“I can’t help but feel like, this is our last chance to get it right.”
It is Martin Luther King day, a day when we honor a man and a movement for civil rights unique in our nation’s history, and so it is appropriate that I am spending today contemplating the civil rights we so desperately need. The event, Crossing Political Divides, is an attempt by many of us in the area to find a way over the gulfs that seem wider every day. Some 45 of us have gathered in a classroom at the School for International Training to see if those divides are too great, or if we can still reach across.
As a beginning, we are watching a short clip of Van Jones, a black man with political power, discussing politics with a family on the opposite side. The man who says it is our last chance is white, and a Trump voter, and a man who, in that moment, I entirely agree with. This is our last chance to get it right. We are both patriots. We both see the needs of our country. We both feel, desperately, that things cannot go on as they have.
And yet, if we get any more specific than that, we cannot agree. What he feels is progress, to me, feels like loss. What I think is righteous, to him, feels like weakness. What we both think is patriotism, to the other, seems like treason.
In the long dark of winter, I usually long for sun and rain and melt. Like a grouse, I hunker down below the snow, wait out the storms, and dream of spring. After every snowfall, the New England trees shudder, straighten up, and release their burdens in a slightly longer day and a slightly warmer sun.
Like the trees, we weather our nor’easter, shake off the foot of snow, and venture out into the bitter cold and screaming wind that so often follow such storms. It feels like winter today. Yet, it is also one of very few days that feel like winter of late. Just a few days ago, ice and snow came in the night, but it melted into 40-degree rain by morning.
As it has a dozen times this past month. Instead of the deep winter of January and February, we seem to be stuck in a protracted April. January showers bring February showers bring March showers; winter wanders farther north in search of more hospitable conditions
Usually, at the end of each month I compile links to stories and pieces I found thought-provoking in some way. But this past month has been an inundation of news, most of it bad, and I’m reluctant to feed into the chaos by recapping it all. Instead, here are five pieces that helped me understand something differently about the state of the world:
When a man shows us how cowardly, ignorant, and petty he is, we should believe him. We should not expect him to change. We should not expect him to become better. We should not expect him to stop being a bully when he is given power in addition to a bully pulpit. This man has shown us who he is, and he will be exactly the same for the next four years—but with power to remake the country with his actions and not just his words.
He has muzzled scientists and set in motion actions that, without exaggeration, will drive climate change from manageable disaster to runaway cataclysm. And he denies it exists. He has taken action to attack Americans, to strip us of our rights, and to expel us from the country. And he denies we deserve otherwise. He has decreed the building of an edifice of exclusion, and denied that we will pay the price.
And he has whined and complained about the depth of opposition to his dictatorial ambitions. Like any coward, he only knows how to silence those who critique him. A leader would strive to be better; this man strives for nothing.
Has it only been a week? There are so many more to come. The temptation to look away is strong—but despair, especially, we must resist.
They’re coming for your health care. For some, that will be deadly. For others, and for the government, expensive. What can you do about it? Despite Trump’s campaign promises, the dead-of-night fast tracking, and the bluster and crowing from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the fate of the ACA actually rests with a few moderate Republicans in the Senate. And what they do, if you live in one of their states, rests with you.
And here we are, marking the passing of one era into another. I want to be optimistic, but I can’t. I can see how some people are, because for them, this was the last chance. They’ve been watching their jobs and communities withering away, and they blame regulation and government and outsiders. For them, this seems like a hopeful moment, when maybe something will change and the days will return when all you needed to get a good job was a high school degree and determination.
Those days will not return. It wasn’t government that took them, nor regulation, nor outsiders: the world has just changed, and it changed as a direct consequence of those days. America, as much as any nation, has insisted on a global role, and yet being an economic “leader” in the world doesn’t mean good jobs anymore—it means cheap jobs, and money concentrated in the hands of the powerful, and the rest of us are just grist.
Trump can’t fix this world any more than Obama could. Obama said “yes we can,” but his best wasn’t good enough. Trump says a bunch of vague things about how he will, and people believe him. They believe him because they want to. As a consequence of that deep and understandable yearning, an entire section of the country is embracing a great fiction. Here is the fiction:
The world seems to weigh a lot more lately. Stuck with the gravity of the situation, the rock of history, and the hard place of the coming few years, I can’t help but feel greater responsibility and greater urgency both. I thought, outside of climate change, that I had time to figure things out. Now I think I have no time at all.
So, in changing some of my focus, I also will be changing my writing. I started writing here as practice and a way to explore ideas, and I still want to do that, but the patient exploration of ideas is no longer where I can afford to spend the majority of my time. I need concrete, specific action that will have a direct impact on the world.
What that means for the time being is that I’ll post essays here only on Fridays, and I reserve Tuesdays for things I find productive in the Trump era. I need to balance my thought and my action, and so I’ll balance it here as well.
To start with, yesterday I attended (and nominally helped organize) a session on having hard political conversations in our communities. It’s a small step, and a work in progress. But, no matter what our politics, we’re all getting into those conversations, and it helps to think about how to have them beforehand. So for today, I’m posting the list of resources I helped compile, and which is going out to participants. Continue reading →