“Character matters”: my thoughts on the 2020 US election

As I write, I’m working through many thoughts. Let me start with this overwhelming one: today is a good day.

Today is a good day for leadership, equality, democracy, truth and – perhaps above all – character.

Character matters.

I avoid writing about politics. It’s divisive and will inevitably spark controversy. Four years ago, when Trump was elected, I shared my thoughts on this young blog and naively assumed that my readers would all agree with me. Not all of them did, obviously, and they won’t now either. We must acknowledge the strong support that Donald Trump still has and the millions of good people who are disappointed by the results of this election. Their thoughts and experiences are valid. Let’s relearn the importance of perspectives and disagree with dignity and mutual respect. Let’s challenge ideas rather than people. With this in mind, I would like to share my thoughts again. To be honest, I’m incapable of thinking about anything else today.

By the way, I’m not American, but this election was bigger than America. This week, I have seen international colleagues from every continent anxiously awaiting the results. This election mattered to all of us, not just because of Trump’s negative influence worldwide, but because of his inaction against global issues such as climate change and the pandemic. I wasn’t surprised by the international interest, but I was surprised by my own emotions. This morning alone, I have fought back tears on three occasions: watching the speeches from both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, and watching the emotional response by Van Jones on CNN. These messages are really hitting me hard. I can only imagine the great relief and joy that is shared by (most) Americans today, especially marginalised Americans.

As a teacher who places such high value on character education, it has never sat comfortably with me that Trump’s bullying, lying, belittling strategies have been successful for him. That’s what I wrote about four years ago. What message did it send? How much damage has that done in the last four years? But this week, America rejected this style of so-called leadership. I don’t want to speak for others on such a divisive topic but, at least in my experience, the world joins the US in this condemnation.

Character matters. Character has always mattered. We no longer have to doubt it.

I’m inspired by American politics again, and excited about the potential of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other well-intentioned politicians (from all parties). In stark contrast to Trump, Biden and Harris represent decency and compassion. They display qualities of effective leadership such as trustworthiness, empathy, humility and open-mindedness. We can look forward to having role models in the White House again.

By the way, I don’t agree with them on every policy. Unlike the Trump administration, nobody is expected to. Disagreements and debates are essential elements of a healthy democracy. Biden purposely chose a running mate who brings different perspectives and experiences, and they both welcome input from others. This is, again, a sign of effective, mature leadership. But, critically, even when I don’t agree with them, I don’t question their integrity.

It is also highly significant that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris has made history in multiple ways as a woman of colour, daughter of immigrants and of Jamaican and Indian descent. She paves the way for a more inclusive, accepting future. She and Biden have already committed to creating teams that look like America and represent all Americans. Again, this is a stark contrast to Charlottesville, racist nicknames, the “kung flu” and chants of “send her back”. There has been far too much ugliness and division in recent years. I don’t blame Donald Trump for the deep-rooted racism that exists in the world, but he certainly hasn’t helped.

This election wasn’t about parties, policies or individual politicians. It was about American values – human values – and the example that the USA sets to the world. For four years, the leadership has not reflected the goodness of the people. That changed today. There’s a lot of serious and urgent work to be done, but today marks the start of progress.

With great irony, America feels great again.

8 comments

  1. Thoughts well articulated. It’s amazing how connected the world is and how a process of change in leadership can affect so many people around the world. It was heartening to hear words of empathy and compassion from the president elec, for the millions of people disappointed with the result, something that we as educators strive to inculcate in our children. This quote will stay with me for a while, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I certainly won’t be the last.”

    1. Hi Suchi,

      That’s certainly a powerful quote, and one of the moments that had me choking up (especially as the camera panned to the young girls in the audience). Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Best,

      Adam

  2. Hey Adam, love this post and love that you are ‘going there’…writing about politics as an educator is risky, but like you, I am also incapable of thinking of anything else today.
    You mention almost breaking down in tears, well, I did, and as a Canadian, felt the entire nation (well most of it) breathe a collective sigh of relief alongside me. Along with that relief however comes a certain perplexity…how could 70 million people have wanted it to go the other way? How are those people feeling today? How in the world will this incredibly complex and powerful country that is the U, S of A address and attempt to bridge the incredible divide that you mention in your post? …and lastly, what can we do to help?

    1. Hi Danielle,

      Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and feelings. You have also raised some really important questions. We must hear from those millions of people who voted the other way and find common ground. Opponents are not enemies, as Biden put it. I also love your final question: what can we do to help? I don’t have all of the answers, but at least we have the right questions! That’s a start! Unifying the country will be a mammoth task but at least the new leadership will try, rather than actively promoting that division.

      It’s on all of us to listen to people who we don’t agree with and appreciate that diversity of thought. In doing so, we realise that we ALWAYS have more in common than we think.

      Thanks again,

      Adam

      1. I want to thank you Adam- it’s through your work, your writing, your teaching…that we begin to answer these tough questions…I’m inspired by many of your initiatives and hope to help others (through my new-found digital skills) recognise and celebrate our commonalities rather than obsess over our differences. Let the healing begin…in the U.S. and beyond.

  3. My family has been waiting for today for long too! So thrilled and emotional and impressed with their speeches! Longing for a nice world and being nice to the earth again!! 🤞🏻

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