Like a whole bunch of you, I headed out on November 8 to my tiny township hall to vote. The hall is tiny because my village in the northern Michigan forest is equally tiny. Wendy at the post office knows everyone by name. Ivan at the hardware store witched my well and drilled it by hand with an auger.
In the winter, the church I attend smells like damp flannel and wood smoke; conversation circles around the number of points on the buck; attire is 80s vintage because it hasn’t worn out yet. And how can it wear out when the black pumps and skirt are Sunday-only attire?
Entering the township hall, I had been waylaid by an older man with a paunch and bad teeth who was assuring me that he could get me a discount on a new Ford because he had once worked on the line.
A guy in his early 40s walked up. Dewrag and long hair notwithstanding, he was clean and carefully outfitted in motorcycle chic.
“Is this where you vote?” he asked sheepishly, as though it were unmanly to vote but also not to know where to vote.
“Yeah,” I said, using the distraction to duck away from the toothless braggart. I’m going to cancel out this guy’s vote, I thought. He probably thought the same of me, as we were so perfectly stereotypical of our rival camps.
Except I didn’t.
That night I watched as what had been solidly blue just the night before flipped inexorably into red. One by one, the dominos fell. It was like watching a skyscraper topple in slow motion. What had seemed like the promise of a qualified female candidate (whatever you think of her, she was qualified) morphed into the alternate universe of an evil clown. “We’ve just stepped into the abyss,” said a Republican commentator that night.
It’s been weeks and at least one major holiday later. Nothing is better.
I’ve read tens of thousands of words about this election. The news has an addictive quality—I can’t look away yet I feel tainted by ingesting it. I wake up and the weight settles on my shoulders again. Dread is starting to feel familiar. Belonging to this country seems completely unfamiliar. (Who are all these people? Who am I as an American now?)
Most of what I read was repetitive. Some was blatantly false. (It’s a “post-fact era,” says this guy–one of Breitbart’s darlings.) Some was enlightening. Often I was shocked by the volume and vehemence of the social-media conversation. Comment sections are long, vitriolic, and profane. Apparently, a lot of the frenzy was very effectively fueled by bots and trolls, maybe from Russia, maybe courtesy of the far right.
A fellow travel blogger, Barbara Weibel, a gently aging woman like me who worked her way to the top of the blogosphere through talent and long effort, ran a post recently about her visit to Auschwitz. She ends by noting the parallels between some of Trump’s statements and some of Hitler’s. The trolls and holocaust-deniers struck immediately.
Eventually, her regular, good-natured followers chimed in, but even a senior single woman is a threat when she speaks her mind in this virulent environment.
In the past weeks, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- This election isn’t something you “get over.” You don’t “get over” bigotry and racism; you don’t “heal” from xenophobia and misogyny. You don’t “come together” after an unqualified demagogue is elected leader of the free world.
- Clinton didn’t lose. That would be too easy. Something much more fundamental lost. Decency lost; tolerance lost; kindness lost. America has become a more vicious place. I’m sure minorities have known this all along, but to me, the scab has been ripped off, exposing the abscess underneath. This changes everything for me. Despite Trump’s horrible statements and hate-baiting rallies, despite complete lack of policy or substance or any semblance of experience or credibility, the fact that so many people voted for him leaves me in some visceral way without a country. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it.
- If you believe in tolerance, in justice, in protecting the climate, in welcoming the stranger and sheltering the vulnerable, it’s time to stand up. I had the luxury of sitting out most of the earlier turbulences—Civil Rights (too young), Feminism (not my thing), Vietnam (too naïve). Now, guess I got myself a cause. Lucky me.
So, my late-life activism will begin with a trip to Washington DC on the day after this misbegotten inauguration to join over 125,000 women–and counting–for the Women’s March on Washington. Join me? Anyone? Everyone? You don’t have to be a woman. Or maybe, everyone gets an honorary Woman Card for the day.
Then in March I’ll embark on a more serene adventure—a spiritual cleansing on the Camino de Santiago. This is the pilgrim route made semi-famous by the movie The Way. Since the traditional route across the north of Spain is so crowded these days, I’ll be taking the longer and, I hope, less populous Via de la Plata variant from Seville in the south to Santiago de Compostela in the north. More on this in future posts.
Finally, to my Catholic peeps: I’ve wrestled with political schizophrenia before. I don’t support abortion—at best, it’s a lousy form of birth control. But other moral values are also important. During the second Bush administration, for example, I decided that the lives of already-born Iraqi children–and their parents–were every bit as precious as unborn US babies and that a war based on fake premises was also a moral abomination.
In this election cycle, so many moral values are in play that Aquinas must be rolling in his grave. As I recall, the Pope twice commented on Trump’s lack of Christian values. I honestly and deeply believe that being a Christian and supporting Trump is classic cognitive dissonance—holding two contradictory values at the same time. You can’t support a man who emboldens white supremacists, threatens immigrants and minorities, and “grabs ’em by the pussy” because you hope to defeat Roe v. Wade. I doubt that Trump cares much about Roe v. Wade, anyway.