Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

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About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

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An Election of No Choice: March 2016

Daiyaan, my twenty year old, is getting ready to vote for the first time in 2016; recently, she texts and asks why and how I am voting in the primaries, and I am delighted to help her with her thinking; her best friend Kimmy, is voting for Bernie Sanders and Daiyaan and I have already discussed Hillary Clinton.

I can tell that Daiyaan is not satisfied with her choice and wants more from her candidate. Welcome to adulthood, my beautiful daughter. I certainly wish we had a “lovable” candidate the first time you are ready to vote.

I have boiled my entire election choice in 2016 down to a simple litmus-test; who will protect my civil liberties and those of my children?

Typically, one looks at US elections from 3 vantage points:

  1. Who will protect my pocketbook (who will protect me from higher taxes)?
  2. Who will be a strong world-leader (who will be respected)?
  3. Who will ensure our freedom (protect Social and Civil liberties)?

If the thought was to just make a ton of tax-free money, I would migrate to Saudi Arabia or Singapore; but I chose to live in America because of its ability to re-invent and re-shape itself, over and over again. I chose the US simply to be the best I could be; to choose my own freedom, and define my own identify, on my terms. I have done the best I could – with what was available to me.

If I wanted Socialistic taxation structures (and extreme winters), I would move to Canada or Sweden. I like the balance of creativity, entrepreneurship and hard-work based independence that the US offers. At this mid-life juncture, I have accomplished what I wanted (and more); now it’s really about the future – and most importantly, the future of my two daughters.

Future cycles of elections are all about protecting their rights, liberties – to choose – to be women – to be educated and successful on their own merit and fill their lives with joy.

It’s not because Hillary Clinton is a woman.

I agree she is a flawed-imperfect candidate. However, given my choices – she is much better than anyone I have seen on the Republican side. Also, under a Democratic President, I feel my personal civil liberties and those of my children, are more likely to be protected, and possibly enhanced.

If you have a daughter, I am not sure, how you tell her that she should make 70 cents-on-the-dollar of what your son may make; or that she doesn’t have a right to choose what happens to her body, or to decide when to have children and that the state she lives in, controls this.

Under the Democratic Presidency of Barack Obama, my personal and professional goals have been enhanced; unemployment is significantly lowered  (<5%), the US Stock-markets are stable/growing and we have climbed out of a really bad recession. I don’t think the world is any safer (or more risky) than what it was when he took over – or for that matter – twenty or even fifty years ago. I was 4 year old when Bangladesh fought a bloody civil war – I have accepted that there is evil in the world, and it manifests itself in terrorists (US or elsewhere); how we stand up to them is the key.

Another thing I am especially grateful for: we haven’t declared a war on someone else in seven years; we have not militarily intervened in Syria or Libya. In my 3 decades of living here, we have had a propensity to utilize military power to police the world; I just don’t want that responsibility for my children. 

I can’t imagine Daiyaan fighting a war somewhere, for no reason; I don’t want any US parent to feel this level of disconnection toward wars they don’t understand.

If Obama was on the election ticket this year, I would vote him back into office.

However, since that’s not an option, my vote, this cycle – and probably for a few coming cycles, is now locked in the Democratic camp – however imperfect their candidate.

As divided as this nation is, at this point of history, and likely to remain this way in the foreseeable future, my main focus is the US Supreme Court.

I have complete confidence in the SCOTUS to adjudicate sound, solid legal direction based on the constitution . It’s not perfect, but it’s a much better way to upholding/rejecting laws, versus by the fickle public opinion. This is apparent from the Civil Rights laws of the 60s or the Gay-Rights promulgated in the last few years.

I am very much interested in the appointment of feminists to the court. I love both the Justices confirmed during the Obama period. I want more justices who will enhance a woman’s right and equality in this relatively biased society. Men have had their way in the US system of Government for over 300 years. Women need stronger protection and better checks and balances.

I have more confidence in the Democrats to nominate feminists to the Supreme Court.

One major frustration during this election cycle, is the feeling of helplessness from considering my options. In a country as smart as ours, I should be torn between two brilliant minds, competing on ideology, versus theatrics. Why can’t we get Collin Powell or Cheryl Sandberg to run on a ticket? 

Maybe when Shania gets ready to vote in 2024, she will have options of leaders we will love, respect and want to follow; at this point, we don’t really have a choice.

Fractured, or not, this time, Hillary it is.

Madame President, we look forward to you in the White House.

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