Hello Cruel World
I’ve been absent from social media for the last few months. (Surprisingly, there’s been little to no mention of this in the mainstream press; perhaps it’s one of those feeds that’s algorithmically hidden from me?) Like most of us, I’ve felt shellshocked by the events of the last year, a bottom-of-toilet whirlpool that even at its most promising potential outcome—the election of a deeply flawed candidate who at least demonstrated clear signs of competence and the desire to govern wisely—felt like a stopgap at best. That outcome would not allay the fearful rage motivating the “other half” of our country, the vast troubled middlemass I never interact with, nor put the outright racists and fiends back in their poison bottle.
And here we are. I’ve lived through a few administrations now, some at close range; I clearly recall Gerald Ford passing in a black convertible mere yards away as my class stood on the steps of the Washington Cathedral. My feelings towards later presidencies became personal, as when Reagan’s budgetary decisions evicted wailing, shuffling psych patients to join Washington’s swelling homeless population. His actions seemed to belie a deep and unquestioned disdain for the poor and people of color, a sneer that was so obviously at odds with his rhetoric about American strength, pride and goodness, and yet so perfectly seamless that nowadays it has passed nearly unnoticed. I noticed.
My takeaway was that even the very few presidents I largely supported, the ones who promised to conscientiously represent their constituents and safeguard their interests, would do essentially whatever they wanted. So what are we to make of one that doesn’t even pretend to represent anybody but himself? How did we end up here?
I will tell you right now: I have no idea. Sorry.
I do know that the garbage in / garbage out metaphor bubbles uncomfortably to mind. That we should not be surprised to find that a diet of junk food (both literal and figurative, in the form of media), neglect of public education and healthcare, the politically motivated fear of The Other, and perhaps most critically, a steady and measurable decline in economic opportunity for all but the very wealthiest Americans leads us here: To a diseased cartoon of a President, throwing wide the gates of this ailing land to the highest-bidding plunderers. We elected a rapist—again figuratively but, really, do you doubt literally as well?—and he will do what rapists do: He will rape.
There is another, darker reason I’ve hidden from the real and virtual worlds these months: The war drums of hate crime, violence and simple discourtesy that thrum louder and louder, if not yet so audibly in my “liberal” enclave. I am afraid, for my child more than for myself. During one of many contentious exchanges with my wife over my refusal to even engage in discussion about the world outside, I admitted that my own family history—I was raised in large part by Holocuast survivors—is very much in mind.
“So you’re hiding?” she said. “What happens if you don’t hide?”
I was surprised by the speed and clarity of my reponse: “You die.”
I grew up believing on some level that the horrors of that period were a distant memory, even though my family home was fairly entombed in books on the Holocaust and the Second World War. How could those stories not have become embedded in my DNA? These were not folk stories, but family history: My own father took me to the stone-paved street in Budapest where, on a sweltering day, all its Jews were forced to come register with the new German occupiers. He waited a short while before realizing, with the dull, queasy recognition of incontrovertible truth, that this line led only to death. He stepped out, walked quickly away, and never looked back.
Is there an American Holocaust coming? I have no idea. I do know that for many of us (the vast majority of Americans without the nearly mandatory prerequisite of wealth to ensure their own economic progress; especially but not only people of color; undocumented immigrants and many other groups) something akin to a Holocaust has been unfolding quietly and nearly unremarked for many decades, and longer.
In a country where fear of our neighbors is widespread, and the false flags used to rally support around political candidates distract us from addressing real, difficult, but tractable social problems, it is impossible to empathize with those groups with whom we disagree. Until that happens, there is no chance to construct a more perfect and just society. For all his flaws, our last President did attempt to address this obvious and yawning disconnect. My sense is that, among those not already supporting him, the reaction was howling rage. Now the howling ragers are in command, and I for one find it difficult to see any path forward that doesn’t lead, ultimately, to our own destruction.
In the meantime, I’m not stockpiling food and ammunition. I’m finding comfort and hope in small groups, in the sometimes tenuous web that forms our emotional lives and personal connections. Everything may in fact be going dark, but for what it’s worth, I’m not quite ready to turn off the lights. I love my life, my community, and this world as a whole; though my progress is groping at best, it’s a sentiment I want to foster and share. This alone will not change anything, but I know that without it, nothing will change.