2017: Hard to Look Back

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.

Day of Reckoning

Every so often we need to list actions that are insane, inane, and inhumane.  Today, let’s do some accounting.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and José are not just a part of hurricane season.  They are part of an ever more worrisome chain of cataclysmic events caused by climate change.  Yes, we should care about the people affected—those who have lost life, property, livelihood, and clean water—in every way we can, and we have to stop causing these events, then throwing up our hands as if we don’t understand their origin, and then calling upon people to clean up the messes.

Colin Kaepernick and dozens of other NFL players are not just well-paid professional athletes with a bone to pick.  They are brave individuals who are responding to a system of oppression that we white people have created and perpetuated.  We have all witnessed the excessive use of force on African Americans, resulting in death, incarceration, and entrenched patterns that we are only now starting to acknowledge.  We shouldn’t foment racism and then criticize those who protest it, those who have a legitimate cause to question allegiance to a flag whose country has never chosen to represent their interests.  Colin Kaepernick should have a solid Title VII case working, especially given the retaliation he has suffered for his important gesture of resistance, a gesture made in a context highly visible to white men, the group perhaps most in need of lessons about United States history and present-day realities.

The events of Charlottesville didn’t happen in a vacuum.  We have spent too long neglecting the evolution of the First Amendment and indulging a long outdated interpretation of the Second Amendment.  Jeff Sessions is busy accusing college and university campuses of serving as echo chambers for people with homogeneous opinions and fragile egos, hearkening back to some mythical good old days when tough people argued out tough opinions.  Whatever good old days he may be referring to were days when colleges and universities had not yet opened their doors to many people who weren’t white or male.  Not all white males have the same opinions, but an environment that welcomes them and them only also protects them from heterogeneity and challenges to their privilege.  It creates power systems for them and them only, power systems that manifest themselves in the very type of government that is not working for many of us at this moment.  The powerful weapons available to the common person give the Second Amendment a ferocious sway over the First, as we witnessed so clearly in Charlottesville.  Open-carry laws on campuses such as The University of Texas certainly chill free speech freedoms and impulses.

It is no coincidence that Betsy DeVos is unraveling all of the equality work done by President Obama.  We created Betsy DeVos, and her toady, Candice Jackson, by allowing attack after attack on the character and actions of the most qualified candidate for the presidency, demonstrating that we can’t stand women who have earned power, and giving power to someone wholly unqualified to be Secretary of Education just because she is (1) a billionaire and (2) willing to assume that women who have been raped are liars and to give alleged rapists (Brock Turner, for example) the overwhelming benefit of the doubt.  DeVos serves to dismantle Obama-era protections, yet another demonstration of the racist need to undo all the good work done by a black president.  Trump’s proposal to Congress to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) again erases an Obama-era program and, according to this article from The Atlantic, reverses upward mobility for many of the nation’s young people.

The travel ban imposed upon Muslim-majority nations, a ban rearing its ugly head anew, now includes Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela, much to the confusion of most people who are experts in information-sharing among nations with an interest in eliminating state-sponsored terrorism.  Chad’s inclusion, even in a Trumpian worldview, is quite confusing. Trump has baited North Korea and then blamed the nation for its (admittedly) dangerous and (hopefully) unwarranted missile tests.  The ban of Venezuela, whose citizens are suffering in many ways, including vast food shortages, seems cruel and, to put it lightly, un-neighborly, especially for a nation that offered aid to the United States after Harvey and Irma. The inclusion of non-Muslim-majority nations represents a chess move on Trump’s part to attempt to make the ban appear less targeted at one religious group.

Despite recommendations from his top military advisers and servants, the “president” continues to insist that transgender individuals should not serve in the military.  We shouldn’t have to be in an uproar about having a president treat people as less than human for their race, religion, national origin, and gender identity.  These groups are supposed to be protected under the law (Title VII, 1964, and Title IX, 1972) of the United States and are now targeted by the government of the United States.

What happened to infrastructure and jobs?  Why have the “president” and Congress spent nine months trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, only to find that it is the best solution we have so far?  (They could have spent those nine months fixing certain elements of the ACA to make it even stronger.) Where are the “progress” and “greatness”?  What is beneficial, humane, kind, generous, or noble about the way the United States is conducting business these days, within the country and beyond it?

Even Forbes has a list of the ten most offensive tweets from our “president.”  A man who uses his Twitter account and the Oval Office as a policy machine, bully pulpit, and series of contradictions is running our country into the ground.