2020, You are Exhausting

I haven’t written for a long time. I’m working on entries about my language vacation, but I’m going to be honest – the state of affairs in my country has me beat down. A lot of my energy has been poured into activism and taking care of my family.

2020 sucks – I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it.

It especially sucks right now in ‘Murica.

It’s election season in the US, and in Trump’s America, that means we are being inundated with even more lies and propaganda than usual. It’s a scary time to be an American: an uncontrolled pandemic, deepening corrosion of our institutions, daily onslaughts of horrors from the White House, a leader who is showing more and clearer signs of veering towards a dictatorship, and a much-needed reckoning on the deep levels of racism and denial running through the veins of this country.

Like many of you, I have struggled for years over how to deal with the Trump supporters in my life.

This is not about politics.

That bears repeating: This is not about politics. This is not about the role of government, or taxes, or potholes and how to fix them. This is not about differing opinions.

This is about Human Decency. Morality. Ethics. Values. Character.

I’ve taken turns being furious, depressed, disgusted, hopeless, and occasionally hopeful that some of them will come around. At times, I’ve viewed them with empathy – as people who have been conned and brainwashed by Fox, Breitbart, and 45’s propaganda. Trump’s followers are rightly compared to a cult. Logic, reasoning, and an appeal to better the better angels of our nature don’t seem to reach them.

I’ve also felt resentful. Resentful that their careless, chest-beating votes have wreaked so much havoc. Resentful that so often the burden is put on those who would never vote for Trump to put in the work to understand why someone could vote for this horrible man. The number of articles that came out trying to help those of us on the political left to understand why people voted for Trump were numerous. I didn’t see the same avalanche of articles and appeals to Trump voters aimed at understanding the people who didn’t vote for him, or imploring them to reach out to us to mend fences. I just saw a whole lot of gloating over “liberal tears.”

I believe that having hard conversations is important: especially right now about systemic racism. If any of the Trump supporters I know actually wanted to have a good faith discussion about why so many of us could never, ever, ever support him, I’d have it. But that’s not what I’m seeing. Not once, in any of the people I know. People who still support Trump are rightly compared to a cult. They aren’t listening. They’ve surrounded themselves with an impenetrable wall of lies and hate and a sense of victimization.

There’s a statement that’s been circulating widely on many social media platforms, and I’ve seen it and it’s resonated differently with me at different moments. The idea behind it stuck with me and I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what it meant to me in my life:

lose friends over morals

As I often do when I’m trying to understand something, I wrote about it. Here’s what I wrote:

I didn’t want to go here.

I have friends and family who don’t agree with me politically. I find that to be valuable: discussions and ideas that challenge our points of view can help us see things from a different perspective, help us figure out what we believe, and even change how we perceive things. It has always bothered me that discussions on issues and politics are so taboo in this country – we should all be talking to each other.  People are complex, and I’ve never wanted to reduce any person to a single moment, a single statement, a single vote, or a single characteristic. I haven’t wanted to contribute to the increasingly divisive nature of our national state of affairs.

I’ve stayed connected, mainly on social media, with some people who have said things I find deeply disturbing or offensive. I kept the connection because I thought I was honoring a relationship and not reducing it to the simplicity of what we see on social media. I also thought it would be good for me to see those different perspectives.

But here’s the thing: I’m not seeing different perspectives. I am seeing a huge difference in values, in morality, in empathy. I’m seeing hate and intolerance and racism and extremism masked as “I just see things differently.” I’m seeing lies and propaganda, parroting of the extreme right and of dubious news sources, including of course #45, masquerading as “research” and “the truth the MSM hides.” I’m seeing gleeful attacks on any ideas that don’t align with one narrow and increasingly extreme point of view. I’ve been told I should just leave the country – as if the vision and hope I and people like me hold for our country are less valid, less American, than those held by the people who believe Trump is doing great things for this country.

I am seeing the worst of the stereotypes reinforced with every post, and when I have real life conversations. I hate that this is the case – I have sincerely strived to understand why people I know and like could support a man as abhorrent as Trump, and support the increasingly extreme policies and politicians put forth by the GOP. I’m seeing ugliness in people I used to like, and I would rather remember those people fondly than to see what they say, and what they believe, today.

You know what else I’m not seeing? Reason. Kindness. Empathy. A sense of community, a belief that every person in this country, this world, is deserving of dignity. It’s often said that good people would never support Trump, and I’ve balked at that. Because people are complicated. Yet… people who choose to support a terrible human being like Trump, to place him in the highest and most influential office in the land, people who choose propaganda, lies, and conspiracy theories over reality, have revealed what is in their hearts. It pains me to see people I thought I knew enthusiastically support this, or excuse this, or rationalize and normalize this. It’s not about politics. It’s about values and basic decency.

I tend to search for, and find, the best in people. So it pains me to realize this truth: When you see what people choose to show of themselves, time and time again, it’s time to start believing that is who they are.

Wednesday Morning

donovans-work

Wednesday morning, my four-year-old son drew me this picture and said, “Mama, in this picture, Hillary Clinton became president. So you don’t feel sad.”

Like many, I hardly slept after the election results came in. I was numb, disoriented. Living a nightmare. When my children woke up the next morning, I tried to put on a brave face.

“Everything will be ok. We will be ok.” I felt like I was lying. Nothing about this is okay.

The room where we watched the results come in feels tainted. As though a sinister fog lurks within, reminding me of the horror I felt Tuesday night, sucking my happiness away when I go near it. We’ve seen more than a few Harry Potter references this election. Here’s mine: Dementors are in my living room.

As I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, tears rolled down my face. She was so graceful, so dignified, and despite the deep pain she was feeling and she knew we were all feeling, she still spoke words of unification and optimism. I cried. Because she is the president I so desperately wanted. The president that, in fact, the majority of Americans wanted. For those who don’t know about the U.S. electoral college, it is an antiquated system whereby the popular vote is tallied by state, and then the winner takes all the electoral votes (the number of votes per state based on population) in that state. This college handed us Bush when Gore won the popular vote in 2000. It has now handed us Trump.

I took my son to Noodles for lunch. The African-American woman behind the counter gave me the usual welcome greeting. Our eyes met. We both began to cry.

An uneasiness lodged into my gut about a year ago and stayed put. At first, like many, I dismissed Trump as a joke. He tried to do this in 2000 and it went nowhere. No one wants to listen to this buffoon, I thought. But then… he started winning primaries. I saw the rising tide of immigrants vs. locals clashing in Europe. The rising fear of terrorism while attacks happened in Paris, Nice, Brussels. Trump kept winning. He kept up his vitriolic speech inciting fear, racism, and violence. My husband kept saying there was no way Trump could win. Black Lives Matter emerged and was immediately invalidated by so many white people. Then Brexit happened. Trump smugly predicted his own campaign would be a Brexit, and while I hated him for it, I feared he might be right. I began Tuesday morning feeling optimistic, donning my pantsuit, smiling broadly. My husband again assured me that everything was going to go the way it should. But that uneasiness was still there.

Trump appeals to the worst in America. The fear. The anger. He ran an incredibly divisive campaign, marginalizing and vilifying huge segments of the American population. People claim to like Trump because he “tells it like it is.” As far as I can see, that’s code for America has become too brown, too gay, too feminist, and not Christian enough. These voters are tired of being talked down to, tired of their homes being called “flyover states,” tired of feeling like the ruling elite are making all the decisions. They want their grandfather’s world where they can have the same job for a lifetime and retire in middle class comfort. But that America doesn’t exist any more. The world has become smaller with globalization, technology, the internet. The world has become more diverse. Going back is impossible.

I too see a broken system. A system where a group of Republicans decided that their platform would be obstructionism when a black Democrat became president. A system that crashed the housing market and led to the loss of our home. But I was not about to be bamboozled by the Great Orange Con Man, a man who has never cared about anyone but himself.

In the end, none of the things that should have mattered, mattered. Never mind that Hillary Clinton was the most highly qualified and prepared candidate we’ve ever seen. That she spoke of inclusiveness with her “stronger together.” That she is a brilliant, level-headed woman who has spent her life working for this country, who is well-respected globally and is known for being a unifier, for working across the aisle. She saw America as I see it: a pretty great place that we can make better still. She acknowledged that America is a place where racism is still a problem that needs to be addressed. A place where women deserve respect. Where diversity is celebrated. Where the vulnerable are helped. While I made phone calls, knocked on doors, and threw my heart into the campaign to elect her, I realize not everyone sees in her the hero I do. The decades long HRC smear campaign began when as first lady of Arkansas she had the audacity to keep her maiden name. Trump made sure to regurgitate the lies and vitriol, to continue the right-wing’s “media is biased” conspiracy crap, and while many saw through it, for too many others, she represented the status quo, the establishment. Facts didn’t matter in our post-factual era. America decided a thin-skinned, lying bully was a better choice. After all, he could shout louder.

And while I’m angry and disheartened, I also recognize that dismissing entire groups with phrases beginning with “Republicans think…” “Conservatives are…” “Christians believe…” is not only wrong, it is a divisive starting point. Not all of America is racist, or misogynistic, or angry, or hateful. Nor are all of Trump’s voters. The single-issue voters were there, too. The ones who Trump pandered to when he claimed to be anti-abortion and vowed to appoint conservative judges. There are many others who are just sick of business as usual. It’s important to remember that there is much more to all of us than who we cast our vote for. I have friends and family who are lovely people, who voted for Trump. Still, it remains that a large segment of the population was willing to accept his racism, his ignorance, his hateful rhetoric, his absolute disregard for women and all the evidence that points to him being a serial sexual assaulter, and his propensity for saying things that normally would be associated with a fascist dictator. That is really freaking horrifying.

One of the most poignant photos I saw was of an older woman, dressed as a suffragette, holding a sign that read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” The fabric of America has been ripped open to expose our ugly innards, where racism, sexism, and xenophobia are alive and well. We are a nation deeply, perhaps irreparably, divided. While I will admit that fear of what is different is a natural reaction, the path we should be on is one where we try to understand each other, learn from each other. That is not the path that half of America chose. We are facing dark times right now. I’m scared. Many of us are. I haven’t even touched on foreign policy, the environment, or the economy.

 In both Clinton and Obama’s speeches Wednesday, they urged the American people to unify and support this next president, to ensure that we preserve our sacred tradition of peaceful transitions. I get it. Trump won the contest. I accept that he is our president. That is a reality I will have to learn to live with. I’ll get to a place where I can hope for the best. But I refuse to accept that Trump’s vision of America will be what defines our future. I refuse to accept the mainstreaming of misogyny, racism, ignorance, and violence. We’ve come too far as a country, and there is too much work yet to be done. We cannot, we will not, go backwards. I’m not sure how to unify with people who spout the same hateful rhetoric that has been given the green light by Trump. Honestly, I don’t want to. That shit needs to go away.

Many of us have joked about moving to Canada following this election. My husband and I had a couple serious conversations about our future and wanting what’s best for our children. Montreal and Sydney are looking pretty good. But here’s the thing. No reckless demagogue gets to take my country away from me.

I remember traveling during the Bush administration. How in Egypt, I was confronted by angry locals decrying Bush’s policies, American imperialism and racism. How in Europe, they sometimes wanted to argue with me about my country, even hurl insults and find in me someone to blame. Dear world: please don’t hate us. Because the majority of us voted for Clinton. I’ll say it again: THE MAJORITY OF US VOTED FOR CLINTON. Millions of others voted for third party candidates, not Trump. If only 18-25 year olds had voted, Clinton would have won by a landslide: 504 of 538 electoral college votes. So if you see one of us, cut us some slack. Ask questions if you want to. But don’t assume we are a reflection of Donald Trump. Because the America I know, the America I love is so much better than that. The America I know is diverse, welcoming, inclusive. The Americans I know are a compassionate and optimistic lot. So don’t hate us all. Please. Help us to overcome this. Because we need all the help we can get. We are hurting over here.

People are holding vigils. Protesting. Resisting. Hate crimes are rising. This is going to be ugly. But here’s where my hope lies. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Perhaps being laid raw by this horrible turn of events is what we needed in order to have the strength and fire to end it. I see it now, from my white-woman-living-in-a-blue-state-bubble, I see how bad it really is. The youth of America won’t stand for this. People of color, women, the LGBTQ community, won’t stand for this. And the majority of America is with us. Resistance has always played a role in progress in this country. The loudest voices won this battle. Now it is our turn to scream.

Wednesday, I grieved. Today I go back to work. I will do my part. Clinton’s Methodist roots give us this: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” This is my rallying cry.