- The Whitman Institute - https://thewhitmaninstitute.org -

A Post Election Reflection

The recent election was a disaster that will continue to unfold in the months ahead. Many of our partners and colleagues have written posts that have resonated and give me hope as the outlook gets more grim. In her recent post Pia spoke for me as well, reaffirming our commitment to our mission and values and our solidarity with our partners. She also raised the importance of building trust in a time of so much distrust.

This past year poll after poll showed public distrust of seemingly everything. I kept wondering: What happens to a society without trust? One answer is that we get a president-elect like Donald Trump.

For the whole continuum of funders and donors who make up the field of philanthropy, the election is a wake up call that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Our democracy is in deep trouble– both institutionally and in the web of individual relationships that connect us.

As with any disaster, there is a need for quick and responsive disaster relief. In this case, “triage” funding and resources to help protect our most vulnerable communities is vital. How can donors and foundations step into the breach and help buffer what is coming in terms of persecution, displacement, and incarceration? Trump’s cabinet appointments so far have removed any illusions that he might want to unify rather than divide the country.

Amidst all the present divisiveness, there does appear to be widespread agreement that something needs to be done about the country’s crumbling physical infrastructure. What the election revealed is that we must also begin to fix other parts of the country’s infrastructure if we are to rebuild our democracy in ways that enable us to more fully practice America’s founding principles. There is long term (re)building ahead, needs that existed before and during the election. For instance:

This rough sketch leaves out a lot but my point is that the moment we are in calls on us to consider viewing our work through a civic engagement lens that links engagement with advancing social, political, and economic equity. Looking through this lens brings into focus the opportunity for philanthropy to pitch in and help the country practice democracy in a way that builds trust, respect, empathy, and equity (TREE). My bias is that funders should particularly look at how they can support these things at a grassroots level, including efforts to organize and build grassroots popular movements.

Our democracy is crying out for help and those of us in philanthropy would do well to respond — even if it means digging deeper into our endowments and funding outside of the boxes that traditionally frame our giving. “How” we move forward, how we build trust, how we listen, how we engage in dialogue, how we think critically together is more important now than ever.

Speaking of stepping outside of boxes, I note that The Philanthropy Roundtable, the affinity group for conservative foundations, just held its annual meeting. I went a few years back and haven’t been back since. I think perhaps I’ll go next year.

The week before the election I was in Washington, D.C. While there, I visited the MLK Memorial. I took a picture of two of King’s quotes carved in stone that particularly spoke to me.

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation, and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

I have thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. a lot since the election. How might I challenge racism, injustice and inequity with love in my heart? How might I move outside of my comfort zones and connect across difference? How might I act from a world perspective that recognizes the intersectionality of issues?

Exploring the tensions inherent in these questions – in reflection, in dialogue and relationship with others, in practice — is part of the work that lies ahead for me. And I am grateful to have so many trusted colleagues and partners to help me in that journey.