Democracy is on the mat. But we need to stand up, if not together than for one another.
Like the majority of Americans, today I woke up with the worst hangover of my life. And I did not drink a drop last night.
I have not felt this bad since the morning of 9/12/01. And I do not say that lightly. I lost my best friend in the South Tower the day before. Though I am not trying to equate a terrorist attack on American soil with the results of a presidential election—the feelings I have: stress, the inability to breathe through the gut punch, uncertainty for the future, questioning everything I have seen and learned and believed about this country its people and certainly its future, are the exact same.
I wept tears of hope and joy yesterday afternoon knowing four generations of women in my family, starting with my 93-year-old grandmother and ending with my 19-year-old niece, each had the opportunity to cast their vote—for the very first time—for the first female president of the United States. A candidate who was not just supremely qualified, but was also a beacon of hope not only for the generation she represented, but the generations that begat her and the generations to come.
The glass ceiling above her never-to-be victory party remained unshattered last night.
Instead of ending the evening warmly embracing my partner and whispering in my son’s ear, “We did it…for you.” I turned off the TV around midnight and stared into the dark. And I wept again. This time, it was from sadness, remorse and regret.
But it wasn’t just a few tears and a sniffle. It was that shaking from the shoulders down, guttural bellowing, why-oh-why-isn’t-anyone-out-there-listening full body cry. The kind reserved for deaths in the family.
Our son woke up an hour later coughing and was brought into bed with us. He and I tossed and turned boiling the sheets with our unchoreographed movements. When I did sleep, I dreamed of a land of internment camps and barbed wire and helicopters flying overhead, the kind of place that seemed like a dystopian movie set, colored in slightly varying shades of monochrome gray.
I woke up this morning with the magical thinking that it didn’t really happen. I imagined how my grandmother started her day yesterday, making the tentative and labored steps into the voting booth with the aid of her cane, and the joy she must have felt as a former Republican, a prudent, strong and always compassionate woman—to punch her ballot for Hillary.
She has been through and seen so much in her life, but nothing—nothing like this. She was shipped from her home on the farm in Minnesota out to California in the middle of the Great Depression to live with an aunt because she was the third daughter and they just could not feed three mouths. She waited for three years for my Grandfather to return from the war and told my sister and I that they had to start over and that every couple at one point “has to start over; in fact, you start over every day.” She saw this country go through egregious growing pains during the Civil Rights movement, had to explain to her children that evil exists with the assassination of JFK, RFK and MLK, suffered through Vietnam and was the first person to call and comfort me after 9/11. “We have been attacked before,” she said stoically. “And we will survive. You will survive.”
So what do I say to her now? What do I do now?
Our country’s threats have always been external or existential. Not any more. The minority of Americans, but the majority of the Electoral College, has elected a man with no experience, no morals and no real plan to steer a listing ship that is barely navigating troubled waters through not-so-bad times. We have already lost credibility, with our neighbors to the north and south and with our allies watching closely but so glad they are far away. We are now seen by our enemies as divided and vulnerable—the weakest moment in our nation’s history.
The man who was just put in power was put in power by people who reject intellect, who turned their backs on basic human decency, who favor bullying and gossip over truth and justice. We have elected a cartoon movie villain and we do not know, we CANNOT begin to understand, the real damage that is about to occur as we give the keys to our democracy to a drunk-with-power authoritarian spoiled rich kid who has never paid one penny out of his own pocket or one ounce out of whatever he has that resembles a soul for his lifetime of transgressions.
If you look at the team he is assembling, those empty promises for change and swamp drainage and a return to greatness clank and echo like a penny tossed to the bottom of an empty wishing well. Why? Because he’s using the same baddies that have steered this country to the brink, multiple times. To revamp healthcare, he is enlisting the services of big insurance and big pharma lobbyists. A surrogate from the Koch brothers, perhaps the biggest known corporate rapists and poisoner of communities in the land, has already been tapped to help run the Environmental Protection Agency. Big bank representatives from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan will help steer the course of finance in this country.
And that’s the good news.
His cabinet will be assembled from a hodgepodge of irritated white yes men who have contorted their own personal truths so far beyond recognition that they are unrecognizable. In Chris Christie he has a former governor who was recently found guilty for his involvement in the illegal lane closures of the George Washington Bridge for political gain. In Newt Gingrich, a known scammer, science denier, personal freedoms violator and philanderer who visited his first wife Jackie, then in the hospital recovering from an operation for uterine cancer, only to discuss terms of their divorce. Rudy Giuliani, once the beloved tough-guy mayor of New York who helped heal the city after 9/11, has turned into a vampirish version of himself who cannot seem to recollect the bi-partisan effort and the outpouring of sympathy from the nation and the world in the wake of those dark days.
If there is one good thing to be said about these men, including the president-elect, they are all well into their 70s and/or in horrible physical health, meaning they may not be walking on this green earth much longer.
The question that remains is, how much damage can they do over the next few years they remain here and in power?
The answer, frankly, is impossible to project or imagine.
Though we do know a few things: The economy, which is really just a theoretical algorithm controlled by confidence or lack thereof, will falter or may collapse. The earth will continue to be ignored, to suffer and ultimately, will revolt. Residents of this country, good men, women, children and families—who are minorities, who practice freely a religion outside of Christianity, who are members of the LGBT community—have all been told by a high concentration of voters that they do not have a voice and now fear that they will be subject to acts of violence against them. Mainstream media, the old gatekeepers, have pandered to ratings and chased money and failed to present the truth in context, failed to give minorities equal say and failed to hold the public’s attention without turning to sensationalism and ultimately ran an issue-free campaign. The new gatekeepers, our social media feeds, have not yet managed to devise a necessary system to screen out the destructive screeds of hate groups buoyed by ignorant pundits and therefore are just as guilty of filling us up with awful as we are for ingesting it—constantly.
Most of all—we are to blame for falling for it. All of us. Left or right, right or wrong, we gave the bad kid in the classroom too much attention. Gave him a platform. Gave him adulation or disdain, didn’t matter. Now he has sneaked into the oval office. One man—one, single, marginally educated, gender-biased, merkin-on-head-wearing, wealthy beyond any recourse or responsibility, extraordinarily selfish and insular, no-friend-having creature who has never turned on a computer, never owned a dog and never shown even a hint of kindness or empathy outside what meets his own needs—has hijacked the highest office in the free world.
To be decent, to do right, to stand up for the innocent and defend those who get up every day and try to leave this world a tiny bit better place, seems, from here right now, an impossible task.
And yet that, right there, used to be the implicit promise we kept every morning when we stood up and said the Pledge of Allegiance.
The reality is his administration, like so many endeavors he’s ruined before it, is destined to fail. He has been able, through birth right, to fail up his entire career. Now that he’s at the summit, there is nothing left but the fall. The administration will either fail in a sense that it will wake a nation up to its grievous mistake and make us aware of our past transgressions and help us—maybe for the first time—start the healing. Or it will fail spectacularly and result in a war on this soil, a Depression the likes of which may know few depths, the deportation or imprisonment of the innocent or the ultimate dissolution of this sovereign land.
My hope this morning is we, each individual, each American, mitigate the fallout by taking responsibility, real responsibility, for ourselves and one other. That we stand up for our rights and our freedoms as individuals and as a country. Too many men and women have fought and died for us to be lazy now, to give up now.
I hope we realize, ultimately, mistakes cannot be undone. But we can stand up and be accountable for them.
Because, right now, we still have the right to stand up and be counted, even if that’s all we have.