I still feel like I’ve been thrust into a nightmare from which I cannot awaken, a nightmare in which a familiar landscape is suddenly changed, people you thought you knew are transformed into aliens, fundamentals you believed in with all your heart are being trampled, and what you know very well to be false is embraced as true. The list of alarming developments even in the past few days is long, but none of this should come as a surprise. Looking back I think one of the most disillusioning aspects of all of this is that throughout the whole campaign Trump was so clearly the grotesque self-parody that he is, but his appallingly evident lack of character, decency, and experience was completely irrelevant to those who voted for him. They gave him a pass on everything.
As, really, did many in the press and media, who thoroughly enjoyed the ratings he drew, held him and HRC to such different standards, and treated absolutely repulsive deeds and statements as if they were merely different points of view and worthy of equal time. We live in an age in which facts and truth don’t seem to matter, because real stories are indistinguishable from lies and propaganda, and Trump understood the way it worked. He was able to attract attention, tap into emotion, resentment, and some visceral but ill defined let’s blow it all up desire for change, and ride into power fueled by anger and illusion.
I want to be optimistic and constructive, but my own rage and frustration boil over sometimes, and there are waves of shock and revulsion. I’ve expended a great deal of time signing petitions, writing letters, reading and worrying myself sick about the direction our country is heading. Finally I am beginning to see something that my husband and others I trust have been saying all along: this is a long game, requiring patience, attention, stamina. Efforts to prevent him from taking office are futile manifestations of denial. He has “settled” the Trump University case with a relatively cheap $25 million buy-off (but oh, Hillary Clinton and her private email server, the horror) and despite the fact that he lost the popular majority and has huge financial improprieties and conflicts as he enters office, let’s face it, the Electoral College voters are not going to flip or abstain, as several petitions have requested. What we can and must do is keep his tenure short, limit the harm and contain the damage, somehow learn from this nightmare and be better henceforth.
Seneca, philosopher of Ancient Rome, wrote: “No man was ever wise by chance.” We must actively pursue wisdom and learn all we can from what has just transpired and from history before it. There’s a lot to read. One article that appeared in the Times the other day had good advice based on Italy’s experience with Berlusconi. It’s called “The Right Way to Resist Trump” by Luigi Zingales, a respected economist at the University of Chicago. Zingales urges us not to focus on personality. “An opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste,” he writes. “It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.”
We need to focus on actual policy and action as it begins to materialize. To quote Seneca again: “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” And the truth is, we do not yet know where this ship is headed and what we will need to do to correct its course. Obviously we must resist fundamental wrongs, stall and sabotage when needed, and protect those most vulnerable among us, but if something is proposed that has merit, maybe cooperative effort can occur. Reflexively protesting everything isn’t helpful.
I also heard a recent interview with an historian named Thomas Ricks, in which he pointed out that every political action has a political reaction. I think we can anticipate a huge reaction from this difficult-to-digest political takeover, a pendulum swing that yields sweeping change, and that’s not necessarily bad. Things were apparently more dysfunctional than we thought. This is not the end of the story.
So I’m trying to calm down and be smart. Someone sent me a pertinent quote via Twitter by Dave Pell, Internet guru, savvy essayist, and creator of a newsletter called NextDraft: “He’s offensive. We’re offended. Let’s move on to what matters. Winning the next election.” He also warns that every day we play a short game is a winning day for Trump.
Maybe, but these are such general statements, and I don’t always know what they mean. What will these long-game strategies look like? And even while looking ahead strategically it is essential that we remain vigilant in the present. Some people are more immediately threatened but nobody is safe if a demagogue goes unchecked. Erosion of hard-won rights and civil liberties, undoing of progress made to protect the environment, dismantling of a health care act upon which millions depend, many troubling conflicts of interest that will affect international relations…there is so much at risk.
I do see the sense of not wasting our energy, losing focus, or inadvertently feeding the monster by reacting blindly and fortifying the resolve of Trump supporters who mistakenly believe they are part of a righteous populist movement to better their lives and restore “greatness” to our nation. But what is our agenda? How do we reorganize and move forward? We have now seen indisputable evidence that our political party system is in need of radical overhaul, but what is the model? Business as usual? I don’t think so. We seem to have misunderstood the electorate and underestimated constituent complexities even within our own party. Certainly the Democratic party needs some new leadership. (Isn’t it time for Nancy Pelosi to step aside?) Also, I hope we’ve learned that the view of elections as race horse entertainment benefits only the media outlets who profit from ratings. Despite all of our social media and the constant barrage of “news”–and maybe because of it–we have not been listening, hearing, understanding or communicating effectively.
In pursuing the wisdom and information, I’ve found I have to curate my material a little better, learn what sources I can trust, avoid Facebook, don’t obsessively read everything or listen compulsively to the news. Some articles make me cry. Others make me feel angry and riled up, but uselessly. One voice that alarms me, but which I feel should be heard, is that of Sarah Kendzior. She advocates a more immediate and proactive resistance, and although I am hoping we can create and implement effective long-term strategies, I think it’s important that we do not lose sight of the severity of the danger and the reasons for her perspective. She is an expert on the rise of authoritarian states, and even before the election, she was warning of the threat of the white supremacist movement, the insidious ways that fascism takes hold, and the very real dangers of a Trump Presidency. One of her most widely circulated articles is this one, about how to be your own light in the dark time of Trump.
I asked a friend who is knowledgable about Russia and eastern Europe for his thoughts about Kendzior’s dire warnings, and he in turn sent me this perspective from another source: “If Trump swerves that way he will be stopped by his own party as well as the courts.” He pointed out that there are great risks for those in power if they overplay their hand. So again, the counsel is wait and see. We shouldn’t panic or over-react. He added, however, that he was going to make a large contribution to the ACLU because that organization is going to be more relevant than ever.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to stay steady and quell the nausea and dismay. Maybe we should pool our promises and ideas for getting through, and we can all draw upon these and encourage each other. As for me, I was a teacher for many years and I will strive to live in that spirit. I am a writer too, and I will write and encourage writing, because writing helps us to heal, and to make sense of the world, and to speak to others even across time. Let us document these events as we work to shape them. I will continue to engage in real conversations with others who are living through this time and searching for the learning. I will find ways to be of service. I will make calls and write letters, exercise our right of free speech, and hold our representatives accountable. I will step up in defense of those vulnerable to threats of deportation and openly condoned bigotry.
I will remember that many millions of us, in fact the majority, voted against Trump, and we are still here. I will avert my gaze as Trump’s vulgarity permeates the White House, and I will boycott any publications that start talking about Melania’s fashion choices or other nonsense geared to distract, glamorize, or normalize this horror show. I will look at President Obama’s breathtaking dignity and grace as he honors the principle of peaceful transition under the most painful and bizarre of circumstances. (For a better sense of the President’s extraordinary spirit, insights, and strength of character, please read David Remnick’s piece here “Obama Reckons With A Trump Presidency” or in the November 28 edition of The New Yorker. Obama is not going away either; I think…and hope…he will have an important role in what comes next.) And I am certain that there are many others who will model bravery, resolve, reason, and diligence as we go forward. I will recognize the heroes in everyday life as well and try to be kinder and more compassionate than ever.
It’s not the apocalypse. But we are going to be living with a new kind of discomfort, a strange dissonance and anxiety. I’ve always been neurotic, so I suppose I have an advantage here. I never take anything for granted, and even in the happy times I’m simultaneously aware of the trouble to come. So I’m used to being uneasy, not sleeping well, forcing myself to go through the motions whether I feel like it or not, hoping the spirit kicks in. We’ll need a lot of that “put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” stuff. More zen-like friends tell me to just live my truth, bake bread, plant seeds, walk in the hills, be the light. Some of them send me poems. I’m always grateful for poems.
I never thought I’d say this at sixty-five years of age, but I am also going to march in D.C. the day after the inauguration. It’s crazy and impractical, not to mention that I hate crowds and cold weather…but a friend invited me to join her, and we have a plan, and there’s almost an historic inevitability about it. I am viewing it not so much as a protest but as a show of solidarity, commitment, and strength. I remember how D.C. was filled with people celebrating when President Obama took office. I would love to see the streets fill up like that, but everyone will know it’s not a celebration, but a declaration that one election will not undo all the good that has been done and all that we aspire to for generations to come. Let it be known to the world–and that megalomaniac himself, the very day after his inauguration–that he does not represent or define us.
Despair beckons, but we will not succumb to it. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As is hope.