I have had dark moments in my life - moments of true impotence, moments when I realized the future was beyond my control.
The day Nixon resigned, I was at a Catskills resort straight out of Dirty Dancing. They wheeled in a TV to a sea of left-wing New Yorkers who cheered with glee while I stood in the back of the room silently weeping, because I just couldn’t believe that a President of the United States of America would have to resign for being so… well, commonly pathetic. (Let alone the fact that I had worked to get him elected, being the dutiful daughter of two Midwest Republicans.)
The day I saw the movie Philadelphia, I realized that AIDS was going to kill so many, and it would be a slow, agonizing, lonely death.
The day I realized Cheney was a felon, and we were becoming a country that muscled our way to prosperity for just a few (including his Halliburton friends). And that his sidekick Rumsfeld was willing to out an agent and endanger lives to rewrite history in his favor.
And now there’s today.
But here’s the difference.
It’s no longer one thing, nor one person who threatens what I hold dear. 45 himself is not really the issue. He’s the result of the issue. We’re the issue. And here’s what I mean.
It’s the fact that so many of us had no idea how disenfranchised so many have felt for so long. How so many have felt their quality of life has been so eroded. (And we’re not talking about a life of true abundance, but rather, a simple, good life - where healthcare and retirement funds are part of everyday work benefits.) And we didn’t realize the progress we thought we had made in the sixties (we did make progress, didn’t we?) was so vulnerable to centuries-old habits of learning to hate others different than ourselves.
Before the election, I was at a diner in Georgia talking to a waitress named Sue. I was asking about her support of the now-45 - not trying to change her mind, but desperately trying to understand. She had two children whom she was raising herself, three jobs paying around $7/hour, and was a firm supporter of the man I loathe. (I know that loathe is a strong word, but I sat next to him at a dinner in the eighties, and it was loathe-at-first-sight.)
Sue said to me, “You think I’m stupid, right?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid at all. I think you’re uninformed and making a judgment without a single fact to support it.”
She looked across the table at me and said, “I have three jobs and two kids. No cable TV. Just how and when would you like me to become informed?”
She wasn’t asking in anger or sarcasm, which, frankly, I deserved. She was really asking. She then went on to tell me she had voted for Obama and that didn’t help her one bit. While she had healthcare, she was having trouble paying for it. She was having trouble paying for anything. She had voted for Bush and that didn’t help. She said voting for 45 was an attempt to vote for someone outside the system she had trusted for decades.
I apologized, went to my car, and wept. In that moment I knew he could, and maybe even should, win. My elitism that assumed everyone wasted as much time as myself reading that which really only reconfirms my own point of view was ridiculous. I was the one who was uninformed.
Now here we are. Fractured in a way that doesn’t feel repairable. A sea of white men over fifty cheering the new American Health Care Act, which contains an amendment allowing states to opt out of protections for pre-existing conditions. (And historically, some insurance companies have considered rape and domestic abuse pre-existing conditions.) No matter what our legislators tell us, we all know that insurance companies always find a workaround. Such as making premiums for those with pre-existing conditions so onerous, no one can afford it. Which, let’s be real here, is the same as turning them away. And, why did these men do this? Because the insurance companies pay to ensure they hold their seat just a little bit longer. Shame on them. Shame on me and you for allowing it to go on this long, where like the environment, it might be too late to step in and change it.
Speaking of the environment, let me go to a conversation with a close friend who is way smarter than me. Way smarter. She voted for Trump (but no one would ever suspect she did). I pointed out to her that the EPA, which is charged with protecting that which she cares about so deeply, is going by the wayside.
“Is that such a loss?” she said. “Look at the mess the environment is in under their watch.”
She has a point.
I was on a ferry from Long Island to New London last week and shared a booth with a man who also voted for Trump. He and I will be friends, I think.
“Do you think he’s doing what he said he would do?”
“I think he’s trying.”
“Really, what has he tried to do…?”
The conversation went on as we went over what he’s actually done, which is the antithesis of what he said he would do.
He looked at me, smiled and said, “I know deep down I was had. I know it was a mistake, but I’m just not ready to say it out loud yet.”
We talked, really talked, for the next hour about where we go from here. If we’d been on the QE2, and had five days running of conversation, the outcome would have been the same: neither of us was sure. But we both hope for a light at the end of this tunnel.
So part of me fears my country will go the way of all empires: the Roman, the Mayan, and the British. Mistakes add up when unchecked, and we have been sound asleep. And yet, at heart I remain the member of a hopeful nation. Net-net: I’m not ready to throw in the towel, but it’s sitting ready on the rack.
I do think we have to start with the media, which is truly broken, and our own sense of inquisitiveness and action. Let’s start with where we click: when we click on our news, let’s not lead with rage; let’s aim to learn something real.
I hereby pledge to become more conscientious in my clicking. In this newest dark moment of my life, that’s the best I can do.