14 Nov It HAS Happened Here
I won’t offer simplistic feel-better comfort, given what the US and the world now face in a Donald Trump presidency. I want to focus on resilience.
Yes, we are in mourning. Not simply because the qualified candidate worthy of the office, who won the popular vote and would have made history as the first woman President, was denied the election. Not simply because of the demonstrated character, ignorance, and mental state of the man who won the unbalanced Electoral College vote and thus will claim occupation of the Oval Office.
We are also in shock, because our information systems prepared us for something utterly different. And we are in grief, which is part of and also different from mourning. We are grieving for children in Muslim American and Latino households and Asian and African American communities, kids who are having nightmares about family members being deported, barred, interred, lynched. We are grieving not so much because of who Donald Trump is or isn’t, but because of who his supporters are or are not.
I refuse to sentimentalize them. Those supporters include David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, who are celebrating. Half of them believe Japanese internment camps in World War II were a good idea; 20 percent disagree with the Emancipation Proclamation. And blue-collar economic pain turns out to have actually been far less of a driving force than white males’ fear of losing power; Trump supporters earned at least $17,000 a year more than the US general average middle-class income. There were also some white working-class women and some white suburban women who feared what another woman having power might mean about themselves, even though it was in their own self-interest. And, too, there were those of his supporters who just didn’t bother to think it through at all, voting instead from powerful swells of emotion and lack of facts, some because they refused to hear such facts, but most because our information systems of education and media didn’t make such facts unavoidable. We’re also grieving because some well-meaning people decided it was more important to feel personally self-righteous about lodging a protest vote than to take responsibility for the fate of their planet.
Shock, mourning, and grief eventually do pass. But because we are facing something that will last longer, we must comprehend that we’re in a state of dread. Dread is the cause of widely reported chronic nausea and record numbers of people visiting ERs and therapists, clinics, counselors, crisis centers, sobriety groups, suicide hotlines. Dread is why, on awakening in the morning, there is one brief second of normalcy in the consciousness—ooh hot coffee soon, or birdsong outside the window, or a pet’s imperious yelp or meow demanding to be walked or fed. . . .
Then we remember.
Dread is based on what’s already happened—the closest thing we have to a national police force, the FBI, interfering in an election—and especially dread is about what’s yet to come. Senior Advisor to the President: Steve Bannon of the alt-right. What’s next? Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State? Rudy Giuliani for Atty. Gen.? the Supreme Court appointment that will dissolve Roe V Wade? The severing of the Paris Climate Accords and the nuclear pact with Iran? Abandoning NATO?Nuking the Middle East? The dread is not unreasonable. Those or comparable announcements will arrive, each time smashing us back into shock and grief.
Meanwhile, expectable make-nicers and Job’s counselors are telling us to “keep open minds,” and “give him the benefit of a doubt”; that “the office itself will mature him.” Oprah proclaims all will be well. Oh, in that case, what’s the problem?!? Some say, “maybe it won’t be that bad,” and “we should seek by all means in our power . . . a discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will.” Oh, oooops, no, sorry, that last quote was from Neville Chamberlain on the eve of Hitler annexing Poland.
We must not indulge in the comfortable denial of “Not my president,” and we must not “give him the benefit of a doubt,” because Trump has already said and done things that clearly teach us who he is and what he does.
Yet dread can paralyze us. So we must find a way of dealing with this that stops us up only for that moment, permits us to recalibrate balance and then resolutely move forward.
Look, I’m telling myself this as much as telling you. We each need to get some perspective, to if necessary force-feed ourselves some pleasure in living, and to build resilience. I recommend taking a few days—not many—to lower as much as you can the obsessiveness induced by this dread. Disconnect from or lessen continual news-junkieness on your phones or TVs. (I assure you if World War III breaks out, somebody will let you know.)
Use those days defiantly. This too is a political act. Reread a cherished book, go to a movie, listen to music, listen to music, listen to music. The world still exists; the universe still spins. Check out the glory of the Hubble website, remember that the Sombrero Galaxy and Crab Nebula don’t give a damn about anguish on this small backwater planet.
Get outdoors if you can. I went into my little city garden in the middle of the night and lay down flat on the cold soil, digging my fingers into it, breathing in the rich perfume of autumn earth, feeling the crisp burgundy and tawny leaves crunch around me with my every gesture, remembering that the indifferent planet has its own incomprehensible politics and moves at its own speed, not ours. So get yourself to somewhere green, maybe only a park, for an hour or so. It’s scientifically proven that even 15 minutes in some natural setting lowers blood pressure, calms breathing, steadies pulse rate, and releases endorphins.
You need to release those endorphins, along with oxytocin, the pleasurable “tend and befriend” hormone activated when one does something for others. And yes, I do feel better sending these words to you. It’s another, cheerfully selfish reason for activism. Don’t you think those people spontaneously pouring into the streets city after city across this country these last nights feel better for having done so?
We’re going to need resilience, as new developments explode, fulfilling the dread. We’re going to need agility to respond quickly, and energy to organize proactively so that two years from now we can perhaps restore some constitutionally created checks and balances—that is, the Senate if not the House of Representatives. We need to be ready in case a 70-year-old overweight man with an apoplectic temperament—a man who never exercises, gobbles junk food, and sleeps only a few hours a night—has less time at his job than expected.
We need above all to be nimble in avoiding denial on the one hand and despair on the other. We need to ignore those telling us to get used to this. We need to be ready for anything, ready to do whatever has to be done.
But not today.
Today, because at the core, what I am is a poet, today I offer you a poem I wrote about six months ago. Prophetic, as poetry usually is.
I study them by bedside lamplight:
An old woman’s hands,
strong still but with a loosening grip;
bones delicate, gloved in blue embroidery’s
bulging veins; skin spotted brown
as a hen’s egg; nails clean, unpolished,
short for typing; fingers starting to stiffen,
curving to curl toward claws.
They twitch and tremor sometimes. Often
they cramp, drop teaspoons, fumble keys.
They’ve held a lot in their day—a newborn’s feather—
weight and protest signs and bales of hay; stirred
soup and rallies; played chess, tricks, fair, Bach,
and for keeps: they’ve applauded, beckoned,
shaken themselves as fists; they’ve clasped a thousand
other hands, made lists, caressed the flesh of lovers.
They never presumed fingerprints were an identity,
life-lines a fate, though they did long to hold
the whole world in themselves, like the woman sang.
Once graceful, these now gnarled hands knot
and knit not wools but stories—grim tales at times:
a witch’s hands. A child might fear such hands,
though they still twist in grief for other hands
that punch time-clocks, pray to the void for mercy,
pound gavels to silence screams, pull triggers.
I study how to teach these hands to let go,
let it all go, let go now. But they reach past me,
grabbing pen and pad to scribble a message—
words I will find all but illegible once
these white-knuckle hours unclench, to loose
this past cold light’s gold dawn:
Hold fast. Hold tight. Hold on.