Billy Joel famously sang, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Our recent presidential election was, in many ways, a challenge to America. It was a choice between the hope of going back to the “good old days” or maintaining the status quo. While Sec. Clinton won – just barely – the popular vote, Pres.-elect Trump won the electoral vote. In fact, the winning candidate was – nobody. 55.6% of Americans voted, which isn’t really that bad, considering that the highest percentage since 1952 was 63.1% in 1960. So over 4 out of 10 Americans chose nobody. We are a sad excuse for democratic ideals.
We are stuck in the past and the present because we fear the future. America will, by 2050 (according to the Pew Foundation) no longer have a particular racial demographic. I think it will happen sooner. This makes people very afraid. Because of that fear, many of us are thinking irrationally and saying (and doing) some very nasty things. Hate groups have increased in the last 10 years and hate crimes have spiked in the last week. People do terrible things when they are afraid.
It has become an almost trite thing to say – people fear change. It is also kind of funny, because the only thing that doesn’t change is that everything changes. Economies, leaders, worship styles, food – everything that means anything changes. One of the reasons people love Thanksgiving so much is that we get to eat the same food that we remember growing up – those smells and tastes create in us happy memories that make the day so beautiful. If we in the Northeast don’t get snow on Christmas, we gripe – even though snow has nothing to do with the first actual Christmas. These memories mean a lot to us – they give us something to hold on to when times get tough.
But the good old days weren’t always good – America is an incomplete work in progress. The Constitution is a living document that has been amended many times to fix the parts that weren’t done right. There were times when segments of our population weren’t considered people and when some who were considered people weren’t allowed to vote. We have a history of treating people unequally, and that propensity isn’t gone. This January we will have another new beginning, and nobody knows whether it will be good or bad. Fear of newness has confronted us in the past, and as Americans we have – eventually, and sometimes reluctantly – stood up and demanded that the wrongs being done be righted.
Tomorrow ain’t as bad is it seems – if we act like adults and do our best to change America for the better. For those who didn’t vote – shame on you! It is your right to exercise, but it is also your responsibility. For those who voted out of hate, shame on you too! And please, don’t assume I am talking about any particular candidate – there is plenty of hate to go around on all sides. At our very worst, we have supported hate and violence, but at our very best, we have been the hope of the world. I believe in the future – as long as it is more about equality than it is about oppression. If things go well, we should all applaud. If they do not, we must – must – stand up and be counted. I hope for peace in your life and mine.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman serves Calvary UCC in Reading, PA. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), and M.Div. from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), and D.Min. from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a Ph.D. from Alvernia University (PA).