I’m writing this post on Election Day, November 9, 2016, as I try to take in what has happened to bring an unexperienced and malevolent person to the highest office in the land. I’m nervous and fidgety and despairing, though trying to do some writing. But I’ve also been thinking back over this interminable campaign, pondering moments that especially stood out for me. One of them came in during Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, when Trump said, referring to “the system,” that no one knows the system better than he does and that “I alone can fix it.” As my British friends would say, I was gobsmacked, stunned at the enormity of those five words, leading off with “I.”
During the last thirty years, I have worked very hard, along with many colleagues, to resist what Lisa Ede and I call “radical individualism,” the constant focus on self, the refusal to recognize that knowledge and art and all our accomplishments are the product of collaboration, of sharing. That making progress will always call for cooperation, for working together, for joining hands and giving up the myth of the solitary “great man” who will act as knight in shining armor. Ask the leading tech companies today and they will agree that a focus on “I” doesn’t hold; even in the Academy, the realization that “we” is more powerful than “I” has taken hold, widely in the sciences and now even to some degree in the humanities, with their still strong individualistic bias.
Imagine my delight, then, when on the eve of the election I found Nick Sousanis’s comic on this campaign/election, expressing what I have been feeling. He too found that the “Only I can fix it” line haunted him and brought him back to thinking of another powerful phrase, “We the people.” We, not I. Our, not my. I could describe Nick’s terrific cartoon, but better yet take a look at it for yourself on Nick’s blog, Spin, Weave, and Cut.
Yet this election shows that “I” has trumped “We,” once again, keeping the glass ceiling firmly in place and offering up a “hero” to save the day. I have read, and reread, W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” written in 1919 in the horrific aftermath of war and asking “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” It’s a question worth pondering today.
Right now, I feel like assuming the fetal position—for the next four years. But teachers don’t get to do that, especially teachers of writing and rhetoric. Now more than ever we must steel ourselves to working harder than ever to teach our students to think critically and carefully, to shape arguments that are deeply resourced and replete with credible and reliable evidence, to continue making their voices heard in all their rich complexity and diversity. So as I grieve for what I see as the triumph of “I” politics and wait to see what a President Trump will actually do, these are the goals I pledge myself to pursuing.