Below is an email exchange between my nephew, Zackary Castle, and me. Zack is 28, has an M.B.A., and works in Las Vegas as a store manager for Starbucks (thus his reference to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz). His first email came 10 days after the election of Donald J. Trump. Zack writes about resolving to become more political. By posting our exchange I am hoping other young people resolve likewise.
Zack writes (Nov. 18):
Thanks for continuing to send your posts to me. I don't always get to read them, but when I do I always enjoy what you have to say.
I've been feeling passionate as of recently about what is going on in the country and am wishing I would have been more so during the election. I have made a vow to myself that I won't stand around and just watch things around me anymore, but take a stand now when I believe we need it the most. Your words help encourage me to do more and I appreciate that.
Just wanted to share that.
As one of my idols Howard Schultz would say, "Onward."
Carla writes (Nov. 20):
Dear Zackarino: At a time when this country has just dealt itself a devastating blow in electing the demagogue and lout Donald J. Trump as President, your resolve as a young person to get more informed and more involved in the political process is THE BRIGHTEST SPOT imaginable. Truly! Good on you, Dear Nephew, and bravissimo!
[Pause for eyes tearing up…]
I think it is very interesting, and very hopeful, that a young person such as yourself recognizes something horrible just happened to America, and that we did it to ourselves. It's also very hopeful that you as a young person believe that being more informed and involved can bring us a New Day. Democracy is all about the demos, the people, and democracy only works when the people are informed and involved. Clearly you "get it," innately, about democracy's engine. We are "it" — the engine.
So, what do YOU think happened in this election? And what do you think needs to be done to get us on the upward path? I am reaching out to various "thought leaders," and you just nominated yourself — congratulations.
Meantime, congratulations on joining the ranks of the engaged. I'll share a little secret with you: engaged people have the most fun. More than the kvetchers, or the cynics, or the nihilists, or the bored or disillusioned, the engaged not only make constructive contributions to the common good, they are more alive than the aforementioned ankle-biters. You'll know them by the sparkle in their eyes (and your own).
I take my cue about being engaged from the French philosopher and World War II Resistance fighter, Albert Camus. I was about your age when I first read Camus, insisting that in time of war writers be engagé (active, not passive) and counseling against "bad faith." He won the Nobel for literature for his novels The Plague and The Stranger and for his commentary. At first his command to be engagé had a romantic appeal to me, but I've come to see it as the absolute standard: you can never, ever quit the field, most especially when things go bad or dark. You must be the citizen engagé.
There's also another plus: engaged people get to feel good about themselves, virtuous even. Critics will call that righteous self-satisfaction and smugness, but it sure beats feeling guilty or misspent or negligible. And sooner or later we all come to judge our own lives: best, in the end, to have given a damn than not even to have tried. Like Teddy Roosevelt said, all honor goes, not to the critic, but to the person who actually steps into the arena to do battle. Best to be the Happy Warrior.
In conclusion: I do believe we who are engaged — whose number now includes you — can turn this desperate situation around in America. But it will require, as the engaged also understand, taking "the long view." Ultimately I do believe we can save ourselves. Americans, thank Heaven, are not fatalists, not yet. And if we have young blood, such as your esteemed self, joining our ranks, how can America lose?
Much love, Dear Nephew, and yes, "Onward."
Zack writes (Nov. 27):
As I finished reading your email for probably the 10th time over the past week, I have contemplated your question, "What do I think happened in this election?" When I first read it my thought was, heck, I have no clue. A political science degree would probably come in handy for this. I wake up with a knot in my stomach worrying about my future as a young gay man and how I could face the people in my life who didn't understand my feelings, didn't understand why I couldn't vote for Trump, or were too busy thinking about the latest Clinton email scandal to really realize what else was happening in this election.
When I look back at the last year, what did I miss that would have made me think that what happened on Nov. 8th could actually be a reality? The first time I voted, in 2008, I knew I was voting for change. The very first African-American President! I could only imagine what barriers he had to go through to get where he was on that day. And I could only imagine what he would continue to do and how hard he would have to fight to get what he wanted to accomplish. Although President Obama was challenged at every turn, that man did more than I could have ever imagined.
When I think about it, I see some similarities between President Obama's campaign and President-elect Trump's campaign. We all know that Donald Trump didn't face many barriers in his life and actually probably created more of them (barriers, I mean) for other people. But for some reason, like Obama, he was able to relate to the everyday American better than his opponents. Although Hillary Clinton is leading the popular vote by over two million, you would think she related better. But the millions of people who voted for Trump: he reached them better, that's plain and simple.
Other than reaching more people where it counted, I think this election was just very different. I have talked to other friends who have seen many more elections than I have and they all say the same. I think this country is changing on its own. I think the biggest thing is that people are tired of not being heard. And in a democracy, that's not good. Although Obama may have done a lot for some people, I think there are still a lot of people out there who just didn't want "more of the same." The next four years with Donald Trump will definitely be different than we have ever seen before. But I don't think it will be a good kind of "different."
So, I still have a knot of uncertainty in my stomach, but there is one thing that is not going to change. I'm still going to spend my life with my partner Jeremy. Because no matter what, no one is taking that away from me and I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that never happens. So, civil rights will become my mission — which I truly believe helps the common good in America, not just myself. And for courage, I will look back to President Obama.
There's only one way to go and, as we said before, that is…."Onward." I will become a Happy Warrior.
Carla Seaquist's latest book is titled "Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality." An earlier book is titled "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Also a playwright, she published "Two Plays of Life and Death" and is at work on a play titled "Prodigal."
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