’t work in this world of hatred and back-stabbing. I couldn’t see a path out, and my plan was falling apart.
I stayed in the Governor’s Office until the end of my fellowship that year – ultimately spending six months under each Governor. The pain, anger, and fear I felt in that first night as I watched my candidate lose were real and valid. Many of my fears came true: programs I had helped create were destroyed, and progress made in my first six months was dismissed as partisan and greedy as a new administration stepped in. Many people lost their jobs. It was amidst that pain and loss that I learned something important about American politics.
I am a huge fan of politics and government in America. I studied political science as an undergraduate and originally planned to work in politics for the rest of my foreseeable future. I still am open to including politics – especially advocacy – in my future career path. But in the election of 2014, I saw myself creating a false idol out of politics. I had placed all my hope, trust, and faith in a system that is fundamentally flawed, because it is created by flawed and imperfect humans. I had expected that this system – for the people, by the people – could be my sole beacon of hope and change for the world.
At first, this belief seemed to hold up. I felt alive, joyous, and full of hope as I worked for the good of refugees, researched STEM education for young girls, and met the people whose projects we chose to fund. However, I also witnessed hatred, vitriolic campaign rhetoric, and mud-slinging on both sides of the aisle. I saw people refuse to accept that anything the new administration did was right or even permissible. I saw a new administration brush off the well-meaning gestures of my former co-workers as selfish and wasteful. I saw contention and ulterior motives behind almost every action taken on either side of the aisle.
In my 2014 election, I learned that politics was not the perfect beacon of hope I once thought it to be. I understood the fragility of a system that will never be perfect, will never solve all our problems. And I saw the way hatred, clinging to political victory, and the inability to work together ultimately made things worse for people of all political parties.
These are lessons I carry with me today, as I process the results of the 2016 presidential election. Once again, I find my hopes shattered by a result quite different than the one I expected. Once again, I fear – this time, for the poor and marginalized in our nation; for my friends who are afraid to speak out; for the anger and pain I see on both sides of the aisle. And yet, this time, I am armed with hope. I understand, as hard as it is, that I cannot place all my hope and trust in the politics of one nation. Nor can I remain closed off from the “other side,” creating of them a mythical demon. I must work in my community and spread God’s light to the world around me one person at a time, one act of volunteering or advocacy at a time. Each and every one of us is called to participate fully in the conversion of the world – not on one Tuesday in November, but every day. Each day, as we witness the injustice of the world around us, we are called to do small things with great love – to build up the Kingdom of God on earth.
I – and many of my friends – took some time to mourn and to worry after the election. I don’t regret that. We needed time to process, to mourn, and to change our expectations. However, we cannot stay in this echo chamber of sadness and anger. We have been given far too much to keep our pain to ourselves. We have been given the love of a King – and we must pour that love forth – even when it’s hard, even when it requires great sacrifice. As Catholics, we are called to follow Christ’s footsteps and transform our world – not through politics, and not through echo chambers – but through real action.
Let’s get to work.
Molly Daily is the Professional Graduate Assistant at Saint Louis University’s Office of Marketing and Communications and is currently pursuing her M.A. in Communication. She has a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame.