Friday, November 11, 2016

Remember, Remember, the Eighth of November

Aftermath of last night's riots in Portland.

9/11, meet 11/9.

It's cropping up all over Facebook: the observation that reversing the calendar numbers of America's deadliest terrorist attack gives the date of Hillary Clinton's concession to Donald Trump, the greatest risk to American democracy since that attack. And I feel it, too, as I struggle to lose myself in chores, errands, tasks. For a few hours on Wednesday, teaching was the perfect drug, enabling me to check out of my base-level horror and just be utterly present for my students. Unfortunately, Thursday was a planning day--no student contact hours--and I spent most of it running recorders through my dishwasher, hardly an intellectually immersive task. Today is worse still: I've got nothing on my agenda that will keep me from thinking about what is happening all around me.

It would help if I could cut myself off from the media, both social and journalistic, but I can't. Every time I pick up my phone, my fingers move without volition to see what's happening, the headlines, the memes, the stories and feelings and ideas both friends and strangers are sharing, and before I know it, I'm like a novice swimmer thrown in the deep end, thrashing about, gasping for air, sobbing out my fear and grief.

I cried over breakfast. It wasn't the first time this week. (Check yesterday's blog for a selfie of me doing it in my kimono.) It won't be the last, either. I could do it right now.

For me, it all really happened on 11/8, not 11/9: when Amy and I went to bed, we knew what would greet us when we awoke. I awoke for the first time at 12:30, technically 11/9, to see the headline that Trump had one. Then I lay awake and stared at the dark ceiling, imagining all of President Obama's accomplishments being flushed down the shitter by a racist, misogynist narcissist. I got little sleep after that, and I haven't had a good night's sleep since.

It feels very much like that horrible time fifteen years ago: the sense that the world will never be the same, that all we believe in and hold dear is at risk, that our nation may never fully recover from the damage being done to it by people who hate what we represent. Except it's worse this time, because the haters are our fellow citizens, and the country was assaulted through a customary practice that is at the heart of its identity. There were no plane crashes, no bombs, no envelopes filled with pathogens: we did this in the most civilized way imaginable. We voted for it.

Of course, by "we" I mean barely a quarter of eligible voters, a smaller percentage than put Hitler into office. Had Clinton been able to hold onto Obama's 2012 majority, she would've won handily. But too many stayed home, and of those who remained, enough cast protest votes (for Stein, Johnson, or, most shocking of all, Trump) to hand the White House to a man who boasts of sexually assaulting women, who publicly mocks persons with disabilities, who slanders and belittles persons of color, of faiths other than whatever little one he espouses, who believe in truth and justice and compassion and...

Pardon me for a moment while I weep again.

There. That's better. For now.

So yes, to me this feels very much like 9/11, but worse. I have a sense it will go on for a very long time, that it will still be going on when my ashes have been scattered at whatever mountain summit I finally decide I like best, and that it will be negatively affecting the lives of my great-grandchildren. The world is going to be a poorer, smaller, more hateful place because of this. Many people will die, some from diseases that could've been treated had the Affordable Care Act not been dismantled, some from poverty they would not have known had the economy not blown up under Trump's inept guidance, some in wars that could've been avoided had a careful, sane person been in charge, and far too many from violent hate crimes. 

One of the things that made me weep today was reading about hate crimes being committed on the campus of the University of Oregon, that bastion of West Coast liberalism: students wearing blackface, threatening messages being left on the phones of student minority representatives, even a case of a law professor dressing up in blackface for a Halloween party. Yes, even in Oregon, racists are feeling empowered to ridicule and threaten people of color.

Another thing that got to me this morning was learning that anarchists had taken over the peaceful downtown Portland protest, and rampaged through the city, smashing shop windows, then crossing the river and wreaking havoc at a Toyota dealership. I remember seeing anarchists at every peace march I participated in during the Iraq War, watching them provoke the police officers who were keeping the streets safe and clear for us to march, admiring the cops for keeping their cool, and grieving the fact that this handful of knuckleheads, rather than the tens of thousands of us marching peacefully, would be the ones making headlines the next morning. That's what happened with last night's protests: the news locally and nationally is all about the rioting, not the protest, lending justification to the "law and order" President-elect's plans on cracking down on dissent.

It feels very much like the world I thought I would be living in today has been ripped from me and everyone I love. Like 9/11, this will be a time that I can never completely escape.

Of course, there were glimmers of hope in the first days after 9/11, moments when I felt like the nation was going to come together and show the world just how civilized we could be, how powerful in our unity, how measured in our response. That all went out the window, of course, when Bush invaded Iraq; but for a brief time, it really did look like there might be hope of a positive way out.

Perhaps that can happen now. Perhaps we who love what our country is supposed to represent can channel that love into protecting those values in unity with other like-minded citizens. That's how I intend to respond in the days ahead--at least, whenever I'm not too busy weeping.

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