Ray Duckler: Unity breakfast in Concord felt more like a funeral after Clinton loss

  • Participants in the St. Paul’s Chuch unity breakfast form a circle and sing on City Plaza in front of the State House on Wednesday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Cantor Shira Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord hugs Reverend Kate Atkinson, rector of St. Paul’s Church, after the unity breakfast and walk to City Plaza Wednesday morning.

  • Reverend Kate Atkinson, rector of St. Paul’s Church in Concord, left, leads a group in singing “God Bless America” at City Plaza in front of the State House Wednesday morning.

  • Kate Russo from Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord reflects during the unity breakfast at St. Paul’s Church in Concord on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Rev. Virg Fryer of Bow Mills United Methodist Church bows in meditation during the unity breakfast. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Reverend Jason Wells, rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Concord, at the unity breakfast at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, November 10, 2016

It felt like a funeral, complete with coffee, bagels, muffins and despair.

It had been planned for months, a post-election unity breakfast, a way to gather and reflect and rejoice over a new administration in Washington, D.C.

Too bad someone forgot to tell Donald Trump to lose.

It was obvious from the start that those at St. Paul’s Church on Wednesday were feeling darkness on an overcast morning, that they had the event penciled onto their calendars, expecting to usher in a new era of hope and inclusiveness.

They’d welcome Hillary Clinton, the first female president of the United States, into their lives, with glass from the ceiling laying shattered on the floor.

The script was not followed, however. The Rev. Jason Wells of the Grace Episcopal Church choked up and, essentially, gave up while standing at the lectern, addressing the roughly 50 people who attended the early-morning breakfast.

“Right now, it’s a sinking feeling in my gut,” Wells told me as we sat together, shortly before the misery officially got under way. “It strikes to my very hope about my brothers and sisters and other people of other faiths.”

No one hid their feelings. Eyes were lowered, heads were bowed and corners of mouths sloped downward.

“I’m sure many of you are sad this morning,” the Rev. Kate Atkinson, rector at St. Paul’s, said during the opening remarks. “And I’m sure some people are happy.”

None of them showed up to the breakfast at St. Paul’s. Not one.

Perhaps they’d been fooled. Maybe foolhardy is the more appropriate word. Trump was a master at fooling people, a magician who pulled an election out of his hat (Megyn Kelly might say “out of his wherever”).

Remember Trump’s own party? They were fooled when he announced his candidacy last year. Remember the media during the run-up to the general election? They were fooled after Trump, riding on a bus en route to an appearance on a soap opera, got caught on tape disrespecting women.

“Shell shocked,” said Kate Russo, a Concord dental hygienist. “I didn’t know this country was this angry. I didn’t know it was this bad. I thought it was the media. I didn’t think Hillary Clinton would lose, especially with all his missteps.”

Trump committed more missteps than a baby learning to walk. At least that’s what people thought. At least that’s what pundits thought. How could Clinton lose?

Remember Trump’s imitation of Serge Kovaleski, the New York Times reporter with arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of joints? Remember his comments on Mexicans? Women? Muslims?

American citizens were so frightened Tuesday night that Canada’s immigration website repeatedly crashed as people, perhaps seeing themselves as newly crowned refugees, sought information on moving north across the border. Those at St. Paul’s feared the start of a harsh, mean, chest-thumping nation during this new administration.

“My 15-year-old niece is being bullied for the first time in her life,” noted Kris Schultz, president of the Greater Concord Interfaith Council. “I can’t help but think kids have felt emboldened to act like that because of the way Trump has behaved.”

Give him credit, though. Trump tapped into America’s dissatisfaction with government and gridlock and political doublespeak, its rising cost of living, its empty and lifeless Midwestern factories, and its reliance on over-the-top political correctness.

Voters who believed they were missing something in their lives turned their lonely eyes to Trump. That’s what Jeff Sullivan of Concord surmised, after he sat near me with a plate of fruit, then ignored it.

“There’s so much hostility, and there’s a deep divide, and that’s what the election revealed,” Sullivan said. “It showed that so many people felt left behind. There’s some apprehension, but I don’t want to run around saying the sky is falling if the sky isn’t falling yet. I always want to be optimistic.”

“I’m curious to know why people voted as they did,” the Rev. Virg Fryer of the Bow Mills United Methodist Church told the group. “I’d like to know the motivating forces of people who showed up for the election. But I’m not sure I want to have that conversation yet. It’s not the end of the world, but it feels like it.”

That’s going a bit far, I think, but it wasn’t far from the overall theme that permeated the downstairs room like the freshly brewed coffee. Schultz tried to remain upbeat, greeting J St. Hilaire, a transwoman, with a smile.

St. Hilaire said Schultz had triggered her “baloney meter.”

“Let’s just be sad,” St. Hilaire continued. “We’ll have lunch sometime and it will be all better.”

When asked her thoughts on the election, St. Hilaire told me, “As long as he doesn’t get the nuclear button on his cell phone, I’ll be happy.”

Later, Schultz led the room in a Tibetan-Bhutanese meditation session, telling everyone to breathe, connect with their bodies, feel the connection to Earth and visualize a role model, like Martin Luther King or Gandhi, or perhaps think about a favorite pet.

The breakfast lasted an hour, until 9 a.m., at which time everyone walked slowly to Park Street and cut through the State House grounds, past the statue of Daniel Webster, singing “God Bless America.”

They stood near the arch on Main Street, held hands and continued singing, grim faced, heads bowed, looking as though they’d lost a good friend.

Meanwhile, Main Street buzzed with morning traffic, the digital readout on the bank clock down the street read 42 degrees and the realization of a new era in American history began to seep in.

“God bless America,” the group sang, gently. “My home, sweet home.”