IT STARTS WITH TRUMP (AND ENDS WITH OPRAH)

A look back at the year which ended / A look ahead to the coming year.
“You did NOT just list Donald Trump as one of the good things of 2017?!”

My best friend Karen glared at me, fuming. In the ten years I’ve known her I’ve never seen her this upset. Like she could throttle me.

…Probably because I had just casually mentioned that many positive developments from last year might have been a direct result of Donald Trump, joking he might very well BE making America better.

We were discussing the events of the year, in our own year-in-review — where we look back on all the things which worked (the good) and those which didn’t (the bad.) To her, Trump fell into the bad category and to me it wasn’t so black and white. And that really pissed her off.

Usually Karen and I are on the same side of issues philosophically and ideologically, though I’m a Muslim Iraqi who grew up in Kentucky, and she’s a Jewish-turned- Buddhist Bostonian who spent most of her life in New York. We’ve spent hours debating a wide-range of topics. Nothing is sacred, and even occasionally when we’ve disagreed nothing’s been serious enough to be a friendship ender.

Yet, that night as we sat down to dinner at the hip new greenhouse-style restaurant of the moment, Karen looked ready to throw her copper mug of kombucha in my face then choke me out with one of the gorgeous hanging plants above us.

“Donald Trump makes NOTHING better,” she spat. “How can YOU, a Muslim immigrant, say that? He’s trying to kick YOUR people out of the country!”

It’s true, I’m defending Donald Trump — the guy who… proposed to ban people like me from the country, wants to repeal DACA, tweeted a video of himself hitting a golf ball into Hillary Clinton’s back, bragged about assaulting women, called a football player a ‘son of a bitch’ for kneeling during the national anthem, went to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and threw paper towel rolls into the crowd, and who just signed a devastating tax bill to make people like him richer and bury people like me further in debt.

“How do you think your parents would feel about your opinion, knowing they sacrificed everything in the 1970s when they left Iraq to make a better life for you in America.”
“They would say they traded in one fascist regime for another,“ I joked.

But Karen was in no mood for levity. She was beginning to look extremely stabby.

I casually moved her knife away from her place setting, then explained as calmly as one can when they’re avoiding being impaled:

When I say Trump will make America better, I’m not talking about MAGA — his divisive rhetoric that perpetuates a white Christian, male-dominated society. That’s not what America is all about. I’m talking about the fact that many of us are angry and are doing something about it, on a larger scale than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

KAREN: “You’re giving him too much power. HE’s not the reason for this.
ME : “I’m not saying he’s the REASON. Just a catalyst.”

Karen wasn’t budging. We changed the subject and managed to finish our meal with civility. But something had changed for us. We didn’t speak the entire holiday season: 17 days — which is 17 years in Karen and me time.

Then last night, my phone rang. I was watching the Golden Globe awards at home alone and Oprah Winfrey’s electrifying speech had just ended.

KAREN: “Oh MY GOD!”
ME: “I Know!”

We screeched unintelligibly into the phone like that for the next ten minutes, geeking out over the magic that IS Oprah. If you didn’t see the speech do yourself a favor and check it out. Oprah talked about the #TimesUp movement which grew out of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, and said “a new day is on the horizon!”

Karen and I were so pumped we simultaneously rewound the speech on our DVRs and watched it again. Together. It was pretty powerful and emotional. The next thing Karen said was equally as powerful.

“…You know. Maybe Trump’s election was more of a catalyst for good change than I thought…”

I was so happy I burst into tears -– the fact that I had my bestie back, the fact that Oprah Winfrey had much to do with it (proving she can solve all of life’s problems) and most importantly, the validation that perhaps I wasn’t insane.

Ever since January of last year, I’d been determined to find the silver lining of Trump’s presidency, but felt I’d be driven out of civilized society for even mentioning I was looking for one. But good things are happening as a direct result of Trump in office.

I’m not saying the #MeToo movement would not have existed had Trump not been in office, but it certainly feels like it would not have been as large a revolution.

Change is underway.

Just this past election — the first openly transgender legislator was voted in, and dozens more women across the country have been prompted to run for office. Add to that the surge in donations to groups fighting Trump’s policies; 3.2 million people turning out for the Women’s March; and protestors swarming airports and lawyers working pro- bono when his Muslim ban kicked in detaining immigrants. What an amazing display of humanity and so wonderfully empowering.

Trump has been an equal opportunity attacker, targeting every historically marginalized group — three I’m a part of: Muslim, Immigrant and Woman. From within the Muslim community alone, whereas previously many said the burden of speaking up for civil rights shouldn’t fall on our shoulders, I’m now hearing more “If not us, who?”

Among my friends, Karen was outraged about reproductive rights being rescinded; she marched, called reps and donated money in a way she hadn’t done before the election. Mike felt guilty he’d only been advocating for LGBTQ rights and became active in Karen’s causes. Karen tried to enlist Lena to join in last January’s Women’s March, which Lena was planning on doing but she got angry about Karen’s sudden civic interest because, “I didn’t see her at any of our Black Lives Matter protests the year before when our men were being shot by police!” And Naz was mad at Stacy for being self-congratulatory in her participation in the Women’s March — not only because she bought the pussy hat, made the signs and documented her experience on Instagram, but because a year ago Stacy called Naz “a drama queen” when Naz was trying to explain how dangerous a Trump presidency would be.

It’s the first time I’ve directly witnessed such motivational anger among my friends, and I’m hopeful it continues.

I hope we continue to have tense conversations with open minds and hearts. And understand that despite our individual experiences our collective goal is to just live our lives.

And if in some warped way it took Donald Trump to push us to actively fight for all these good things — well I’ll take it.

So I sat down to write this essay about the YUUUGE gift Trump has given us. But really, why am I still talking about him when the bigger story is Oprah?

Oprah is magic. Oprah can create miracles.

Thank you Oprah — or as the social media hashtags declare, #HOPRAH.

Peace out, ya’ll. Be good to each other.