I cried with relief this afternoon when Joe Biden took the oath of office, but as the day goes on, I find that I’m still holding my breath and wondering what the way forward could possibly look like.
Years back, I cleaned out my Facebook feed and stopped looking at the posts of those people who were determined to tout Trumpism, perpetuate hate and racism, and otherwise stir the pot. I was just trying to get through the day, and I think most of my liberal friends were doing/feeling the same. We just couldn’t look anymore. We couldn’t deal with anymore horror, anymore willful stupidity. We shut up and we sat down and we prayed that somehow there were enough of us to vote this hatefulness out of office. There were enough of us, and we did do it–and then some–but our issues remain.
There were 75 million people who wanted Donald Trump to serve a second term, and just a few weeks ago, thousands of them stormed the U.S. Capitol and did their darnedest to overturn the results of the election. People were killed. Government officials and members of the press feared for their lives. Some of us sat glued to our televisions, wondering if the worst of our nightmares was coming true: was this the opening salvo of another civil war? Is that–even now–an inevitable outcome of the past four years’ lies and kowtowing to an unstable king?
I hope it isn’t, but despite Kamala’s radiant smile and Joe’s honesty and kindness, I wonder at the way forward. How do we encourage people who are being fed by Fox News (and various underground media outlets) to place any kind of value on Truth? How do we even show them the truth when half of the country’s population seems determined to believe that they are not only entitled to their opinions, but also to their own version of the facts? How do we imbue them with the decency we carry with us every day–the decency that says black lives are worth the same as white ones, everyone should make a living wage and have health care that covers the treatments and medications they need to survive and that everyone should be treated with kindness and respect [until they demonstrate that they won’t reciprocate]?
I want there to be a way forward, but I don’t want these people at my table anymore. I don’t want their hatefulness to have an audience. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to read it. I don’t want to see it written on hats or shirts or bumper stickers or uttered by not-so-subtle supporters of “the thin blue line.” In the middle of a pandemic, doesn’t it seem like there are more important things to focus on than the petty and self-serving ideas of a former cult leader?
For the past four years, I’ve tried to make some sense of the trajectory–how did we get here? How did we come to a place where politics was appropriate conversation for mixed company, where truth was not only optional but openly mocked, where we could elect a man to office who routinely degraded women, the differently abled, and gold star parents and who reveled in the cruelty of separating families at the border and giving a deadly and devastating illness an openly racist slur for a moniker? All of these questions bewilder me, and have for all of the four years he was in office, but the awfulness that has survived this glorious Inauguration Day is this: how did he get 75 million people to vote for him again, and are those people going to continue to poison us going forward?
I want them to sit down, shut up, and get out of the way, I guess. And I only say that because I know that nothing and no one can change how people think or what they believe in their heart of hearts. As hateful as I find racism, anti-semitism and homophobia, these are not beliefs that we can talk people out of. They have the right to think what they want. But I’ll be damned if I don’t want them to shut up like I shut up, like we shut up. Four years ago when Trump took office, I was so heartbroken I could hardly breathe. And it wasn’t because my candidate didn’t win, it was because I could feel every noble idea I held for the future of the country going down the tubes. I knew he was going to do and say terrible things, and he did almost all of them. But I kept my mouth shut (except for the occasional jab about his overt stupidity) and I waited. The pendulum always swings back in this country–from religious to secular, from republican to democrat. God willing we’ll live long enough to see it, I kept thinking. Well…some of us did live long enough, and way too many of us didn’t.
And now…now, I just want to rediscover some of the idealism that maybe all of us had before the pandemic, before the lovely Obamas left office, before RBG died and the rebel flag flew over the Capitol. I want to hope again. I want to see things happen. I want equality for everyone and a return to truth and positivity as the default. Maybe I even want us to be better than we were before, because in the middle of a pandemic, shouldn’t we be? Shouldn’t this be the time for American heroes, and shouldn’t we reach for the stars (as Aaron Sorkin says)? I think we should. And for me, I guess that looks like this: I’m going to try to be kind, and to give people who were misinformed for four years the room to move on and engage in a little personal growth.
We’ve all fucked up and followed the wrong guy at some point in our lives, and we all needed a little grace in the aftermath. As it happens, I have a little grace to give. But first, all you naysayers have a seat. And hush.