5 Tips and a Cactus Plant

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Capital Gazette journalists Rob Hiaason, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith.

The headlines this past week have been devastating. For myself, not since the night of the election have I literally felt so physically nauseated all the time as I have this past week.

*The U.S. government offering a trade to immigrant mothers seeking asylum from terror: you can have your kids back if you will immediately self deport
*Three major disastrous decisions by the Supreme Court, on abortion rights, on Trump’s Muslim ban, and on organized labor, followed by
*The announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement, then revelations that his son when at Deutsche Bank worked closely with Trump
*The perhaps less noticed but even more harrowing headlines that tropical forests suffered near record tree losses last year and Antarctica is melting at a much faster pace then predicted
*Topped off by the murder of five journalists at Maryland’s Capital Gazette by an angry white man with a gun and a history of violent threats, stalking, and sexual harassment.

We are critically ill. We are literally sickened by this enveloping toxicity. So I’m not going to be Chatty Cathy doll trying to cheer you up. I’m not going to add to the lies around us by saying I’m sure we’ll get through this, or that it isn’t as bad as it seems. I’m not sure, and it is as bad as it seems—possibly worse.

We can’t believe this is really happening. That’s part of the problem. Progressives, well . . . progress. We fight for something and when we think that’s won, we consider it a done deal and move on. Not so with our adversaries. They spend all their energy in staying at the same place however old a place that is and however much the world has changed around it and them. So we’ve always taken it for granted that time was on our side, which it is, and which is why the species has made any progress at all. Except that with Antarctica melting and the trees dying, time is no longer on anybody’s side.

Oh, we can believe the massacre of journalists, alright. Given the proliferation of guns in our society, plus a man occupying our White House who calls a free press the greatest enemy of the people, and given the statistics that some form of violence against women is almost invariably a red flag in the background of men who kill, I suppose it’s not surprising. But did you know that the Gazette is one of the two oldest newspapers in this country? It covered the Declaration of Independence—but on its second page, because local news as usual took precedent on its front page. Today, when we mourn the shrinking of local news coverage, we also literally must mourn the death of five reporters for simply doing their job.

The other headlines? Stunned disbelief. Because most of what’s happening is so illogical that the brain brakes and screeches as it goes into a skid of noncomprehension.

The sheer imbalance of the Court’s decision on abortion, for example: that licensed clinics providing the procedure must post signs informing applicants of such alternatives as pregnancy services and adoption–but even unlicensed pseudo-clinics that advertise misleadingly as crisis-counseling services yet offer false medical information and pressure applicants not to have abortions, they do not have to post signs about the alternative availability of safe medical procedures elsewhere.

Or, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her ringing, historic dissent, the pretense that the Court apologizes for the World War II Korimatsu decision that placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps, while at the same time the Court decides that intent no longer matters in the law, so all of Trump’s proudly anti-Muslim statements can be ignored regarding his Muslim travel ban.

Or the gutting of union rights after already-decided, long-established precedent—doubly dangerous because, as Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, ”The majority subverts all known principles of stare decisis.” Which means that all previous Supreme Court decisions from Brown v. Board of Education (and earlier) through Roe v. Wade (and later) no longer need be respected as settled law. Roe is squarely in the crosshairs: 84 restrictions have already been enacted by various states since Trump took office.

We were counting on the courts—and in fact the courts have been coming through, upholding law and principles established by the Framers of the Constitution. Now we know that what we dreaded when cases reach the top was not excessive. For that matter, Trump has been stacking the lower courts with young right-wing judges who have been approved for life terms by the Senate in a swift, assembly-line fashion.

So what do we do. What do we do?

I can only offer you five tips about what I’ve decided to do, in the hope that this might be useful, adaptable by you for your style and circumstances.

1. It’s OK to despair. Face into the reality, no sugar coating. It’s OK to cry, and vomit, even turn off the news for a day. It’s OK that your hair’s on fire. Worry about your own humanity if it’s not. If any of the Framers were alive today, they might well despair. Remember that Ben Franklin said “We have given you a republic, if you can keep it.” They regarded this new nation—more, the idea of this new nation—as a grand experiment, and right now we’re having an extremely bad period in the laboratory.

2. It’s OK to be bitter. I’m still angry that Obama didn’t appoint Merrick Garland as an interim appointment when he could have. I’m still furious at people who didn’t vote in 2016. I’m still livid at people who didn’t vote for Hillary because they didn’t like her voice, or why did she stay with him, or she wasn’t warm and cuddly enough or she was too much of a harpy or a feminist or not enough of a feminist or any other moronic reason. I still have fits of rage about the purists: the Ralph Nader voters who insisted there was really no difference between Bush and Gore, and their later incarnations, the Bernie Bros and the Jill Stein voters who insisted Trump and Hillary were just the same. For decades, I have begged such people, please just think about how the court choices alone show you the difference. But they were so interested in their own purity—some still are—they refuse to see it. Well, glance at the justices appointed by Bush who would have otherwise been appointments under a President Gore: Chief Justice John Roberts (2005), and Justice Samuel Alito (2006). And of course we now have Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, instead of whomever a President Hillary Clinton would have nominated. Not to speak of whoever is coming.

3. It’s OK to blame yourself. Did you do everything you possibly could have done to avert this moment? Send money? Volunteer time? Join a campaign? March and march and march again? Did you do more than argue with relatives and feel superior, or unfriend people on Facebook? Did you do enough? Of course you didn’t. I didn’t, nobody has, not Obama, not Hillary, nobody. So go ahead and blame yourself. Then take a deep breath, look around you, and rejoice. Because the Sombrero Galaxy doesn’t give a damn. And you have a chance for a do-over.

4. It’s OK to forgive yourself for what you didn’t do or didn’t do enough or did wrong. It’s still not too late. But you’re exhausted. You’re bone tired from the 500-plus days of Trump and the continual knot of fury in your throat. So first, do whatever you have to do to feel even temporarily better—sleep all weekend or go for a hike, soak in a bubble bath, listen to music, garden, watch movies, eat ice cream—whatever works for you. And also buy a cheap little cactus plant, to remind yourself about endurance against the odds. It’s OK to stop and bandage your bleeding.

5. Set a timer. It’s OK to despair and be bitter, to blame yourself and forgive yourself—but set a timer! When it goes off, time’s up and break’s over. Mine is two days maximum, but I suggest not a day over a week. We have four months until the midterm elections.

The Founders of this Republic were flawed men with a crazy idea. This week on Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan I offer some of their words about that idea, words that were stunningly prescient, as if they could foresee this moment in future history. I’ll offer more of them here, too, in next week’s post.

Those Founders, the Framers of our Constitution, gave us three equal branches of government. At this moment, two of those branches are controlled by men trying to make deep, permanent, transformatively violating changes to the Republic’s idea itself.

But there is a third branch, and it’s ours.

Four years ago only 36 percent of the eligible electorate cast ballots in the midterms. If more people had voted, Mitch McConnell would not be Majority Leader and would not have been able to block Obama’s nominated justice, Merrick Garland.

Some things we already know.
*We know it is likely there will be some forms of interference from Russia or elsewhere in these midterm elections, and we know that the Trump regime has done nothing to protect us from that; on the contrary.
*We know that the Republican majority in the Senate killed the filibuster on Supreme Court justices, so a simple majority can approve one—and they have the votes.
*We know that women’s rights, the right to reproductive freedom, voting rights, marriage equality and other same-sex rights, racial and partisan gerrymandering, affirmative action, constitutional violations in the criminal justice system, corporate purchase of elections, immigration policy, and the erosion of the wall between church and state—all the core issues of democracy are now endangered, and openly so. They tell us what they want to do. Believe them.

But this we also know. We must be on the streets, yes, but especially in the voting booths. We must organize voting turnout as never before, in such numbers as to compensate for Russian meddling at the polls and for an energized Trump base.

The Founders gave us a system, and that system is being tested as it has been only once before. The executive branch has been stolen. The judicial branch has been kidnapped. Nor is there any clear leadership, as there was with Abraham Lincoln, to lead us out of the wilderness, even though that route led through a civil war.

It’s just us.

But perhaps that was inevitable. Because it means that what we face in November—and in our organizing, between this moment and November—is the absolute core of the idea of the Republic, the heart of democracy. It is the voice of the people. It is the cactus plant.

It’s up to you and me.