It Is Time

About a month ago
I saw a woman with her child
in a pantsuit
She had an “I voted” sticker on
I smiled at her and said thank you.
She laughed back.
I saw a nasty woman
getting ready to vote.

I felt full of hope
I walked a bit taller
confident that as a woman
I finally was seen as human
because a woman
would become U.S. president

Instead the world caved in.
Sure, she wasn’t perfect
but he was everything she was
tenfold.
Lying.
Crooked.
The only thing he had going
for himself was, well, he was
a white male.

White men and too many white women
apparently are too threatened
by being represented
by a woman.

So today, I walk with a broken heart.
We still haven’t made it.
We got kicked back into the gutter.

I mourn.
And I am mad as hell.

Men still tell me how to feel.
“Don’t be scared,” he wrote
even though the times are terrifying.
“Be kind to each other,” he suggested
even though they are so mean I can hardly breathe.
What’s worse
these are men who claim to be
progressive.

Stop telling me how to feel
Stop telling me how to be
Stop telling me what I can and cannot do

For this election was stolen
White men are so power-hungry
(and immoral)
that they stop from nothing to ensure
that they remain in power.

Enough of this already!

It is time that we women rise up
even with tears in our hearts
and streaming down our faces.

It is time that we stop pretending
that we don’t matter
that we need to stay in our place.

It is time that we take up space
that we scream and shout
that we dance and kick
that we take back the power
that belongs to us.

Authoritarianism

In addition to reading a lot about the election, I’ve also started reading The Republican Brain by Chris Mooney. Based on the research Mooney presents, it is pretty clear that there is a psychological difference between conservatives and liberals. I want to use some of the findings presented in the book to point to some of the root causes of the mess we’re in.

There seem to be two aspects of conservative ideology that are particularly relevant when trying to understand Trumpism: Authoritarianism and free market rhetoric. It is mind-boggling to many progressives that Trump voters seem to swallow all his lies. It is as if they’ve lost their moral bearings. Another explanation could simply be that they see Trump as an authority figure and are then unable to question anything he says because, you know, he’s an authority and you just don’t question that. Yes, to me that seems absurd: Especially in a democracy, we need to question authority, that is part of our role as citizens. This doesn’t (necessarily) lead to chaos or undermine institutions, since we can question what an authority does without undermining their authority. The idea that questioning authority completely undermines that authority is the kind of black-and-white thinking also characteristic of the conservative mind.

The free market rhetoric mostly shows up as small government arguments (and is often undermined by the very policies enacted by those advocates). It also seems to be a flavor of authoritarianism as the authority of the market cannot be interfered with through regulations. It is as if questioning that the market is really allocating things the way the theory purports is already undermining the invisible hand.

Mooney has been heavily criticized by conservatives who prefer the moral philosophy presented by Jonathan Haidt, which, to me, isn’t all that different except that Haidt argues that conservatives morals are superior to that of progressives as they rest on all six moral foundations more equally. I plan on outlining why I think that this isn’t all that morally superior in a future post.

Here I want to end with something that neither Mooney nor Haidt seem to address: The tremendous hypocrisy that seems to be visible on the conservative side during this election season and it’s aftermath. Hillary Clinton was supposed to go to jail because of her usage of a private email server. Except Trump does a lot of what he accuses Clinton as well: Delete emails and have insecure servers. While Trump was screaming that the election might be rigged (before he narrowly won enough electoral college votes and thus dropped that line), the Republicans have been busy ensuring that white conservatives have a leg up during elections by rigging the system through gerrymandering and voter expulsion. The gerrymandering has been found unconstitutional, a decision likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. It seems to me that there are more of these self-serving blind-spots appearing on the conservative side, which I have not yet seen investigated (after all this might just look like this to me due to my own blind-spot(s)).

Bringing Back Focus

I know this sense of emotional turmoil all too well. It happens every time when he does something unexpected. Now it’s Trump. Then it were men I had relationships with – men who were psychologically unhealthy and abusive. I don’t know if that fits Trump but his public behavior seems just as erratic and unpredictable. At bottom the reason for this behavior is to get attention. The more strange, out-of-pattern, the more people notice, the more it throws them off balance, and keeps their attention on him. In those relationships, I ended up losing myself. What mattered to me got lost in the constant attempt to deal with yet another painful twist or another bombshell that came out of nowhere. This is not a healthy way to live! And it seems to be happening again now as I constantly scramble to read up about the latest faux pas from Trump – from Twitter storms against actors who speak out to security risks of undiplomatic phone calls. Instead of focusing on Trump, I want to focus on what is important to me, not to retreat into my private life but to continue the work that I believe is crucially needed: Addressing the root causes while continuing to resist strategically.

In reaction to Trump’s behavior, I have gotten into what Van Jones warned about: Do-do-mode. I sign all the petitions, make all the calls, and I often can’t remember what I signed or what I called whom about. Plus, there are often several petitions about the same thing. I am aware of at least three websites that attempt to connect us with Electors. Only one of them, the Hamilton Electors, was actually started by electors – and they have called on us not to swamp their fellow electors with emails and letters. So, let’s focus! When everything is important, we are not looking at root causes. We’ll just end up burning out.

Lisa Bloom calls on us to use our skills. So, let me use mine! I have already found my writing voice again, now I want to add analysis and connecting some dots. My focus will be on attempting to figure out the root causes, so over the next few blog posts, I will share what I am learning and how I am connecting it.

Misplaced Empathy

November 8th was a traumatic experience for me. Traumatic experiences are characterized, among other things, by the shattering of beliefs about the world we live in. Although I had the sense that something in me had shattered that night, I couldn’t figure out what until I read Charles Eisenstein’s post-election post. I had already noticed my discomfort with “Love trumps hate,” for clearly it hadn’t on election day. Reading Eisenstein’s suggestion to ask “What is it like to be a Trump supporter?” brought it home for me. I noticed my visceral discomfort. This time, though, I didn’t shove it away by thinking that it was just too much to ask of me or that others need our empathy much more urgently (they do!). I stayed with the discomfort and the idea of stories.

What got shattered that night was my belief that “love (or empathy) heals all.”

The story of “love conquers all” (as it’s usually phrased) or “empathy heals all” (as I prefer to put it) got shattered for me on election night, maybe more so than any other story because it had already cracked through my experiences with abusive men who were all too happy to take my empathy to advance their cause and leave me drained. It is a story, myth really, that has led me into abusive relationships and kept me in them longer than it was healthy for me. It is a myth perpetuated, instead of challenged, by people like Eisenstein despite the election results. It is a myth that urgently needs questioning because it is misplaced, maybe even unjust, and prevents us from rejecting offensive views. Additionally, while we are trying to find empathy for Trump voters, the people who are incapable of empathy will continue to enrich themselves and destroy the world, possibly nourished by our empathy, certainly emboldened by our inability to call out their unacceptable behavior.

I do not hate Trump voters. Assuming that this is my only other option is a false dichotomy. It pains me to see the damage they have done, are doing, because they are unwilling to experience empathy, experience their own feelings. Or whatever else drives them to act out. Eisenstein suggests that underneath racism and sexism is fear, is a lot of pain. Of course there is. I am happy to hold people in their pain and grief once they are ready to face it. I do not see it as my responsibility to reach for them, to help them see what they deny. Part of having experienced living with someone who I could imagine voting for Trump is knowing the depth of their denial (I am no longer in touch with him, hence I don’t know how he actually voted). Facing their pain is so terrifying that they avoid it at all cost – no amount of empathy can bridge that. So, maybe, ironically, I already understand Trump supporters better than Eisenstein.

The shattering of a belief is disorienting. Actually, it is rather scary. The world is not the way you thought it is. It is less safe – or rather the safety blanket a myth provided was ripped away. It was a false safety. And it leaves a vacuum, which is where the disorientation comes from; it leaves the question “now what?” Given that I now see clearly that empathy does not heal all, that this was a myth I had learned to avoid seeing the starkness of reality, how do I approach reality?

For now, I have decided to listen less to white men and more to women of color. There is much more wisdom there that stems from a lived experience that is more closely aligned with this post-shattering reality I now try to embody.

This is not a drill

Folks, this is not a drill. The United States of America is in danger. As imperfect as our democracy has been, at least we had a democracy. Trump shows every sign to be unwilling to honor it. He wants to be the ruler of the United States of Trump, his personal ATM where nothing matters except himself and his family (if they’re lucky).

If you love this country, I beg you to join me and resist. Posting information on social media, this blog included, is important. More important are the calls, though, while we still have a democracy left. Based on what I’ve read and seen, Trump’s conflicts of interest are his biggest Achilles Heel right now. If he does not resolve them, he’ll produce a constitutional crisis (possibly his intent).

The other issue that may have an impact is to support the work of the Hamilton Electors. They are trying to encourage their colleagues to do their job and stop a pathologically lying autocrat to become President. Please check out their Facebook page to find out how we can support them.

So, take a break from social media and make those calls (here and here are some suggestions)! I got through to 2 out of 3 of my Congresspeople immediately on Monday, which is not a good sign! Their phones should be busy as heck.

Giving up is not an option!

Is this what it felt like in 1933 when you saw that Germany was heading into fascism and there wasn’t a thing you could do about?

Someone reminded me of looking at the German history – a history that I’ve been avoiding thinking about ever since November 8 because it just engulfs me in hopelessness.

I remember reading heroic speeches given in the Reichstag by people who disappeared or were murdered shortly after. They tried to stop the country from going up in flames. They couldn’t. It was too late.

Growing up, my heroes included Sophie Scholl and Janusz Korczak. Both died for their value and their convictions. As a child, I thought this was admirable. Now I wonder if that is the best choice to take. They risked their lives for nothing.

And yet, the questions keep nagging at me: What are the right choices in the situation that we’re in? Should I fight like h*ll even though I know it’s probably too late? If I do that, who benefits from that? Will it just appease my guilty conscience because I was asleep up to now? Or will it give strength to those around me? Will it be like Viktor Frankl suggested: It’ll be what will keep us alive. Giving up means death. And, no, I don’t have the answers. It’s what I am wrestling with on and off these days.

And then someone else reminded me: We don’t know that it’s too late and we shouldn’t assume it is.

Janusz Korczak decided not to abandon the children of his orphanage not because he thought this would bring Hitler down. He chose to go with them into the gaschamber of Treblinka because he knew that his presence would give his children comfort in the last minutes of their lives.

Sophie Scholl simply passed out flyers because she knew that was the right thing to do, that people needed to know what was going on. She also knew that this wouldn’t bring Hitler down. She simply chose to do this because maybe one person would also start resisting or one person would be slightly less afraid.

Totalitarian regimes require our collaboration. They use fear to get us to collaborate because morality and common humanity are not on their side. The more of us refuse to collaborate – big and small – the less total the regime will be.

Plus, Trump isn’t president yet. There are still some things that could prevent his disaster. They are longshots but they still exist (most importantly, supporting the Hamilton Electors and demanding investigations into Trump’s conflicts of interest). We will not know until after we’ve taken action, maybe long after, whether an action was futile or not. The students who organized in Prague had no idea that their demonstrations would ultimately bring down the regime. They might’ve expected the crack downs of November 17 to continue. We never know what will happen until it actually happens. Maybe that’s even the biggest lesson of November 8! Polls are just that – predictions. Reality may turn out to be different.

So, it seems that I’ve found my voice again through all this. The voice that had disappeared when my last coupled relationship ended. I just didn’t have much to say anymore. I was hurt, deeply hurt, and wasn’t sure if any of what I was doing to heal myself had done any good. Maybe it hasn’t. And I can live with that.

I will no longer be silent! And I will not give up because I never know what action of mine will have the desired impact. And this impact might also be too small to notice, yet if enough of us refuse to collaborate, our small (and big) actions will add up. At minimum, we will preserve our own humanity and encourage each other.