I was recently reminded of a song the Dixie Chicks debuted in 2005 during a telethon to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I realized that I hadn’t thought of it in years.
That came at a time when a lot of us had lost hope, not only in our leadership, but in what this country was supposed to be about. It is almost as if Emily, Martie, and Natalie kept repeating “I hope” over and over again in the hope that at some point they’d believe it. But then, it’s not hard to hope when things are going well. It’s when things start to fall apart that the choice between hope and despair becomes so stark.
Three years after they first sang that song, a guy came along to run for president by trying to tap into our hopes, rather than our fears. Following the 2016 election, as Obama’s eight years in the White House were coming to a end, Oprah asked Michelle Obama if her husband’s administration had achieved the kind of hope he promised. The former first lady’s answer was: “Yes, I do because we feel the difference now…Now we’re feeling what having no hope feels like.”
In one sense, I agree with Michelle. These days the fears win out too often over the hope. But here’s the thing…our hope should never be about one individual we elect as president. Barack Obama was an extraordinary man who inspired hope on a lot of different levels. But presidents in this country come and go—which is a good thing. If we have hope as long as someone like him is in office and lose it when they’re gone, then we’re looking in the wrong place for inspiration.
That is what the song from the Dixie Chicks brought to mind. While they didn’t say in directly, inspiration in a democracy rests on our hope in each other. Frankly, that is what got shattered for me on the night Donald Trump was elected president. All of the sudden the gulf between people like me and those who voted for him seemed too vast to traverse. It’s felt like that ever since. Often, my only hope is that on election day, there are more of us who get out to the polls than there are of them.
That’s not a bad thing to hope—and work towards. But what really wears on me are all the lies and delusions that are being used to spread hate, fear and divisions. I’m not so naive as to think that, in a country this big, we could all agree. As the song says, “It’s OK for us to disagree, we can work it out lovingly.” That is where my hope is tested on a daily basis.