The Election, and the Morning After. What next?

What now?

In the aftermath of this election there is some celebration but for others there is tremendous angst, fear, and unrest. The election map shows what a bubble those of us in the northeast and west coasts live in relative to the rest of the country. I saw that clearly last week, when I spoke in South Carolina at that state’s annual autism conference.  My travels took me from a land of Bernie and Clinton signs to one dominated by Trump/Pence.

I had been asked to speak about autism and employment. But as I told the audience, we could not really address that issue until we addressed the idea of acceptance within our own population, and we built a community of mutual support. With those things done, we (the autism community) will have come a long way toward solving our problems ourselves. And that is how it should be.

My journey that day carried me from one political extreme to another – liberal democratic Western Massachusetts to conservative republican South Carolina. People in those communities very likely held totally opposite political views, and if our dysfunctional government is any example, they might have said there was little common ground.

Yet I was common ground, if an individual can be said to be such a thing. My words of community building and autism acceptance were welcomed at two Thursday events in Massachusetts. There was strong support for the ideas I offered. Then I flew to South Carolina for Friday’s session, where I got a standing ovation for expressing those same ideas.

In my government service I come into contact with people who hold many views on the subject of autism, some in sharp conflict with my own. Rather than argue and fight nonproductively, I say to those people: Let us find the things we agree upon – like the critical need for supports as autistic teens enter adulthood – and let us fight for those things together, rather than fighting each other about areas where we disagree.

Only by joining together will we find a path forward.

Another point to consider is that we can only be master of our own actions. Our ability to regulate others is always more limited than we think. Anyone who imagines himself King of His Household has experienced that firsthand, as teenagers grow up and develop strange ideas of their own. At the same time, we must recognize that our words have influence, and we should be mindful of what we say, and what we want that influence to be. For myself, I can spread a message of acceptance and community building among autistic people. What others do when they hear that is up to them. Whether they embrace that message in other aspects of their lives, is up to them as well.

The election was the focus of millions last night. Today there is a widespread sense of, what now? Whether you supported Trump, Clinton, or neither, the reality for most of us remains the same. For me, there are still cars to be fixed at Robison Service. There are still kids to be taught at Tri County. There are still ambulance calls throughout our city, and expectant moms are still coming here for our child safety seat program. So I am here at work to ensure those things happen seamlessly.

I’ve written before about how I can’t go to movies because I am overwhelmed by the concentrated and exaggerated emotions. The televised election coverage last night was the same. I could not handle it and read a book. Today I awoke to the news of our new president. And I went to work.

You or I may have ideas about running the country better. Most of us do. But we are not running the country. You do what you do, and I am “running” this little circle of things – my businesses, teaching, our emergency service complex, and my speaking and advocacy. No matter who gets elected I will continue to do the best I can at what I do, and encourage others to join together in shared missions. I hope you can do the same.

John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is an autistic adult and advocate for people with neurological differences.  He's the author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, Raising Cubby, and Switched On. He serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the US Dept of Health and Human Services and many other autism-related boards. He's co-founder of the TCS Auto Program (A school for teens with developmental challenges) and he’s the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  

The opinions expressed here are his own.  There is no warranty expressed or implied.  While reading this essay may give you food for thought, actually printing and eating it may make you sick. 


Valerie said…
I've found that, if I can get someone to actually open up instead of sticking to slogans, we actually have a fair amount in common with people "on the other side." Most of our differences are how to get to goals which are astonishingly similar.
Maybe we should send politics to the mediators of school disputes. So you can't agree on anything? Can we agree on what color the wall is? What kind of weather is outside? Only when we find basics in common can we begin to approach the real issues.
forsythia said…
People are getting all wound up about the Trump victory. It is what it is, and we'll survive. I found it encouraging that you found common ground in MA and down south.

I was interested in what you said about not being able to go to the movies. I don't want to go to movies in theaters anymore. Way TOO loud!! I wear a hearing aid and I have to turn it off at our new state-of-the-art theater, and it's still too loud. I'm afraid they are damaging everyone's hearing.
Travis said…
My brother has asburgers and wants to know your personal advice on how you got through your teenager years. He says hi.
roth phallyka said…
Only when we find basics in common can we begin to approach the real issues.


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