Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Trying to climb out of the Trump morass
"Are we gonna be okay?" said the Metra conductor, punching my ticket.
"We always have been," I replied, because what else are you going to say? "No?" I have no flippin' idea. I'm not the Delphic Oracle.
At least I was sincere; I might gaze into the abyss good and long, but then I lean toward optimism. I feel obligated to examine the negatives—and after this most astounding of presidential elections, you don't need much imagination to see things going into the weeds and fast. But why feel miserable about bad stuff that might never come?
It's early yet. Yes, Trump promised a bunch of things that are some combination of a) immoral; b) harmful; c) evil; d) impossible.
But Trump has a proven history of saying almost anything, of making promises then denying them. At this point, that is a strength. His saying that, after a year of promising to put Hillary Clinton in jail, nah, he isn't going to do that, well, it felt like springtime.
There have been a lot of people buttonholing me, to talk. Even a pair of librarians at Northbrook Public Library, when I stopped to return a book Tuesday night, gathered around to parse the situation. We were more or less flabbergasted, but holding up, and talking helped.
"Their reward for enduring the awful experience," J.K. Rowling writes in The Casual Vacancy "was the right to tell people about it."
A colleague stopped me at the paper.
He asked, What about this video of neo-Nazis in Washington, D.C., exulting over Trump's election? Two hundred people! I thought he meant, "200, and that's a lot," but he meant just the opposite. Two hundred isn't very many neo-Nazis at all, he said. Why was the media even covering it?
Well ... I said, maybe because a bunch of bigots and far right haters are goose-stepping into the White House. That creates a sensitivity. And two hundred may not be a lot, but it's not nothing. Maybe next week it'll be 500.
He wasn't quite following me, so I tried a metaphor.
"It's as if the doctor found a malignant lump on your arm," I said, "It being real small wouldn't be that important. You still wouldn't say, 'But the rest of me isn't cancer so I'm fine!' You'd watch that small lump very carefully. That's the situation here."
No need to slide into panic or depression. That doesn't help. The immediate threat is from, not Trump or the government, but the sidewalk toughs and schoolyard bullies who are being emboldened, by the illusion that their worldview isn't horrendous, who feel free to abuse whoever is before them who seems a little different, blacks and Muslims and Hispanics. Not so much Jews and the handicapped, though I imagine that's coming. We need to see how these situations are treated--does the rung above the empowered deplorables, the local cops and school principals and such, stick with our view of American as a diverse nation, or do they get with the Trump program and wink at these offenses? My gut tells me the former. Though that could be hope talking.
There is cause for alarm, but also cause for hope. On the phone with my older boy, Ross, over the weekend, whip smart and very political, I observed that he didn't seem at all anxious about the change in administration. Why?
"We have strong institutions," he said. Not meaning, I should point out, mental institutions where these alt-right haters can be stuck after they are finished acting out in public. He meant the courts and the judiciary, the media and the police, the business community and what state, city and local governments haven't been too corrupted by the right wing mania against American rights. One mean-mouthed talking yam can't undo that overnight.
That's an actual comfort. Trump can dog whistle haters all day long, and individuals will follow. But to turn the ship of state into the direction he's seems willing to have it go, well, that takes time and effort. Barack Obama, if you notice, never closed Guatanamo Bay, despite his promises. I have no doubt that Trump will try to do some awful things. But whether he succeeds is an open question, and while concern and alarm is natural, so is tentative optimism. We just don't know.