The slow dawning crawl of devastation on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, as I watched the election returns, watched on CNN and MSNBC and occasionally Fox, watched the NYTimes needle flip wildly in the other direction in a matter of hours, watched the unthinkable occur, all curled up like a ball of pain and recrimination in my stomach, late into the cruel hours of the night, until I watched with bleary and incredulous eyes as John Podesta dismissed the mournful crowd of Clinton supporters and then Trump took his stage, preening with humility as fake as his entire line of false and unsubstantiated promises to a resentful America that even now he is betraying with his Wall Street and establishment appointments. Eating up in my stomach, this horror, that having put my faith in people (I know, I know– popular vote majority, etc.), in democracy (I know, I know– electoral college system historically built for landowners, etc. ), and in decency (I know, I know– I don’t know, actually…), that right or rationality would prove itself.
The recriminations were about the echo chamber that I was part of. The coastal elites. The cosmopolitan urbanites. Fooled by our own Nate Silver bullets of data and Plouffe-ian ground game and Jon Stewart sneering at the idiocy of the campaign. Recriminations that we were so stupid and shallow ourselves. I had already been incredulous that Trump had gotten this far, and so had sought out the Arlie Hochschild studies and the JD Vance explanations that explained why some would wind up in that place. But the sheer numbers, the proportion that was enough to tip the scale, the “repudiation” of red caps and white college educated women, the haranguing of right pundits and self-flagellation of left, the steady and expected and deeply wounding flow of vitriol and harassment and hate crimes as the dams of civility burst… how could we have overlooked it, all except Michael Moore and this guy? And the Christian in me asks the necessary probing questions– let’s assume all human beings are both rotten to the core and imprinted with God’s image, and therefore in the pain and cry of these voters, yes looking past the egregious unfitness and bigotry, but genuinely hoping and believing in something… what is the source of this pain? How have “we” managed to leave so many of them behind? What is the repudiation of this election a forceful call for? For us to stop correcting their mispronunciations of our names or misattributions of our pronouns? For us to stop the cruel pressures of globalization on the slowest to change, or to at least moderate its impacts for the sake of forgotten towns? Or just to shut the hell up and go back to our countries? What is the cry that is behind the pull to make America great again?
Those were the recriminations. But also, rage. Rage balled up. Rage that so vile a peddler of unsubstantiated boasts, shifty doublespeak, dog-whistle murderous speech, predatory exploitation, bitter skulking, fearmongering hatefulness– nearly everything on the list of things that we try to teach our children not to become— had been elevated by our voters to the highest office of the land and the world’s most consequential seat of power. Charge me with extremist language but only biblical and apocalyptic imagery seemed apt to describe the feeling. And between grappling for these abstractions to speak the horror, I thought long and hard about specific people– that friend going back underground without DACA, those immigrant elderly vulnerable to exploitative health insurance, the stopped-and-frisked young people pushed out of school and into incarceration, our children growing up on a planet careening towards climate catastrophe. Rage at that smug face and those flippant hands who proved himself right, that circular morality that being a winner made you a winner, that you should run for the party of those you think are the biggest suckers because you could shoot someone in the street and they’d still vote for you, so long as you told them what they wanted to hear while installing every policy that will continue to guarantee their future poverty and continued dehumanization, wrapping them in lies that feed on vindictiveness and existential dread and real pain.
All that was Tuesday night, a maze of unfathomable emotion all pinned to the traumatic rendering of red on electronic maps.
Wednesday morning, I woke up. Determined to get to work. Determined to roll up my sleeves. Determined to… I wasn’t sure. What was I doing? Where do I take the fight? How do I stand up?
March? Write? Speak? Teach? Reach out? Petition? Conspire? Preach? Cry? Reconcile?
I realized that what I most needed to do was to get busy doing what I was supposed to be doing. Teaching and trying to influence education at the same time, so that we learn civility and compassion as we learn language and literacy. Speaking of a faith that gives grace to the humble and lowers the proud, that stands beside the oppressed and suffers with the hurting. Creating and critiquing cultural engagements that mold and form our consciousness and understanding of one another. Taking care of my family and friends, while learning to speak to those who would make us “other.”
But it’s not just business as usual. There was more I had to do. Withdraw from the sedative of social media, and concentrate my engagement. Stop to listen to discern where I was supposed to spend my time, my energies, my ears, my words. Do better. Do more collectively. Fight smarter.
And I watched as collective action happened around me, from journalists and essayists working harder to understand better, to activists and service workers stepping up to make our presence known, from people of faith coming honestly to prayer and truth-speaking, to progressives redoubling their efforts to combat white supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, amok capitalism and oligarchies, abuses of human rights and inequality. And I was re=inspired to roll up my sleeves and not just watch.
Over this weekend, I’ve been figuring out how to roll up my sleeves, and where. It’s not worth sharing because it’s so specific and individual. Others are composing great lists of how to act, and those land on my list as well. But first and foremost, I sit and listen. I hear God telling me that despair and depression are a way to death. I hear that for me, right now, it’s time to get to work.