An Open Reply to A Disillusioned Friend

Your email would have depressed me terribly had I not already been terribly depressed. I do agree with most of what you’ve said. I still wake up in the night with a sense of disbelief and heartache about what is happening to our country. After two hundred and forty years of this great, hopeful experiment in democracy, flawed and scarred though it may be, it is horrific to think that what might finally take it all down is an ignorant and bizarre conman, a cabal of unscrupulous crooks and right-wing fanatics, and the power of technology to distort and manipulate in unprecedented ways.

It’s a nightmare wherever we turn, from the deliberate disdain for knowledge and expertise, to the dismantling of institutions established for the common good, to the attempt to tear down even what fledgling steps were in place to help heal our beleaguered planet for future generations. There is something almost nihilistic about it. I see shameless, unmitigated greed, enabled by a rigged system, and among the populace, widespread ignorance and a displaced sense of anger and victimhood that has been deliberately incited and encouraged.

I never even knew how much I loved my country and how many things I took for granted. So perhaps in that sense, I too was part of the problem. I never realized to what extent I lived in a “bubble” of relatively enlightened people…folks who teach kids and hold passports, who ride bikes and read books, who care about the environment and education, and who understand that one fundamental role of community and governance is to help others along who may have been less fortunate.

And I guess I understood only in theory how much active involvement and attention a viable democracy demands of us; it doesn’t just trundle along of its own volition. I suppose I also underestimated the degree of hatred and resentment and alienation others felt, and couldn’t fathom that to many of those others, blowing the whole thing up…some kind of giant, scorched earth fuck-you…was the most appealing action. Nor did I really ponder the fact that we were not at all insulated from corrupt and evil oligarchs abroad, and how that too could hit us.

Anyway, I’ve had plenty of days since November when I feel immobilized by despair, just as you are feeling now. To be honest, I have a few such days every week; I’m only hoping today won’t be one of them. I go into a downward spiral at such times, and everything feels hopeless, and I don’t even want to think about it.

But then I consider the younger people who will inherit this mess, and I look out the window where in this very moment a hummingbird is darting about the honeysuckle, and there are oak trees in the canyon like gentle grandfathers, and the beautiful, life-filled sea beyond, all of it struggling to be and continue. That’s when I know I’m gonna get up and keep fighting.

Of course the problem is knowing what “keep fighting” means. It’s easy to feel helpless. What impact can we possibly have? Monte keeps telling me it’s a long game. We can’t burn out this fast. It takes patience and stamina, he says. He’s good at patience and stamina. And he understands politics.

Sometimes I get frustrated even with the folks on “our side”…the ongoing bickering, the wishful whining about Bernie, silly stuff. That’s when Monte tells me, “Don’t feed into cynicism!” I’m trying not to. We make do with the allies we have; our shared concerns far outweigh our differences. And we’re learning. I’m grateful for all who are committed and active and are earnestly trying with varied skills and styles to change things for the better instead of giving up.

We in California happen to have good Senators, and in my particular district, an excellent Congressman, although his seat is threatened….so I’m not making daily calls to their offices about the Republican’s so-called health care bill, for example, since I know we are on the same team. But I make donations, write letters, and participate in a local group to do outreach and voter registration, support our local representative, and to strategize and spread information and remember that we’re in this thing together. I’ve also signed up with organizations like Swing Left to flip seats in 2018.

Maybe some of what we do is just therapy or symbolism. At times it does feel futile. On the other hand, if we need to dig a tunnel to get out from underground and all we have is a teaspoon, we’re gonna keep on digging with that teaspoon, little by little, at least until we find a more effective way. It’s better than rolling over…right?

Like you, I was disappointed by the outcome of the Georgia District 6 vote this week. It would have been a nice morale-boost to win even just one of the special elections as we lead up to 2018.  But upon closer analysis, it should fuel even greater determination, because the numbers suggest that things are changing. Although this long-held Republican district should have been an easy win for the GOP, the results were incredibly close.

It’s a great wake-up call too, a reminder that politics is ultimately local. If we’re going to influence elections in other parts of the country and try to get a majority back, we need to better understand the regional contexts. Things we might find appalling (such as Georgia victor Karen Handel’s statement that she would support outlawing adoption by gay couples, or Montana’s Gianforte assaulting a reporter ) were obviously quite palatable to many voters in those places. The frameworks are fundamentally disparate, and, to state what is now very obvious, other people are not just us with different zip codes.

Willie Brown put it this way in an article in the San Francsico Chronicle about what the Democrats need to learn: “Ossoff’s profile and image didn’t help. Democrats need a “blue dog” moderate, or better yet Marine war hero, if they’re going to have a chance in a historically Republican district like the one where Ossoff was running. Preferably one who wears a baseball cap and overalls.”

And we can get behind candidates who are relatable to voters in their districts, maybe not quite what we would envision for ourselves, but still an improvement.  There are lot of “flippable” seats coming up for vote in 2018.

Believe me. I get it, and I’m with you. I am heartbroken about what is happening to our country. It is unprecedented and dire and demands of us a kind of ingenuity and resilience and spirit that we may not even possess yet. But we can’t let them win. We won’t. It can’t end this way!

And look: some things ARE working. The courts have blocked unjust and ugly orders. The press is refusing to be silenced. The people are standing up in protest. There is a noisy minority opposition in Congress, and they have been able to stall a lot of attempted actions. State and local governments are defying presidential proclamations. Investigations of Russian involvement, and of trump’s corruption and conflicts of interest are ongoing. And even if the GOP Senate’s cruel health care debacle passes, it will just be a matter of time until it is a noose around their necks. Patience.

Maybe I’m just in denial. Maybe I will just decide to run away or hide, to live out my own brief life span and try to keep myself and immediate others safe. I’m not quite there yet.

Thanks for the catharsis and therapy platform.

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