I’m trying, EZ. I’m trying. But I actually haven’t knit a stitch since Wednesday morning.
Though this is ostensibly a knitting blog, I’m going to write about politics. I’ve never actually understood the impulse to keep politics under wraps, to behave as though discussing politics is “impolite”, to try to treat it as though it is somehow secondary to “real life”. It IS life. And I’ve always felt that treating politics in this way, as a topic not fit for polite conversation, is part of what allows for it to be treated as a mere abstraction. Of course it can only be treated as a mere abstraction, a game, when none of the policies being proposed, the decisions being made, when none of that actually impinges upon you as a person. But for so many people, that has never been true – politics has never been an abstraction, never been just a game. It can’t be, when you actually have skin in the game. And I was raised to treat everyone’s livelihood and wellbeing as bound up with my own, so to me it does not matter if I personally benefit if that requires others to be held down or left behind.
So I think you can guess where I stand on what happened a week ago in my country. This is a nightmare made real.
I come from a family of progressives; my dad’s parents have been activists for civil rights, social justice, and the environment their entire lives, and my family has always been deeply involved as well. Growing up, my family’s tradition was to wear black after an election loss. Because losses mean grieving. And as liberals in 1980s/early 90’s North Carolina, losses were plenty. The first one I remember deeply was Harvey Gantt, who lost to Jesse Helms in 1990, when I was 7. We’d volunteered with Gantt’s campaign, and my 7 year old social justice warrior self was so horrified by the racism of the Helms campaign. I thought that surely people would vote against that. They didn’t.
I didn’t sleep Tuesday night. I was too nervous to sleep, when I saw where things were heading, and once I knew where they’d gone, there was no sleeping, just crying and shaking, filled with dread, about the future of our country but more immediately, about having to break my daughter’s heart in the morning. She had proudly voted with me that evening, and I even let her fill in the circle for the woman we thought would be our president.
She had gone to bed with confidence that Hillary would be our next president. Ever since watching parts of the DNC convention with us, she’d been very much “with her.” She asked me Wednesday morning how Donald Trump could have won. “He’s a bully who doesn’t love everyone – shouldn’t everyone have voted against him?” Oh, sweetie, you aren’t wrong…but they didn’t. Oh, honey, sometimes the good person loses. But that doesn’t stop us being good, working for good, doing good. We’ve just gotta love that much harder to beat the hate.
But I am grieving. I’m grieving the loss of the future I imagined for Madrigal, now made precarious by a thin-skinned narcissistic bully who will be Commander in Chief, by a president and congress that will not take seriously the threat of climate change during this critical juncture, and which will seek to dismantle our social safety nets, by the racism and misogyny that has been normalized, and by a Supreme Court which may well work to strip our children of rights rather than expand them. I’m grieving the fact that instead of shattering the glass ceiling, we’ve shattered our loving, caring, compassionate hearts. I’m grieving for all of the little girls who had that future robbed from them, and for all the little boys (and their parents) who are now growing up in a world where toxic masculinity is coming straight from the White House; our work teaching consent and respect in relationships is now even more urgent. I’m grieving for the soul of my country, which was even more rotten than I’d imagined…and I’d imagined it to be quite rotten. I never doubted that it was possible for Trump to win the presidency, and was frustrated by how easily nearly every one I knew dismissed this possibility. I believed with all my heart that Hillary would win, but knew it was possible that she wouldn’t. But knowing it was possible, and knowing it is reality, those are two very different things.
If this were another Republican, a competent one (I’m actually struggling a bit here to come up with a name beyond “Mitt Romney”), I would likely have the very same fears about what’s likely to be dismantled under single-party rule, with Paul Ryan at the helm. I would almost certainly be just as fearful about my daughter’s future, about inaction (or negative action) on climate change, about the elimination or privatization of the social safety net.
The difference is that the notion of Donald Trump as the President of my country offends me deeply. Embarrasses me – hearing “President-elect Trump” and knowing that he will be taking on the position that Obama has held, imperfectly but with such humanity, grace, and dignity, brings me to tears every time. How embarrassing and shameful for us as a country. Shakes me to my core. And what frightens me is that we’ve now decided, as a country, that there is nothing that can disqualify you from the presidency. We have said that we do not care about experience, intelligence, or any sort of qualification. We have normalized a horrifying level of crassness, and the active celebration of the worst aspects of humanity, and I think that spells doom for us. We have said that you can have absolutely no experience with government, and surround yourself with those loyalists who likewise have no experience with government (and who are actively stoking hate the way that Steve Bannon does), you can be completely uninterested in learning and listening, and you can be racist and misogynist and xenophobic and have the explicit support of hate groups like the KKK…you can be all of those things and still be granted all of the immense power of the presidency. Decency is not a check on anything anymore. And I think without decency and respect for traditions as a check on behavior, there are no limits (honestly, these seem like conservative values and ideas to me – so why aren’t conservatives making this argument? Why did they not stop Trump? Why are they not standing up to him now? I know the answer, but it is a shameful one, that puts power and party above the good of the country.)
This frightens me deeply, and I do not know how we ever get our decency back. Once you have installed Donald Trump, whose list of “should’ve been disqualifying” statements and actions is so long as to be practically infinite, how can you ever prevent a terrible, dangerous candidate from being elected again? What on earth could disqualify them? We’ve demonstrated how fragile our institutions and traditions are, that they can succumb to an inexperienced, intellectually incurious demagogue like Trump. I suppose we can be grateful that Trump seems to be a rather incompetent demagogue, because as bad as things are likely to get (and I think they are likely to get quite bad), a more adept demagogue could do so, so much more damage. And how would we stop one from arising, if nothing is disqualifying now? (Except, apparently, not handling your email perfectly? Or is it just, “being a woman”?)
I don’t know what to do right now, but I am resolute in declaring that this is NOT normal, and I refuse to allow it to become my normal. I will resist, and hold on to my values, and live them in the world (like the UU that I am). I remain committed to truth, to openness, to inclusion, to compassion, to respect, to generosity, to kindness, to love. I will insist that we not try to comfort ourselves by saying “it’ll all be ok, there are checks and balances” when as a country, we’ve basically voted to eliminate all checks and balances, both those built into our systems of government and those baked into our sense of common decency. I will be comforted by those who acknowledge with me that it is NOT going to be “ok”, and help me plan how to fight to make it the least bad that we possibly can, to protect the most people from harm. Or, to use Hillary Clinton’s words, to do all the good we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways we can, as long as ever we can. Fighting for what’s right is worth it, it is always worth it.
Madrigal, I am so sorry. I am so sorry for what this country has done to your future. I am going to work so hard to try to contain the damage, to hold on to hope that we can build a better future.