My Country, Where Jerks Finish First

canstockphoto10359538Well, here we are – the culmination of waling on each other for the last year and a half. The result of bickering, lying, name-calling, smearing, backstabbing, flip-flopping, and deception – that toxic dump we call politics. I’m not watching, listening to or getting whimsically drunk during the inauguration. Call me naive, but I don’t think jerks should be celebrated. But hooray for the peaceful transition of power.

How long have awful people been winning and when did it become the norm? Day in and day out, I struggle with not being a crap human. But these people, they are not decent or ethical or kind. There’s no moral quandaries that keep them awake at night. Even supporters of this confederacy of dunces have to admit they wouldn’t leave children in their care. They look like they might eat them, but only the choice ones.

This administration won’t even be cognizant of their own shittiness, because they’re surrounded by humans of the same ilk. They will go through their lives sheltered from the consequences of their words and actions. They’ll write autobiographies (by ghost/poorly compensated writers). As they lay dying, under blankets made of extinct animals and unwanted babies, their well-meaning or grievously indebted family members will surround them. We won’t even be able to witness the palpable relief as they expel their last breath. Their funerals will be well-attended. And they will be a pile of ashes or bones before an accurate portrayal in a B-list movie reveals them to be the sad little meat package they were.

canstockphoto20405950Someone proposed that the rise of Trump was aided and abetted by the popularity of the anti-hero in our entertainment.  These thoroughly unlikable characters who are driven by greed, revenge and pettiness have been peppering our culture more and more frequently. I’m a fan of nuance, but there is no nuance in elevating drug dealers and serial killers to hero status. And reality television is a vast cesspool littered with the most unlikable humans you never want to meet, yet that is where our attention turns.

Every day, I try to be mindful, which also means recognizing the moments when I haven’t been – when I was too harsh in tone or quick to anger. We try to console ourselves, we’re only human, tomorrow will be a better day, apologies all around. So I cannot wrap my head around the rewarding of power and money and attention to people who say and do awful things as part of their personal protocol.

I love this country. Some things are easier to embrace than others. Bleeding heart liberals (which are, in my opinion, the best kind of liberals) are often accused of being intolerant of racists and misogynists and the deliberately ignorant. I’m down with that. This whole political season has seemed like upside-down world to anyone who is measured and rational in their thinking, and has even a scintilla of compassion for other humans.

The level of pride being taken in passing on and doubling down on bad information is appalling. The blitheness with which we are told to brush aside insults and slander and crudity is breathtaking. I can’t relate to the conversation anymore.

Today, there will be a lot of dancing on graves, as well as hand-wringing. It is the day I put on my blinders, focus on those things that are important and stop reading anything that involves some idiot’s Tweets.

canstockphoto8508310What I love about my country is that even if an asshole is put in charge, we can still be better people. We can still be better than some jerkoff with a microphone and a wad of cash. We can still focus on the values of compassion and freedom and hope for a better world. That’s the America I will stand for, work for and believe in. And it’s not going to go away just because some billionaires paid to play.

Welcome to the next 4 years. Choose who you want to be, but don’t let a douchebag be the example. Inaugurate yourselves as protectors of each other, of this country, of the planet, and of the future.

Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

Apologies for the length of this post. Like many people, I’m still working through a lot of emotions and ideas following this election. It looks like it is going to take several posts to get it out of my system. See Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information.

Moral ambiguity is a hard line to walk. In an election where people became tribal and primitive in their powerlessness, where everyone was an us or them, it was hard to feel like an ethical, decent person. I’ve always believed how we behave under fire is truly representative of our character and of our integrity.

canstockphoto9443627It would be easy to say we all failed the test, but many people would decry being painted with the same brush. I can only say how I failed. I got angry, I fumed, I thought of other humans with a degree of contempt. It was easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of emotion on either side, but stepping back, it’s even easier to see the willful ignorance on both sides.

You see, I did not want change. My life is comfortable. I had the fortune of being born white in a country that apparently still believes that is something. I have the fortune of good health and health insurance. I’ve had the fortune of being intelligent. Not as smart as I like to believe I am, but enough to pass tests, go to school, to interview well, to find jobs.

I had the fortune of an inner eye that told me whatever happens, I’d be okay, because that’s the way I’m wired. I have a habit of rebuffing others’ complaints, because like any bootstrapper, I believe we all have the same capabilities and that turning lemons into lemonade is a cottage industry that anyone can manage. I’m wrong about that and in cultivating empathy, I have to remember that I am wrong.

As a woman and the parent of a daughter doesn’t all this misogyny bother you? Yes, yes it does bother me. But an individual’s misogyny, like President-Elect Trump has expressed, is just a reminder that some people are still that stupid. Misogyny on the ground and in my face enjoys a good ole’ screw you and just watch me ace you, moron. I don’t mind being underestimated – it’s a tactical advantage.

avoiddtrumplistThat an unappealing human should say things any civil person would find appalling and potentially criminal, is really nothing to my esteem. Until he legislates the misogyny, he’s just a gross person that I wouldn’t let near my family or friends. He’d be on my personal registry of shitty people I avoid. The fact that now he will have the power to act on his belief system, aided and abetted by his creepy religious sidekick, is a real problem.

Right now, some of his supporters are spending a lot of time doing virulent versions of nanny-nanny boo-boo by ramping up graffiti and verbal and physical assaults on people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women. Someone just signed their permission slip. This is a real problem and humans, regardless of their vote, should be angry about this and prepared to step up as witnesses and defenders.

canstockphoto4607292It’s a funny thing how we try to disavow those in our particular demographic when they do something inexplicable. I mean 53% of voting white women voted for Trump. Clearly, I don’t understand most white women. I suppose I could fall down the rabbit hole of theory and speculation, but it will either be condescending or again, just wrong.

And I really don’t get the white power thing. You just happen to be born white. It’s not like you did anything to earn it. It’s not a product of integrity or values or virtue. If you want to be proud of your skin color for its own sake – well, shit. That’s just Hannibal Lecter weird. Maybe it’s generous to assume that we do these things out of fear and out of love, in the hopes of empowering ourselves through numbers – in the hope of saying to others who look like us, we matter. You matter. You are not alone. But the triangulation of supremacy, victimhood and violence is a threat to civil society.

Lastly, religion and politics. It’s toxic. The 1980s and Jerry Falwell happened. The Republican party mainstreamed religious belief systems as a recruitment effort. People began to feel a moral imperative to legislate exclusionary beliefs. The argument is that identity politics, a religion unto itself, has been trying to legislate their beliefs as well, but I find a stark difference between laws that oppress others in the name of religion and laws intended to protect the civil rights of all Americans, not just the ones who have fish decals on their bumpers.

I have no moral high ground here – I was willing to overlook a lot of things when I voted, because the alternative was worse. I’m scared of the people I saw at Trump rallies – their virulence, the angry mob mentality, their t-shirts which showed a shameless racist and misogynistic view towards their fellow Americans. I looked carefully at the pictures, at individuals, at their children – looking for signs of moral decency, looking for their humanity. I wanted to understand, but I don’t.

canstockphoto5824707All I hope is that my fellow Americans’ win is not a Pyrrhic victory. I must not emulate those representatives that gleefully hoped our last president would fail, because that is treacherous schadenfreude, to wish such a thing on fellow citizens. I must hope that things will not be as bad as I imagine they will be. I must not be an asshole by wishing them so.

So what now? For me, I feel the softening around my edges. My rage is not sustainable. My brain never stops at the boundaries of my beliefs. I’ve been thinking a lot about those people that I am scared of, those people I don’t understand and the road ahead.

I’ve been thinking about actionable measures, about what I do when the elected officials  begin to delete people’s health insurance and restrict the bodily integrity of women. What do I do if they persecute journalists and entertainers, intimidate and threaten protesters, enable religious fundamentalists in all their inglorious rigidity? What will I do if the nuclear threat is heightened to the 1950’s-style hysteria? What will I do as hate crimes crop up around me? Will I be paralyzed? Will I pretend that I don’t see?

canstockphoto12192237The tables are turned. To people who value civil rights, reproductive rights, the right to not be a believer, the right to be of a different religion other than Christianity, the right to love and marry who we choose, the right to be whoever we are inside, it feels as if we have been rendered powerless, noisy Tweeters and street blockers, flailing against the machine.

I think about the introspection I might have undergone, if my candidate won. It would have felt like entrenchment, spending the next 4 years defending her against the words cunt and bitch and episodes of domestic terrorism. Much like many Trump supporters have felt about their religion and lack of education and employment, digging in, constantly on the defensive as the world leaves them behind. But entrenchment and reflexive demagoguery do not create good governance.

I’m not ready to paint a happy face on this, but I am ready to say, This is where we are. What matters? What is helpful? How will I live my integrity, live my character in trying times? Who am I going to be during the next four years?

I’ve started with some ground rules for myself:

  • No stupid nicknames. The President-Elect Trump will be President Trump, no matter how many times I want to refer to him as the Pussygrabber-in-Chief. Okay, now I’m done.
  • I will continue to use qualifiers when describing any group: Some, A few of…which is to say, my brush will be as narrow as it needs to be.
  • I will pay attention to the issues and more specifically, to legislation.
  • I will use my writing skills, my phone skills and whatever money I can scrounge up to support causes I believe in and to fight against injustice.
  • I will continue to respectfully engage those people with whom I disagree.
  • I will listen more than I talk.
  • I will defend the things I hold dear: civil rights, the environment, justice and reproductive rights.
  • I will continue to seek knowledge and understanding.
  • I will honor those who fight, here or abroad, to make the world a safer place for others. This means vigilance against unnecessary wars, ensuring aftercare and respecting their service regardless of whether or not I agree with the objective.
  • I will do the best I can to uphold my personal integrity. Walk the walk. Lead by example.

Who do you want to be? What values are you willing to go to ground for? What is helpful or important?

Fight Harder

canstockphoto5811625At midnight, I woke up and checked the election results and began to cry. My first thought was about the conversation I’d have to have with my daughter in the morning. She stood by me as I proudly filled in the circles on my ballot. Like many of my friends and family, we were optimistic that the world might look different in the morning.

It does look different this morning. It looks like misogyny and racism and anti-intellectualism are now the colors that this country flies. How could it not look like that? Somebody’s drunk uncle just got elected president.

I got caught up in the news cycles, the Tweets, the demoralizing nature of these campaigns. My heart sank when I realized that what I had believed about my country was not true – that we were kinder, braver and smarter than we are.

It’s a wake up call. For me, as a middle class, white suburban woman, it means that I can no longer be comfortable, residing in my pseudo-intellectual pursuits.

Liberals are often accused of being smug or elitist. I am my own American dream, growing up poor, serving my country, going to college, working my way through a sundry mediocre jobs. I’m not wealthy or entitled or pious or academic. But I’ve been comfortable and am surrounded by people who generally share my views. This election has created a shock wave in my world.

It means that I have to take whatever skills I have and put them to visible and uncomfortable use. I have always been moderate and will continue to be so. I do believe reason and compassion are better guiding lights than anger, but anger also serves a purpose – to light those fires and end silent passivity.

It means that as a veteran, I must argue vociferously against our war culture. It means as a parent, I must defend the right to a decent education for all children. As a woman, I must stand up and fight against those who believe women’s genitals are the politicians’ to govern.

As a human, I must stand side-by-side with my brothers and sisters of color for their right to pursue happiness without being incarcerated unjustly and shot down in the streets with prejudice.

These are things that I should have been doing all along. I didn’t ever believe that at its heart, America would choose a man who has shown no integrity, no empathy and no common sense to lead our nation. As his second, we’ve chosen a theocrat who would, given the chance, impose his version of religious morality upon the country.

We will not be governed well or wisely. We will choke on media narratives and the every day reporting of conservative chicanery. We will watch as America sinks into a recession, while protections for our environment are gutted. We will sigh with every Tweet, every insult, every gauche display of inequity. But it is not the end of the world, just the start of four very long, very difficult years.

canstockphoto0484969I am angry, disappointed and embarrassed for our country, but the facade has been stripped away. We know who we are. There’s something amazing that happens when the tyranny of a slim majority gets put on display. The rest of us get stronger, because we have to fight harder.

What will I tell my daughter in the morning? I will tell her that it’s time to dig in and fight harder. Fight for our integrity as humans on this planet. Fight for our right as women to exist on an equal playing field. That we must pursue intellectual and artistic lives with vigor. That we must stand up at every opportunity and fight for the downtrodden, the disenfranchised. That we must defend the environment and animals and protect the vulnerable.

This is the time when real American heroes can be born. I cannot allow myself to sink into despair. I cannot show my daughter that at the first sign of distress, my ideals and beliefs collapse under their own depressive weight. I will not lose my shit and wail and gnash my teeth.

This is an opportunity to become more – more compassionate, more brave, more creative, and more loving.

For every racist who feels emboldened, we will speak loudly in defense of diversity.

For every misogynist who feels validated, we will raise a son or a daughter to be a decent, respectful, ethical human being.

canstockphoto1323495For every shrill cry about intellectualism, we will read and write more books, compose music, create art.

For every petty whine about political correctness, we will become more inclusive and more sensitive.

For every brazen public display of mob mentality, we will create more space for more voices.

That is the America I want for my daughter.

So take a break from the news, take a walk, read a favorite book, spend time with the people you love, recharge. And then roll up your sleeves, there’s work to be done.

Inside Out: Coming to America

canstockphoto12339761Yesterday was a perfect day in my neighborhood. The sun was out. Pasty white Minnesotans emerged from their Netflix caves after months of winter. Immediately some started their leaf blowers (which I posit is the worst invention ever). I went to the park with my daughter and one of her besties. They played basketball, as I sat at a picnic table and read.

I love my neighborhood more frequently than I hate it. It was built in the late 1950s, tracts of little nondescript ranch houses. We add shutters and paint different colors but in the low light of a late sunset and a few beers under our belts, we’d be easily confused. It’s a working class neighborhood near schools and apartment buildings and a grocery store. We can walk 15 minutes to anywhere we need to go.

I’ve been here about 16 years and have watched the young couples move in and out as their families expanded. The retirees move a little slower. Some have gone to nursing homes. The demographics have changed from the homogeneity of Germanic and Scandinavian residents to a more diverse neighborhood with families of color.

canstockphoto9412008(1)When I hear all the angry conversation about immigrants, I don’t understand it. I love being in a metro area for the richness of its diversity. My daughter’s friend is from Kenya. This is a family that completely transplanted itself into a bizarre culture, with its Minnesota niceness and subtle and not-so-subtle bigotries. With its climate so opposite from theirs. With its language so difficult and complex to learn. That they chose to uproot their lives and come here is amazing.

At the park, a Hispanic mother followed her toddler son as he rambled happily across the lawn, while his father chatted with neighbors. The little boy unsteadily walked over to the picnic table where I sat and stared with big, beautiful dark eyes. His mother smiled shyly at me as I rolled a basketball to him. He laughed with delight and was off, carrying a ball twice the size of his head.

I don’t think she spoke English and I’m not yet confident enough with Spanish. Smiles did our communicating. I think about their lives here and why they gravitate to communities that reflect their own cultures and experiences. It must seem overwhelming and isolating at times. My fellow Americans curse and spit about why “they” don’t do this or that, when many Americans are barely literate and do nothing to pursue self-improvement.

There is something about the immigrants whom I have met in my life. The inherent optimism of moving someplace foreign – a belief that a better life is possible and that they have some say in that. From the antics of some Americans, it is quite apparent that they have no such belief. They believe in a savior with a comb-over, that a boastful ingrate will lift them out of their shitty lives and save the country.

It’s amazing that anyone believes a politician will improve their lives. Politicians do very little that isn’t badgered out of them by polls or bought and paid for by donors or brought on by bad publicity thanks to activists. Individual choices and protests still impact our country, are still part of the algorithm of the elusive and mythological American Dream. There’s no point in waiting for a mouthpiece to do the work for you.

canstockphoto5109847Now, I’m a bleeding heart liberal, there’s no doubt about that. But I also served my country, worked my ass off, came out of poverty into a middle class existence. I believe in the power of hard work and education and ethical living. My street cred as a hardworking American has been established by every hard knock, graveyard shift and paid tax.

As a resident of planet earth, though, I believe in compassion and kindness and seeking to understand. My experience in this country, as a first generation American, was helped by the color of my skin and my language skills and happenstance of birth. While I’ve experienced sexism in the military and various workplaces, I’ve always assumed the individual was some sort of stupid I couldn’t fix and got on with things.

Last week, I attended a lecture by presidential biographer, Jon Meacham. It was an interesting, if not somewhat sanitized, conversation about the impact of some presidents on the country. What I was struck by, though, is that Jon Meacham is two years younger than I. He’s an executive editor at Random House. He has numerous biographies, including one that won a Pulitzer Prize. I felt momentary envy. Huh, so that’s what a successful career track looks like.

canstockphoto18730397Still, it made me think about how much control I actually do have over my own life. I made very specific choices, some of them good, some of them terrible, that got me here today. Despite the times when I struggled, when I had no health insurance, when I turned in pop cans for grocery money, I never assumed that the state of things was anyone’s fault or responsibility other than my own. Sure, there’s all kinds of systemic flaws that can really mess up a linear rise in circumstances, but for most white Americans, it’s on us. Yet we still seek to blame.

The minute I rise in defense or even in curiosity of immigrants’ lives, some dipstick will share anecdotal evidence of people gaming the system or laziness or criminality. I can double down with stories of Americans I’ve met who game the system, are lazy or are criminals. Hell, I’m related to some of them.

canstockphoto32473828At this point in my life, I do have a tendency to romanticize lives of people outside my purview. I recognize this and remind myself that people from other countries likely have the same percentage of shitheads that we do in the U.S. But these days, some of our citizens seem the more immediate danger.


Resources about the immigrant and refugee experience in the US:

Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

10 Essential Films about the Immigrant Experience

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: Syrian Refugees Part 1

US Refugee Admissions Program (Subtitled: It ain’t easy)