This week, something happened that I never thought I would see in my lifetime — how I hoped to write that about Hillary Clinton, but here we are: Donald J. Trump has won the presidency of the United States.
Our country has always been imperfect, but we have been helped along and held together by (what I thought was) the weight of a shared common decency. To me, this means: you respect everyone. You do not mock disabled persons. You do not lump together whole groups of people as rapists and criminals. You do not judge people by their religion. You do not grab women's bodies against their wills. And it was my hope that that sense of common decency acted as a geologic force, a pressure molding us into something better. That by acting so it was becoming so.
And right next to common decency lived the ideal of openness — the idea that people of good will could come here from anywhere, be accepted, make a life. We live in a country that has a giant statue in our biggest city that reads:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!Lines written by a woman — Emma Lazarus — in 1883.
Has this been perfect? Hell, no. It's been a constant fight. And a complicated fight, with compromised heroes and conflicted causes. Just one example of many: Susan B. Anthony fought to give white women the vote, but would not support voting rights for black Americans. Progress has never been clean and perfect. Sometimes we've stood to the side and let terrible things happen. Sometimes we walk over each other trying to help. And there has always been a pressure at the center of that commitment to openness: how can democracy hold something that might destroy it?
The test has come.
In the swirl of analysis and data points and post-mortems, something needs to be said, and said very clearly: if you voted for Trump, whatever the reason, you voted against everything that makes America great. You prioritized something — your job, the economy, fear, frustration – over fundamental human decency. You hurt people with your vote.
This doesn't make you a bad person, but it does make you wrong. And you made a terrible mistake.
I grew up in a small town in Ohio that had many good people, and a lot (not all) of those good people were racist, homophobic, sexist, insular and bigoted. They loved their children, helped neighbors shovel driveways, raised money at bake sales, volunteered at churches and homeless shelters. Thinking of it, I am reminded of a line in Mansfield Park: "Their vanity was in such good order that they seemed to be quite free of it." And because the prejudices of my hometown were in such good order, it was easy for everyone to pretend they didn't have any — oh, he didn't mean that. I was just joking. Don't take everything so seriously. The refrains of my teenage years.
I was wrong, too — I thought when I found a larger world for myself, that was proof that small-minded bigotry was dying out. I thought the moral arc had bent far enough that we never had to fear tyranny. I made a terrible mistake. I have been complacent, and I have not worked hard enough to help.
That changes now. We have to take President Elect Trump at his word (see Masha Gessen's "Autocracy: Rules for Survival" — "Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.")
As Evan Osnos has reported in The New Yorker:
Campaigns offer a surprisingly accurate preview of Presidencies. In 1984, the political scientist Michael Krukones tabulated the campaign pledges of all the Presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Jimmy Carter and found that they achieved seventy-three per cent of what they promised. Most recently, PolitiFact, a nonpartisan fact-checking site, has assessed more than five hundred promises made by Barack Obama during his campaigns and found that, to the irritation of his opponents, he has accomplished at least a compromised version of seventy per cent of them.President Elect Trump is already making catastrophic decisions. Accomplishing even a tiny percentage of what he promised during his campaign would be a horror.
So what to do? I am beginning the practice of action. I will be in Washington D.C. January 21 to march. I'm adding my legislators' phone numbers to my speed dial, because calling is more effective than tweeting, but I am going to keep tweeting, too. I'm looking up the dates for my local council meetings. I'm re-reading everything Reading My Tealeaves has to say on living a more eco-friendly life, because the threats to our planet just got catastrophically more dire. I'm wearing a safety pin (an imperfect gesture, but if it gives comfort to anyone who sees it, I think it is worth it). I'm calling my friends and checking in. I'm rethinking where I spend my money. I'm memorizing clear, compelling talking points, supported by nonpartisan facts. I am reading what I can to try and learn. I will be empathetic and kind, but I am not going to compromise on what is right. And I will not be silent.
None of this is perfect, but it is a start. And I will learn as I go – how to organize, how to advocate, how to become a better ally, how to speak and write as clearly and powerfully as possible to fight this awfulness that has been unleashed by our electorate.
And because this blog, esoteric and intermittent as it may be, has its own small community, I will invest time here, too. This is a safe place; I know I've drawn so much strength and friendship from visitors and readers over the years. I hope, in the dark days ahead, I can give a little strength and light back.
The quote in this post from Ursula Le Guin — "It's funny how you can live on several planes, isn't it?" That is the new normal. We need to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, bake cakes and look at the moon, all while remaining outraged, active and committed.
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.