Friday, November 11, 2016

Midnight in America

("Flag" by Jasper Johns)

The world is bleak today. It is one thing to mourn a person, it is a different thing altogether to mourn a country. To see your own grief magnified by millions, most of whom have more to lose than you do, and most assuredly will. 

We have survived dark times before. I remember feeling something like this in 2004, when Bush was reelected. But while we knew he wasn’t a good president, and that he was sure to do worse by us in the next four years, there was still the girding stability of a semi-functional American democracy there to guide our path forward and see us through to the other side. 

Barack Obama was waiting for us there. 

It is hard not to feel like the light has gone out. It is hard not to feel that we are living in a different America now, and traveling blindly. We elected a goon on Tuesday. We elected an unqualified, hate-spewing demagogue whose sole selling-point was that he was authentically evil instead of merely moderately bad. We did this clear-eyed and soberly, ignoring the woman who was imminently more prepared, more credible, more deserving of our faith in her, because some of us felt she was too experienced, too calculating, too tainted by “scandal.” 

The media told us this. They told us so many times, it turns out a lot of people believed them.

My own parents believed it. 

My father, a lifelong conservative, hated Trump, but he hated her more. This is what he screamed at me on the Sunday before the election—his face beet-red, finger jabbed at my face—when I tried to talk him out of his vote. He believed she was more of a threat to our institutions than the orange clown who said, through all his words and actions, that he was. He voted for this charlatan. My mother did, too. I will never forget it. They can attempt to rationalize that decision to their graves. My mom reassured me that they have more life experience to make such a choice—in other words, we liberals are naive chumps to believe that people don’t leech off of government, that people aren’t inherently looking for handouts and shortcuts instead of dignity and opportunity and fairness in their lives. I am not reassured. Conservatives may have more years under their belts, but they stubbornly refuse to stretch themselves and see the people floundering on the margins of their vision. Their myopia is unrepentant, their self-delusion catastrophic. 

But by all means, let’s lower taxes for the lot of them. 

How bad is this? I would do anything in the world to have George W. Bush back in the Oval Office right now. That’s how bad. 

As for Barack Obama…I can’t. I just can’t. We failed the man. We failed him so hard, and so spectacularly, that my eyes—dry from a kind of benumbed sleeplessness—have started leaking again. We failed Michelle Obama. Their legacy won’t be erased entirely—their example will remain in our minds like a childhood we wish we could return to—but the impact of this conman’s election will be devastating to the good, hard, painstaking work they’ve put in the past eight years.

Millions will lose their health insurance because of our failure.

The Supreme Court could be lost for a generation. 

Climate change will accelerate past the tipping-point.

The privatization of Medicare and Social Security are being quietly negotiated in back rooms. Paul Ryan’s honing in on the right, Orwellian language to sell it to the American people, his bland, boyish face the perfect shape of banality and evil. 

Banks will grow too big to fail again. 

As for foreign affairs . . . I shudder to think. This man? In charge of matters of war and peace? No no no no no no no.

And then there’s the matter of our civil liberties. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Freedom from hate and bigotry. Freedom from fear. 

The silver lining in all this? People are awake. People are staggeringly, stupidly awake. The best of us, anyway.

But the darkness is here. It is swimming through our veins. We are living it now. 

I have new eyes today. They’ll need to adjust fast to their surroundings. 

I'm done with the privilege of my own illusions. I'm sick of them. 

I'm ready to see, and fight. 


Robin J. Youse said...

Really well put together thoughts and writing. I agree with you whole-heartedly. But as a person aged 65, I don't want to be lumped in with those who are narrow minded and short-sighted. And even my 89 year old mother, a Republican for many years (up to Nixon), was horrified by that nominee. It is a nightmare, equal to 9/11 and the Vietnam War and the assassinations and turmoil of the '60's. My parents were teens during WW2 and children during the Depression. This country has been through bad or worse. We even survived the Civil War. We'll get through this. And we, you and me and the like minded, are not the ones who failed. I won't take credit for that.

raine said...

Insightful thoughts, Sarah, & I must agree. Have slept little & eaten even less since the election. And I don't think it was the politics of it all. I've seen & heard all that & more, the ups and downs of it all.
I think it was the crushing of hope & illusions, that we were actually making progress toward unity & equality. It's a bitter pill to swallow to see that a man who spews hatred, divisiveness, & bigotry, the man who tried to deny Obama the right to be president, is considered preferable to a woman who may have made an error in judgment with documents but has served the public her whole life.
I'm sure I'll snap out of this funk in time. But I'm not sure I'll ever look at this country the same way again.

Sarah Hina said...

Robin, I suppose I meant "we" in the collective sense of "We the People." But you're right to challenge the broad strokes here. There are plenty of older, more conservative people who saw through him and recoiled in horror, appropriately. She still got more votes than he did. The people I canvassed with over the weekend were overwhelmingly women of Hillary's generation, employing her same steadfast, workmanlike spirit in their fight for the greater good. My heart breaks for them.

We have been through bad times, but I'm not sure we've been through worse, in this sense: we've never elected someone so thoroughly unprepared for the job, with authoritarian impulses to boot.

That's what has me worried. But I appreciate your optimism and I hope I'm wrong.

Raine, I can't even bring myself to say his name and "president" in the same sentence. That's a different kind of moral revulsion than what I felt for Bush.

You're right--we're changed now. There's no going back. I only hope we can get through this time with our basic democratic institutions more or less intact. But I'm not hopeful. Especially not with the way the press behaved during the election.

It will be up to us to hold him accountable.

the walking man said...

Sarah, Robin, raine--them that carried the several states to #45 were firmly hoodwinked. They think they will control the direction and action of government now from their movement. I doubt they realize that many will have to live with a privatized Medicare and downsized Social Security. Them I have spoken with or been yelled at by, have no clue regarding the international stage right now and for the most part were very supportive of the obstructionist congress.

Hell fire may well rain down on America, but then we are not stranger to neither hell nor fire. Look through a different set of eyes for a moment if you can and see that this may very well coalesce them who WERE marginalized to a greater more relentless action that in the future returns the nation to some sort of picture of what it was supposed to be. Though I doubt that at 62 I have the chops to see it all, I am hopeful that them who are in the streets at night organize themselves and act.

We actually have been through this before Sara and if you look you may just see the 1920's happening all over again, the isolationist planting of the government, an unregulated Stock Market, a freewheeling banking system with no central bank controls, half the population living it up like it would go on forever and the other half suffering in poverty and ruin. Then they tanked the market which pretty much wiped the slate clean.

I am too old and seen too much in my years to fear poverty or eviction from freedoms that are now taken for granted by so many. I do not fear #45 because he is a neophyte, I am more concerned over the congress and the military and how they may react to what are currently illegal orders. I am concerned with Russia and China; whether #45 will maintain our NATO commitments. He has said he would abandon them, which in essence would abandon the old Soviet countries that are relying on us to provide a bulwark against Putin's aggression.

BUT for now, at this moment in time. today 11/12/16 everything is speculation and we are still being fed by a media that has shown they are as much in the dark about the future as the rest of us. So my suggestion is simple, carry on as you were until you have reason to not. Speak out, write as much and as often as you can and disseminate that writing as far and wide as you know how. You will never convince them that gave #45 the nod they were in a fog. #45 and the congress it would seem are about to accomplish that. I suggest you aid the Millennials as much as you can to understand they have a place, their education is not worthless and even though they are not working at what they want that work only provides the means for living, the real labor is providing a future for themselves and their children.

Charles Gramlich said...

I did not like Hillary Clinton either. I was strongly pro-Bernie Sanders. But when this vote came there was only one choice. Clinton. I can't see any logic behind folks choosing Trump. Of course, there was no logic. It was all emotional, and I wish his supporters would at least admit that. I'm probably younger than your parents but certainly not a 'young liberal.' What I find incredibly naive is the continued belief by many that a "strong man" will solve all their problems, or that all we have to do is elect the right person and we'll return to "greatness." This is, of course, utter obvious nonsense to anyone who isn't naive.

That being said, the president is just not as powerful as some belief. There will be plenty of political fights before Trump instigates his plans. And, frankly, I'm not sure he will even try to do much of the stuff he said. He is unpredictable. It's scary certainly.

Unfortunately, fighting for fairness and liberty is a task akin to washing clothes. You can make progress toward getting them all clean and folded, but even while you are doing so, others are getting dirty and the task is never really "done." I stress to my students that any fight for civil liberties is never "won," at least not permanently.

Sarah Hina said...

Mark, very wise words. I appreciate your perspective. I share all your concerns. I do think foreign affairs concern me most, simply because they're complex and dynamic, and he's shown no ability to not react to things in the moment, and in the simplest, most inhumane manner possible. He's a dominator, not a conciliator. That scares me to no end. It must scare the world, too.

I do believe this has been such a shock to so many that it will jolt us into a new era of activism and protest and citizen journalism. It is a slim thing to hang your hope on, but nonetheless, I'm there.

Charles, good points, all. I'm not sure Trump will try what he promised, either. Certainly, his transition team appointments seem to indicate anything other than "draining the swamp." There was never a sense that the man had any convictions at all--everything was merely a slogan or selling point. But there are true believers in his circle. So we'll just have to wait and see, as uncomfortable as that is.

I don't think too many people thought progress was "done." But instead of two steps forward, one step back, we seem to have fallen off a cliff, as it were.

It's the most alarming time I've ever known. I genuinely feel unmoored from reality. Which is another way of saying--I've been very lucky all my life.

Thanks for visiting, everyone.

strugglingwriter said...

Oh Sarah. I feel much of your despair too. I'm quite lucky that both my parents are liberal-ish, or at least left leaning.

All we can do is fight even harder than before for progress. And maybe a true left will emerge from what is left.

Sarah Hina said...

I hope so.

I keep going back and forth between fear and despondency. Not coping very well at all.

Thanks for stopping by, Paul.

Aniket Thakkar said...

It was close to noon in this part of the country when the results came in.
I was at work and there were many around me who just laughed at what they were seeing - Trump giving the victory speech.

The common reaction was - 'May be our country is not as fucked as people say it is. At least, we didn't elect Rahul Gandhi.'

I don't know how this happened. I don't.

Like Charles, I too believe that government won't let him do the crazy things he said he'll do. But that's little solace.

My thoughts are with you. My hope is with your children.

Sarah Hina said...

Unfortunately, he's already doing crazy, unprecedented things and he's not even in office yet. The Republican party is so morally bankrupt at this point that it'll be hard to count on them to intervene.

But--I'll hope. What other choice is there?

Thanks, you.