A few years ago, friends shared a New Year’s Eve drink with my husband and me and toasted to “washing down” the previous year. I remember agreeing that the year had presented its challenges, but wishing not to wash. The days had been long, but time still flew. The clocks melted; time both stood still and moved quickly, transporting us to a Dalí painting in which time is everything and nothing. I remember also thinking that every year brings good with bad, and we learn from challenges, yadda, yadda, yadda, right?
This past year, though, this past year was something else. 2017 hammered home how the world’s psyche can be delivered, like a cat’s dead rat, to our doorstep, rat-day in and rat-day out, another package full of lies and hatred, its Anthrax particles scattering into our homes, hearths, and hearts. Despite all of this, I still don’t quite want to “wash down” the year. I firmly believe that activists are the greatest optimists. To push the rock up the hill every day, watch it roll back down, and then push it back up is to go necessarily Sisyphus on the regime’s ass. I’ve got a lot of metaphors working here, but it takes a metaphor juggler to keep so many balls of resistance in the air; it really does.
January brought racist travel bans and lies about inauguration crowds, but also the heroic gathering of lawyers at airports and the awe-inspiring, seven-continent Women’s March. In subsequent months, we experienced the soul-sucking Trumpcare proposal, James Comey’s firing, growing concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump presidency in general, elimination of DACA protections, the Syrian airstrike, and Trump’s support of Nazis following the events of Charlottesville, natural and national disasters in Puerto Rico, Texas, and California, and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord. (*Check out Jason Abruzzesse’s piece on Trump’s first eight months in office.) I haven’t even mentioned the #MeToo wave that implicates Trump all the more. ACLU President Anthony Romero has even written an outstanding and detailed article on Trump as a “one-man constitutional crisis.” (*See also John Cassidy’s summary of Trump’s first nine months in office here; Here is CNN’s report on Trump’s first six months in office; Here is the White House version of Trump’s first six months in office. All citizens should be aware of the White House whitewashing—you’ve got to read this stuff!) Anyone following the news in the most superficial of ways must be affected by its content, by what it tells us about our nation’s direction and relationship with its own residents. The sum total is, in a word, trauma.
In the political realm, the worst 2017 moment I witnessed—the very worst day to have to admit I am from the United States—was the day the nation’s “president” traveled to Puerto Rico after the most devastating hurricane in the island’s history and blithely threw paper towels out to people at a relief center as if they were audience members on a game show (reported here by the BBC). The reality of the White House’s relationship to Puerto Rico already presents abundant and problematic colonial legacies without complicating the personal, economic, and environmental losses resulting from Hurricane Maria (*see this piece from today’s El Nuevo Día for a summary of Puerto Rico’s current economic crisis). The United States needs a leader who knows enough to listen to his own citizens from Puerto Rico, to appreciate the leadership of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and to understand Puerto Rico from a nuanced historical, economic, political, and artistic standpoint. The paper towel incident epitomizes Trump’s ignorance, inhumanity, and willingness to do even more harm.
The other day, I read an article from the 12-29-17 edition of The New York Times about increased binge drinking in the United States. The author, Gabrielle Glaser, writes: “Many alcohol researchers and substance-use clinicians believe the steady increase in problem drinking arises from a deeply felt sense of despair: ‘Since the attacks on 9/11, we’ve been in a state of perpetual war, and a lot of us are traumatized by that,’ said Andrew Tatarsky, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating people with substance-use disorders.” The key concepts here are despair (in Spanish, desesperación, the emptying out of hope and expectations), perpetual war, and trauma. Since I’ve gone from 36 years old to 52 since 9/11/2001, I haven’t been sure how to measure the ingredients of the increased sense of deep preoccupation: having children whose future I worry about; having parents whose well-being is/was a daily concern; experiencing my own aging process, physically, emotionally, and intellectually; the military-industrial complex with its trillion-dollar budgets that seem to rob us of any focus on education and health; the troubled belonging to a nation claiming to be the world’s keeper of democracy but continuing to operate dishonestly in the world and to diminish the sense of humanity of its own citizens; the sadness of it all; the shame.
For my friends who read this blog who wish I would stop bad-mouthing the United States, I hope you know that there are many elements of United States culture that I appreciate highly. One of them is the freedom to write this blog and to express opinions that go against White House policy, leadership, and ethos. Nevertheless, to be a responsible citizen is to understand when elected leaders have gone way beyond the power of their office, way beyond respect for human beings and the earth. Being a responsible citizen means thinking through issues carefully, avoiding knee-jerk reactions, and expressing platforms thoughtfully. The Black Lives Matter movement happened for a whole host of important reasons. The knee-jerk “blue lives matter” response creates a false equivalency and gets us absolutely nowhere. We have to get to the point at which we value and build upon movements that give voice and power to those who have been silenced and oppressed, or whose parents and grandparents were silenced and oppressed.
I keep saying that I was never able to get in front of 2017. I’m a generally efficient person, but 2017 delivered so much national and global strife that organizing, reading, writing, and protesting had to occupy vast amounts of my time and mental space. I needed to connect with others—in person and on digital platforms—to effect some change and to feel emotions not linked to shame. Although this meant sacrificing elements of self-care (never a good idea), I was unable to find a better course of action and still haven’t. I don’t know how to strike a balance between caring and caring too much because so much is at stake every single day. The total solar eclipse tells us of how we lost the sun for a time, but maybe the 2018 supermoons will present a new story of how we can care for self and others.