Fight or flight?
It’s now been ten days since Donald Trump was elected president, and the words still don’t seem all that believable. Perhaps it will take seeing Trump raise that tiny right hand of his — the one he employed to mock a disabled reporter — and “grab” the Bible with his sinister left, before the words “President Trump” are made podgy, sunbed-ridden flesh in front of our eyes.
Yet even if we are currently caught in a temporary, post-traumatic “freeze” phase, soon we will face the evolutionary dilemma of “fight-or-flight”. The curious thing about the fight-or-flight mechanism is that it prepares us to do either — to flight or to flee — with the same set of reactions. The cascade of hormones, enhanced blood flow, increased muscle tension, and other physiological reactions prepare us simultaneously to run like hell or fight with all our might.
This physiological quirk has a political equivalent, I think, in how we choose to respond to the coming prospect of a fascistic, fantastically corrupt four years of Trumpism. We seem equally equipped to fight or to flee, and both options hold distinct appeal. Fleeing in the literal sense seems appealing when we look at Canada, with its warm-hearted, cool-headed populace, who seem to have successfully infused European egalité with American frontier spirit. Or, of course, we might simply flee inward: into lives, loves and livelihoods that, we hope, might yet remain mostly unmolested by President Trump’s agenda.
Yet fleeing, whether outward or inward, is not only not the right choice, but for many or most people is not actually a choice at all. Ironically, those best equipped to “move to Canada” — wealthy, well-travelled, well-connected — are as different as it’s possible to be from the souls who risk everything to escape from war-torn lands like Syria and Somalia, and frequently die, or are indefinitely detained, in the process. Similarly, those who have the financial and social capital to build a four-year fortress within which they can retreat are those least likely to need it.
The true burden will be borne, as it always is, by those least empowered to bear it — the people who are now more likely to be the victim of racially motivated attacks; the people who will lose Medicare or an affordable insurance plan; the people whose gender or sexual identity is taxed or targeted.
Fighting, then, is in fact the only option we, collectively, have. How we choose our fights, and how we fight them, still need to be carefully figured out. But even if fleeing feels like a plausible, even pleasant, prospect, morally it’s moribund. Fight like your life depends on it, for and with those for whom it really, actually does.