We’re in a bit of a quandary here with Trump. He is giving every appearance of being a despot in the making. It’s possible, he’s just an idiot savant who is going to be one of our worst presidents and we’ll recover. And maybe our institutions are strong enough to withstand any attempt by him to step too far outside the lines. But after the last year in particular, that seems like a foolish thing to put our hopes in. Institutions haven’t been doing so well for quite some time now.
So, for now, we do what we can figure out to do, learn what works and what doesn’t and stay alert. Not everyone will be willing or able to see the threat and respond to it, unfortunately. But I really do think that if those of us who are aware enough to be alarmed keep showing up, join forces and resist, we will come out on top. So it’s in that spirit that I’m giving you your simple act of resistance for today.
A group of former congressional staffers have put out a guide for best practices to get our legislators to listen and respond to us. It’s called Indivisible. Your assignment for today is to go to their site, bookmark it and download the guide. If you’re ready, you can also sign up to receive updates on calls to action and find groups forming in your area. If you’re not, you will have the guide available and be able to easily find the site again when/if the time comes that you know you need to get involved.
One of the reasons I’m sharing this site with you is because, unlike other advocacy groups, these folks are truly working from the grassroots. They’re not asking for money or compiling a list of email addresses to sell or solicit from. They’re just trying to provide an easy way for people to learn best practices, connect and keep abreast of what’s going on.
Alrighty then? Ready, set, go!
Many Trump supporters literally voted for a person who exists only in their head.
I first realized that there was something strange going on with Trump and his supporters during the primaries when a seemingly normal man I’m connected to on Facebook shared a Trump ad saying, “this is amazing! Wow. If everyone saw this, Trump would win in a landslide. Finally, someone who gets it.” (Or something like that, I’m working from memory.) So I watched the ad. All it was was Trump making declarative statements like “I’m going to make America great again. I’m going to create so many great jobs. Defeat terrorism. Stop crime. Balance the budget. Etc, etc, etc”. And that was it. Just Trump listing things that would happen if he was elected. No explanation, no context, no nothing.
Normally I have quite a knack for seeing things through other people’s eyes, but I was at a complete loss. What in the world did this guy think he was looking at? Was he under the impression that other politicians were campaigning on making America terrible, handing it over to terrorists, destroying the economy and increasing crime?
My suspicion is that Trump has triggered deep, deep authoritarian programming in people who are susceptible to it. Some of this comes from his strange manner of speech. But my sense is that once this authoritarian programming is triggered, it pretty well puts people into a child-like trusting state of the sort that they experienced as children growing up in an authoritarian setting. (Researchers have found that Trump supporters tend to have strong authoritarian impulses which typically result from growing up with authoritarian parents.)
But whatever is going on here, it’s just bizarre. Maybe the zombie apocalypse is real. Because these people are not in their right minds.
So, odds are good that you’ve heard about actress Meryl Streep’s speech the other night where she said politically charged things like “disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” OK, that’s not quite a fair depiction of the matter. Her speech actually did constitute an attack on Donald Trump. I didn’t watch the it, but I heard about it in real time from friends on Facebook who felt like she was speaking for them.
At the same time, the speech was given from a very particular perspective – that of someone ensconced in the entertainment industry, a world which works rather differently than the world which the rest of us live in. I have some of the same criticisms of the content of the speech as Trevor Noah. (“Don’t make your point by shitting on someone else’s thing.”) Of course, there was the expected backlash from people who resented “being lectured” by a Hollywood celebrity. But those folks were by and large the same people who voted for a reality TV star for president, so they can really just stfu now.
Anyways, Streep’s speech highlighted an incident from 2015 in which Donald Trump apparently mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability. True to form, Trump has insisted that he did no such thing and that the media was just being mean and unfair. Streep’s speech has lead to a resurrection of videos claiming to prove that Trump did not actually mock a reporter’s physical disability, one of which I’ll embed below.
Now, clearly I and a good number of other people have decided that it is necessary to take an oppositional stance to Trump, but obviously we don’t want to become monsters ourselves in the fight. So it’s wise to actually look at the evidence from the other side in order to avoid being dishonest or unfair in ways that amount to being unjust. So, let’s look at the evidence against the claim that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability and evaluate it. (Trigger warning: video of Donald Trump, including audio of his voice. My sincere apologies.)
So here’s my take on the evidence, such as it is. First off, the mocking of the general from that same speech didn’t look remotely like the spastic display he put on when talking about the disabled reporter. The clip of him mocking Ted Cruz happened after Trump had already come under fire for apparently mocking a reporter’s disability and was probably him just creating cover for himself. The clip from 25 days before the incident in question bears only the vaguest resemblance to the incident in question. And the one from Larry King live (that they had to go back 11 years to find) is somewhat similar, but not nearly as animated as the incident in question. I’m thinking the fact that they have 3 clips from prior to the outrage, spanning over a decade’s worth of time is kind of the opposite of compelling evidence that Trump was not mocking a reporter’s disability.
However, even if we accept as an absolute fact that Trump occasionally imitates spasticity to mock people (including himself), there’s still the reality that a normal, decent person would not use that particular gesture to mock someone who actually suffers from spasticity. Ever. In fact, I’m pretty sure that people who suffer from spasticity would very much appreciate it if we’d stop using an imitation of their disability as visual short hand for “idiot”. If you really want to get down to it.
But even those of us who aren’t all that sensitive will still go out of our way not to create the appearance of mocking someone’s physical disability. And we’re horrified and embarrassed if we happen to do something which causes someone to think that we’re mocking a person’s disability. It’s the sort of thing we have nightmares about doing. In fact, I knew a guy back in college who was born with a deformed arm and hand who would reach out to shake with that hand when he wanted to be a jerk just because he knew the person would be embarrassed by their own reaction. Because again, most of us put a lot of stock in the value of not appearing to make fun of someone’s physical disability.
So, did Donald Trump make fun of a reporter’s disability? I would say yes. But even if his defender’s arguments are 100% correct, the fact still remains that Donald Trump, true to form, does not behave anything like a normal, decent person behaves. Not even in situations with a really low bar like not using an imitation of spasticity when making fun of someone who suffers from spasticity. Duh.
So, two weeks ago today I fell on an icy driveway and broke my ankle. It was classic; my foot started to slip on the ice, hit dry gravel and stopped. I continued my fall, my foot did not. Just like in every other broken ankle story you’ve ever been told, I heard the crunch of breaking bones, screamed and went into shock. There was no safe way to move me and both my oldest son and my husband have their own issues with balance/stability, so an icy pile-up nightmare was a real danger. So there was nothing to do but call an ambulance.
I live outside of town so it took a solid 15-20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During which time, all I could do is sit there. And try not to think about yet another set of medical bills we can’t afford. (I’ve lost track of how many times the local hospital has sued us.) Definitely try not to think about the implications of being unable to drive and largely immobile for any extended period of time. In a household of 7. Or about how much pain I was going to be in once the shock wore off. I’ve tapped out all my pain tolerance over the last few years.
And as I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to feel and think about all this, I had the strongest sense of God saying to me, “it’s ok. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everything’s perfect and exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Like the Spirit was pleased that I was sitting in the snow on a hill overlooking the field next to my house on a cold December morning with a broken ankle. I reminded myself that I was in shock. Obviously a broken ankle is pretty incompatible with perfect. But at the same time, I couldn’t seem to muster up any panic, anger or despair over the situation. I felt pretty at peace actually.
The ambulance finally arrived and with some amount of difficulty they got my fat ass into the back. I looked up at the clock above the doors right after they closed them and kind of stared at it, bemused. It was 11:11. I’ve had a weird thing with repeating and sequential numbers going on around me for a while now. It happens so often, in such unexpected ways that it’s become a joke in our family. When I saw that, I kind of laughed and decided that I might as well accept that the universe is in charge and everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be somehow.
I had surgery on my ankle last Friday to put in a plate and several screws. I don’t know if you know this – but when they screw things into your bones, it hurts. Of course it hurt before surgery too, so it’s been a couple of weeks of pain and pain killers. Neither of which are good for writing. Or moving. Or being nice to stupid people on social media.
Thankfully I am being well cared for, children are still putting on clean, weather appropriate clothing every morning and going to sleep on clean sheets every night. Everyone is being fed. Even if it is an endless stream of dad’s pasta dishes. (I would be perfectly happy to never eat pasta again in my life. It’s just me.) So I have nothing more to complain about. I just wish I had a fast-forward button to skip over the next couple of months.
But I keep coming back to this assurance that everything is exactly how it needs to be, regardless of what it looks like. And I keep thinking that it’s probably a pretty apt analogy for what’s going on in our country right now. I wasn’t nearly as shocked by Trump’s election as everyone else was. I’ve spent too much time around too many different kinds of people not to recognize the power of appealing to people’s most base instincts, peddling ignorance and putting on a good show. I believe that we are all made in God’s own image, but I also know that a lot of people have layered a seriously flawed value system, a stunning lack of self-awareness and a markedly shallow relationship with reality over the top of their true identity. So I was irate at Trump’s win (I still am), but not too shocked.
But the whole time, I’ve also had this sense of peace underneath. Like everything we can see in the material world is about as big a disaster as it can be without tipping over into actual mass violence. But the Spirit keeps saying, “oh, this is perfect. Everything’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” And just like with my ankle, I don’t think there’s any rescue or miracle coming to fix everything; just a long, hard trudge of doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that we have what it takes to walk from here in the middle of disaster to the other side of healing and rehabilitation. We’d rather not have to. We’d rather just carry on without the disruption, the pain and the difficulty. But that’s not an option. So we’ll do what we need to do.
I have often said that keeping faith in my fellow man has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I genuinely like people, but I also hold most of us in low regard. Some days I’m down right misanthropic. People are idiots. And stupid to boot. Yet, I do keep faith. Not because of the greatness of humans, but because I know that the same God who created this body of mine with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct itself created human nature as well. And I trust that God also created human beings with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct ourselves at the spiritual and cultural levels as well. Sure, this capacity hasn’t always gotten the job done, but we do learn. 100 years ago, without surgery, my ankle wouldn’t have healed itself to the point of restoration. We do need to pitch in for best results. It’s a co-operative venture between us and God.
In the end, I suspect that Trump’s election will prove to be the societal equivalent of re-breaking an improperly set bone. Right now all we can see is the break with the sharp jagged edge of a bone pushing up against the skin, threatening to break it. But, if those of us who know a broken bone when we see one put one foot in front of the other, fight through the challenges, do what is right and what needs to be done, I think we’ll be OK. Although I still wish that fast-forward button were real. 😉
This is the cover of The National Enquirer this week. All lies, but lies repeated take on an air of truth. This is what people are seeing at every check-out lane at every Walmart and grocery store in the country.
One of my working assumptions about life is that only that which can be redeemed is allowed. So anything that happens carries possibilities. Because if it’s happening, it can be redeemed. Now, whether any of that is factually true or not isn’t really here nor there. Even if it’s just a mental construct, it’s served me well through some really crazy shit.
Because I assume that everything is moving towards being redeemed, when life throws me a doozy that I wouldn’t choose if you promised me my own deserted island with wifi and an endless supply of tech support, my first thought is, “what is the advantage of this over what I wanted?” There are pro’s and cons to everything. So there are always advantages. They can take a while to find but, they are always there. Figure out what they are and hang onto them. Maximize them and use them to move forward.
Consider that your chosen path carried its own worst case scenario that maybe the universe is protecting you from. You don’t know what’s really going on, if there is anything going on, so pick a story that works for you. Write it in your mind and set it in your heart. Put it into writing if you need to. Revise it as necessary.
That story you create about whatever completely idiotic, terrible thing is happening in your life creates your working assumptions. So make it a good one with you as the good guy in the middle of it who the universe is secretly conspiring to help in unexpected ways. Make sure it fits the facts. Don’t punt and leave out the hard stuff to make the story easier than it really is. It needs to be a true story, not an imaginary one.
So, about the electoral college. They failed. Going back to the time of Plato at least, fear of the mob electing a dangerous man to power has been a concern when it came to democracy. The founding fathers studied the ancient Greek philosophers and were intimately acquainted with their writing and arguments. The electoral college was their answer to the problem of a foolish people electing a dangerous man. It was a great idea, but when the time came, it failed.
However, we do need to consider that if the electoral college had taken another path, that could have gone very wrong as well. If they punted the question to legislators, which is a possibility under the law, the worthless fools who run that place would have been left to make a decision. The Republicans have already shown that they just want power and the Democrats have shown that they will cave to pressure from Trumpkins who flood their lives with demands that they vote Trump in. Or Pence. Hard to know which is worse. So that was never likely to go well.
The other option was to give the vote to the winner of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton. This was my preferred option, although the reality is that if they had done that, it could easily have lead to violence. And given the factors I highlighted yesterday, we are in a situation which in other places has lead to extreme violence erupting almost overnight. So maybe the universe is trying to protect us on that front.
There’s no use or point in spending much energy worrying about it further. It is what it is. We have a marathon to run at sprint speed here. Let’s not waste emotional or mental energy on things that we can’t change or do anything about.
It’s all well and fine to say that being critical, calling out wrong doing, speaking against oppression and being rude are not necessarily impediments to love, prayer or peace. But the fact remains that I’m being particularly nasty about Trump and his election-on-a-technicality. Yes, there’s the Russian deal. And the fact that we’re in a scarier position than people want to admit (more on that later). But it’s also that I’m well aware of a dynamic described by Jonathan Chait in this weekend’s New York Magazine explaining how Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer is leading the Democrats to their doom:
Voters pay little attention to legislative details, or even to Congress at all. They make decisions on the basis of how they feel about the president, not how they feel about Congress. And a major factor in their evaluation of the president is the presence or absence of partisan conflict. If a president has support from the opposition party, it tells voters he’s doing well, and they then choose to reward the president’s party down-ballot. . . The actual dynamic, then, is:
Senate Democrats work with Trump → Voters conclude Trump is doing a good job → Senate Republicans and Trump win reelection
Senate Democrats don’t work with Trump → Voters conclude Trump is doing a bad job → Senate Democrats win reelection.
I think that the election of Trump has put us in a terrible position. And we cannot afford to allow his behavior and tactics to become normalized nor can we allow him to create even the slightest perception that he is anything but dangerous without actually changing course in a way that dramatically reduces the danger he poses. (Again, more on this later.) Being civil and treating him like any other political opponent we have disagreements with will only strengthen him while neutralizing the voice of dissent as a threat.
So we need to keep yelling. We need to refuse to accept calls to peace when no peace has been sought, much less attained. We need to be down right belligerent. Because if even those who claim the man’s a danger go quiet, retreat into murmuring discontent and civility, how big a danger could he really be?
Being nice, being civil, being conciliatory and respectful are all very good things that we should strive for as much as possible. But everything has limits. As the book of Ecclesiastes famously says, there is a season for everything. And right now it’s a season of belligerent opposition. Which is why I am, and will continue to be, quite nasty about what is going on. It’s the least I can do right now.
A couple of weeks ago I ran into an acquaintance who told me that work at his job was so slow that his hours had been cut and he was afraid that by Christmas they would be closing the shop altogether. He’s a machinist, which is one of those jobs which is usually in high demand; I know just a couple of years ago local shops were recruiting kids right out of high school for training. So I asked him about that but he just shook his head and said that it’s changed. Then, to my surprise, he said, “what we really need is to get Trump into office.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Because Trump says he’s going to bring steel back to America and that’s what we really need.”
Now, I like this guy a lot. He’s a little rough, but he’s a good guy who I have no reason to think anything bad about. But he’s never struck me as the very sharpest tool in the shed. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that he took Trump’s words at face value. But I was. I still am. Trump’s such a transparent conman that I struggle to understand how people don’t see it.
Then again, I can also see how when you’re afraid and someone powerful says they are going to help you, it must be awfully tempting to just accept what they say and not think too hard about it. And obviously, if a man with two small kids and all the usual responsibilities is living in fear of not being able to provide for them, that’s not Trump’s fault. That’s the result of a long line of decisions made by powerful people from both sides of the aisle not that did not put the needs of regular people first. Trump’s just the opportunist who was bold enough to step in and take advantage of people’s fears and hostility for his own purposes.
I asked my friend, “you really think Trump’s going to bring steel back? I think he’s full of shit.”
He kind of shrugged and said, “well, I guess we’re about to find out.”
Before we parted ways, I told him I’d say a prayer for him and his family, for whatever that might be worth. I didn’t tell him about how my husband has lost 5 jobs and a business in the last 11 years, through no fault of his own. I didn’t tell him that there actually are worse things than losing a job. I didn’t mention that Trump’s election had caused my own family to fear for those worse things actually happening. The way things are going, he’ll probably learn those lessons on his own eventually.
I keep wanting to find a way out of this impending disaster. I am sickened that the most hateful among us now think that they have both the power of government and the will of the people behind them. But perhaps it’s just the nature of things that we’ll all have to be brought low before we can really understand that not even poverty is the worst thing that can happen in life. I guess we’re about to find out.