We Fight: Ideas on Facing the Dread and Anxiety of a Trump Presidency
By Adam Gnade
I woke up on the morning of Trump’s victory to frost on the windows of the farmhouse and a pale, cold, clear blue sky. The night before, Elizabeth and I drove into town and sat up late watching the returns, feeling the pressing of a cruel thing coming. Back at the farm, I shut off the bedside light at 1:05am and by then Trump was up 40 electoral points and closing fast on a win. Michigan was still uncalled, so I had hope — if only a shred, something to hold onto in order to sleep.
As I drifted off I thought, “Michigan gave us Iggy and CREEM Magazine and the MC5. No way in hell they’ll vote red.”
Waking up to Trump’s win staggered me. My first thought was, “Here come the wild dogs. Lock the door, get drunk, go back to bed.” But as the cobwebs cleared, I remembered that that’s not what we do.
We don’t stay in bed with the covers pulled over our face. We don’t hide or threaten to leave the country, because the people who need progress and positive change the most don’t have the privilege it takes to cut and run. We have to stick it out because the good people of this country (and they’re out there, don’t forget) need all hands on deck.
There are an unforeseeable number of battles ahead but the one I’m trying to wrap my head around right now deals with who we are on a very base level. Our culture and ruling class are in a dark, twisted-up place. We are living in a time of anti-intellectualism, of fear and paranoia prompting social regression. We’re hedged in by racists and dreamkillers and bigots. I plan to stand on the opposite shore of that. I want to be open and kind and brave. It’s time to hit the books just as much as it’s time to hit the streets.
Way I see it is we’ve got to make ourselves better on a core level and when enough of us are better the tide will change. Of course it might not happen in our time but we owe it to the ones who come next. I’ve had enough of the “get what you can while you’re here” philosophy. It’s a recipe for collapse and a ruined future. We can do better than that.
The “better” of which I’m speaking is not an isolationist, Ayn Randian “better” and it’s not the “better” of Trump’s slash-and-burn capitalism. It’s about working each day to make ourselves as smart and as capable as we can — to be fairer and stronger, more productive, socially active, effective, helpful, vital. It’s about building ourselves up but it’s also about helping the people around us to do the same.
We have to educate ourselves and become the best, gentlest, fiercest, most well-rounded people we can. It’s time to live by example and to do so with a hunger and wild fury. I plan to keep tabs on writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Will Potter, and Malkia A. Cyril. I want to look back at James Baldwin, Fred Hampton, and John Dos Passos; listen to Woody Guthrie and Public Enemy; take comfort from Sherman Alexie when he’s lighthearted and find energy when he calls you to fight. One thing we can all do right now is make a reading list and share it with the people around us. Read. Study. Learn ways to cope, process, and fight. I’ve been involved with activism on the side of radical publishing for years now and I still feel clueless a lot of the time. But I’m learning and l’m listening and that’s a good start.
I’m out of my depth here. I want to admit that and put it out there. I’m scrambling and afraid like everyone else. Like anyone, I have a few ideas on how we should do this but mostly I need to listen. We all need to take a step back and pay attention to groups like Black Lives Matter and the Standing Rock protesters. We need to hear them out and let it sink in, and then we need to act. Sometimes the best thing we can do is shut up and hear people out. None of us have hard and fast answers or this would all be solved but a lot of good people have ideas and it’s our job to listen and be respectful.
We have to raise our kids (the ones born to us and the ones in our community) to be respectful of people regardless of their gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality. We need to teach them to think critically about how their choices affect other people and the health of the planet; to discuss and not yell; to choose measured debate over jumping on the defensive. We need to show them that although this new authority figure blusters and falls into a frothing rage and insults whomever he deems an “enemy,” this is not acceptable behavior for people of substance. As the gravity of this election sinks in, we need to tell our kids we’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe because some of them are afraid to go outside right now and that’s an ill we must remedy post haste. We need to say this before anything: “I will protect you.” (And we have to make good on that.) They need to know nothing will pass through you to get to them. You will be a shield, a sentinel, a voice of calm and strength in the absence of reason. Let them know this: You will stand in the dark and hold back the night.
We need to pay attention, assist, and show our solidarity for the individuals, groups, and social movements all over the world that are putting their lives and freedom on the line RIGHT NOW to fight for human rights, animal rights, and environmental protection.
Now more than ever we need to be strong and capable. I plan to be vigilant, to fight long after the inevitable “cooling off” begins. Of course it’s important to tune-out sometimes. There are days when I need a total disconnect in order to stay sane. Whiskey, a fire outside, a trip to the city to catch a dumb, flashy movie. But there’s a point where escapism becomes hiding. It’s important to know when to hit the pause button but we also need to see what’s coming with clear eyes.
Come Inauguration Day we’re going to have a president who wants to crush the media, a leader who plans to stop you from telling the truth as you know it, a leader who wants to take away some of our basic human rights. This past year has been a devastating nightmare of hate crimes, mass shootings, police murdering the citizens they’re supposed to protect, First Amendment violations, repression of peaceful protest, race-baiting, and widespread white supremacy. It’s been an ugly, crushing, violent 10 months. And that was under Obama. Trump is not Obama.
We have a troubling four years ahead and that’s just the bare minimum. Like any tyrannical rule, the effects of the Trump/Pence reign will be long-lasting, backwards-thrusting, and rampantly destructive. I wish that was an overstatement. It’s not. This is a new dangerous time — a time where an earnest reassessment of the way we handle conflict is necessary. We have to recognize that there’s a rise of fascism happening around the world and make sure that doesn’t happen here. This is not a time for nihilism or cynicism. Apathy, even less so. Howard Zinn once said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Just the same, you can’t stay passive as the wind tries to blow you down, and we’re about to be hit with a gale-force storm.
So, please keep your friends and family close. Be kind to yourself. Get rest, eat well, stay healthy. Quit infighting. Listen. Pay attention. Hone yourself like a sharp fucking blade. If you’ve got any sort of podium you have a responsibility to speak up — but don’t drown out the voices of marginalized groups. Also, less important but still dire, don’t follow the social media model of angry now/resigned later. That’s weak and self-defeating. To be resigned is to savagely fuck your fellow humans’ odds at survival. To shut up is to give up. Stay vocal, stay rational.
This country won’t be a better place until we’re better. Take time off to grieve and process; gather the people you love and figure out what’s next. But when you’re ready to fight, do so with conviction because the new wave is coming and it wants to bury us. Get strong. Get better.
Don’t run away. Don’t surrender. Don’t go back to bed.
ADAM GNADE is the author of three books of fiction, Hymn California, Caveworld, and, most recently, Locust House. His series of novels and connected “talking records” are released by Pioneers Press and Three One G. He is also the author of a work of nonfiction, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin‘ Sad. Born and raised in San Diego, CA, he now lives and writes on the Hard Fifty Farm situated in the hilly countryside between Kansas City, MO, and Lawrence, KS. He is currently working on a “large and substantial novel about Americans at home and away” with a late-2017 release. His work is available at http://www.pioneerspress.com