A week ago I woke up with the brand-new sensation of living in a country that regards me as a second-class citizen. That sounds dignified, right? It wasn’t—it felt brutal and physical, like a wrecking ball to the gut. I cried in big ugly sobs, right there in my bed in the dark, curled up in a fetal ball, half-choking on my own snot, not able to feel anything except pain. In my nearly half-century of life, not all of it happy, I can’t recall a single more excruciating moment.
Buried deep in the social contracts between individuals is the knowledge that disappointment can be healed in separation. There is no separation, no safety, when the betrayal comes from the whole world. Nearly half of my fellow citizens stayed out of the vote on Election Day. Nearly half the remainder cast their ballots for a man and an agenda that sees women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and Muslims as appropriate targets for active mistreatment. I’m a white woman. By now we all know that a healthy majority of voters who look like me chose a President whose definition of masculinity is an insult and a threat to all women.
It feels like someone died, except the someone is my fundamental understanding of humanity and the institutions it builds to protect itself. How am I supposed to even grieve for that? How can I step aside from the old path when there is nothing but quicksand on either side? I can see and accept, painfully, that I was wrong to believe as I did, that my worldview was a construct rife with errors and failures of understanding. The anguish of my popped bubble is that it plunges me, raw and naked, into a cesspool of incoherence, prejudice, anger, ignorance, solipsism, hate and confusion. How am I supposed to rebuild some sort of internally cogent response to the world in this nightmarish ooze? The voices of reason, justice and peace have been relegated to an echo chamber at the periphery of the national conversation. The voices of authoritarianism and oppression have been elevated to the center, on a wave of so-called rhetoric I can barely force myself to hear. This brave new world is one in which there seems to be no place for my fundamental values; reasoned judgment, the good of the whole, even the desire to be seen as a decent human being. Deprived of my confidence that these are values shared by my fellow humans, I feel staggeringly, spectacularly unable to pick up the reins of my own destiny and figure out what to do next.
My sense of incompetence is fueled by the lack of real information upon which to evaluate and weigh decisions, compared to the overwhelming quantity of sheer bullshit out there to be seen and heard and read. My usual ability to skim right over skewed logic and blatant propaganda is hampered by a new internal voice whispering “You were so wrong when you trusted your instincts before, how can you justify trusting them now?” The truth must lie somewhere along the continuum between malignantly calm suggestions that we accept this as the new normal and hysterical trumpetings (sorry) of imminent bloody catastrophe. But where? My internal signals are no longer a reliable guide, and the penalties for misinterpretation feel dangerously high.
I am taking some comfort in action, in setting myself goals and making sure they get met. Write to my elected officials. Check. Call the Mayor’s office. Check. Make dinner. Check. Grocery store. Check. Go for a run. Check. I have instituted monthly donations to two national organizations and three local ones dedicated to the struggle for justice. I have promised myself to physically go every week to one event dedicated to the pursuit of justice. These things help, they do, but they don’t stop the swing of that wrecking ball. It thuds relentlessly against my psyche all day long, fading only as I drift into sleep, and every morning it is the first conscious experience I have. When I think about how a single week of this pain has left me wracked with fear and stripped of agency, and then about how it must feel to be a person who has carried it every day for a lifetime—because of their skin color, their sexuality, their religion—I feel my gorge rise. When I realize that I’ve been carrying it too, and was too blinkered even to realize it for most of my life, it’s overwhelming. I feel so terribly, deeply angry, on my own behalf, on behalf of all of us who have been daily punished for not being white and male and straight and Christian. I feel angry on behalf of all those white straight males (some Christian, even) whom I love and who love me, and who so unthinkingly follow the path laid out for them that deprives them of their own joy and security too. I feel angry on behalf of my daughter and my son, who deserve to grow into their adulthood as participants in a society where freedom and equality are real for everyone.
My misery and internal flailing are shared by millions, which means that in homes and families and communities across the country there are millions of us trying to stay upright in the face of this incomprehensibly alienating, destabilizing loss. We reach out to each other with trembling hands, trying to connect across new divides that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. Couples are looking at each other with new eyes. Children see fear mirrored in the eyes of their parents. Families are dividing and communities are roiled with suspicion and speculation. Swastikas are appearing on churches and schools. Those who opposed the new regime are taking out their bitter disappointment on each other, while those who support it are crowing in triumph. Pleas for unity are on the lips of those who have the most to gain, while those whose lives are most at risk refuse to be silenced. The ugliest, most purulent wounds of the nation are on display, with no bandages, no antiseptic in sight.
Even in these first fraught days, there are signs of hope. People are coming together to work for justice. Families and friends are comforting and supporting each other as they come to grips with this new reality. Some elected officials are responding to the outcry of their constituents and challenging the ascendancy of the new order. Some cities are proclaiming that they will protect their citizens against the depredations that threaten them. Some voices are calling for fierce, sustained determination in an ongoing battle against the poisoning of the Republic, and some people are hearing that call. I am one of them, although I have no idea how my strength may falter. There’s nothing noble about it; the only way to make this pain bearable is to pit myself against it as if my life depended on it. The wrecking ball must be stopped.
©Mary Braden 2016