Thursday, November 24, 2016

It's All Politics

For some reason, I'm losing my appetite for leftovers.

4:30 a.m., and I can't sleep. Actually, I've been awake since 3:00; I just decided ninety minutes was long enough to think about what's happening, and that maybe writing about it would help me ease back into dreamland.

(Sidebar: since going back to full-time teaching, my body has been hardwired to get up at 5:00 a.m. I now set my alarm for 5:15, but rarely need it. I just can't stay asleep.)

I know I'm not the only American lying awake in the dark, my mind churning with fear and fury. There are many of us--if not a majority, certainly at least a sizable plurality--who are terrified not just by who's been elected President, but by the very fact that he was even nominated for this office, let alone that so many millions of our friends and relations voted for him. No, he didn't win the popular vote, in fact lost it by more than two million votes. But that's still 62 million Americans who voted for him. Look at that number again: 62 million people. Even if you discount those Republicans who "came home" despite reservations about their candidate--and also leaving aside how any intelligent person can just feel reservations, rather than outright horror, at the thought of this turkey running the country--that vote still means there are tens of millions voting the angry white ticket, voting for xenophobia, racism, misogyny, climate change denial, appeasing Russia, rattling sabers at China, breaking treaties and contracts, ignoring Constitutional rights, and oh my God, I may never sleep again.

This is not just about losing sleep. It's an every-waking-moment thing. (Except when I'm teaching; then, blissfully, wonderfully, my mind is utterly devoid of orange-faced bellicose billionaires.) It invades conversations. It flavors meals. It makes comedy unfunny. It makes drama much more poignant. It's absolutely going to come up this afternoon over the Anderson family Thanksgiving dinner, whether we like it or not.

I know there are many families declaring their Thanksgiving tables a politics-free zone. Last night, the Milshtein/Anderson household discussed doing just that. Alex tried it out like this: "How about this weather we've been having?" To which I replied: "Yes, it's unseasonably warm, isn't it? And you know who doesn't believe in climate change? OUR PRESIDENT ELECT."

And there it is: he's everywhere. There's no safe topic. Try football: "Did you hear about the Trump Foundation buying a Tim Tebow autographed helmet?" Talk about what the kids at the table are doing at school: "Wow, Emma, you made first chair clarinet? I sure hope there's still money for public school music after Trump's education secretary diverts all our funding to private school vouchers." Okay, how about waxing lyrical about how much I love my new car? "I love the adaptive cruise control. It's a real life saver when some aggressive wingnut in a giant pickup with a Trump bumper sticker cuts me off."

The simple fact is that there are no safe topics. Politics touch everything; and this season, just sixteen days after the election, all those places politics have touched are inflamed.

And it's not just our proximity to the election. For the last eight years, it's been blissfully easy to NOT think about politics. Sure, I've enjoyed reading about it--I'm a political junky, after all--and there've been plenty of Capitol hijinks to irritate me, as Republicans have refused to acknowledge the authority of the President; but for most of the time, I could go about my daily life unaware of the political significance of everything I did. This was even true, to an extent, during the Bush II administration: sure, they were incompetent, and often evil, but I didn't feel like my country was at risk because of them. I knew I could wait until the next election, and things would eventually be fine.

That's not true anymore. I now know that 62 million Americans were willing to at least take a chance, if not enthusiastically embrace, an authoritarian monster, and even if he serves just one term, or even just a portion of one term--hell, even if by some wild long-shot electoral miracle, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania do recounts and Hillary Clinton is rightfully awarded the Presidency--I still have to live with the knowledge that there are that many people who are either that stupid or that evil. More than that, I know that some of them are my neighbors, friends, possibly even members of my extended family. I have to share the road with them (and yes, I can't help noticing that some of them who drive large vehicles have become dangerously aggressive on the road lately), work alongside them, buy my groceries from them, and (unless I'm willing to give up my favorite places in America) vacation in locales where they're not just a sizable minority, or even a plurality, but a clear majority of the people renting me an Air BnB, pumping my gas, serving me meals, drinking beside me in a brew pub, hiking behind me through the wilderness.

So there's no getting away from it: however hard we try to avoid it, politics is on the menu today.

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