We Who Choose To Stay And Fight
Yes, it hurts like hell. Now let’s show ’em what we’re made of.
I’m not a political scientist. I’m a writer. I write books, essays and scripts. I’d write ad campaigns if somebody would hire me to do that, and to be quite honest with you, I wish someone would (it appears I’m going to need the health insurance shortly.) I’d write the copy on the back of a jar of peanut butter, if I got to tell a good story. I love to tell stories.
And it is a true story that a sad and terrible and frightening thing happened overnight.
But that is not the whole story.
I know you are sad and angry. I am sad and angry too. But we can do this. I am here to tell you we can do this. And I will tell you that, in part, with dorky clip art.
You’ll note I chose some basic clip art of a dove to illustrate this essay. It may seem an odd choice for an essay entitled “We Who Choose To Stay And Fight.” But doves can be warriors too — peaceful warriors for truth and justice and the humane way, which on occasion in history has resembled the American way, or vice versa. So this, then, is for my Fighting Doves (which is probably the name of some Montessori lacrosse team somewhere in California, like near San Luis Obispo or somewhere pretty where actual doves probably hang out.)
Now on to the rest of it.
I can’t tell you how it happened like it did, other than the basic elements of how our peculiar electoral process works. I do not have the words to make it better. But I do have words that will, I hope, be of some value to you. They are not blindly optimistic and they are not a cure for this.
But they are real, and they may help.
The great philosopher, pastor and children’s television pioneer Mr. Fred Rogers, a man who was in my estimation one of the greatest examples of faith in action in our time, said something very important: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Be a helper.
I know that Hillary Rodham Clinton was not elected president. I will get to that. Let’s talk about something very, very good first.
In the history of the Senate, only two women of color have served. They were elected 20 years apart.
Tonight Americans elected three women of color to the Senate in one night.
Do not forget that tonight, on this sad and stressful night, the great state of Nevada elected Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, our nation’s first Latina senator.
Tonight my own adopted home state of California elected Sen. Kamala Harris, who will be the first Indian-American and second African-American woman senator.
And tonight, praise you Illinois, home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs and a bunch of other good stuff including the Chicago White Sox and various sausage-based delicacies, you elected Sen. Tammy Duckworth, the first Thai-American and first Democratic woman combat veteran in the Senate.
That ain’t nothing. Not by a long shot. Those are enormous victories. They move us forward. They are not negated or eliminated because the president is a preening orange monster with untreated, rampant narcissistic personality disorder.
I know it is awful, the idea that this human trash fire is our president. It is. Did you cry? I cried. I plan to do it again, as often as I need to. I’ll do it in the open if I feel like it. Not just because my candidate lost, although that’s inevitably a disappointment.
But this was never about the horse race for me, and probably not for you, I’d wager.
This wasn’t about bumper sticker politics. I had the bumper sticker and the magnets and the t-shirts, but I bought them because I wanted to contribute to her campaign. Not just any campaign. I wanted to contribute to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign, because I wanted to elect her president.
This was never a game to me.
I wanted to support marriage equality for LGBTQ people (I am the B, which stands for bisexual in this case. I’m also happy to be a B as in bitch. After all, a bitch is just a woman who says what she wants and goes for it without apology.)
I wanted to support a candidate who was committed to racial equality, to gender equality, to real action on climate change, to comprehensive and sensible immigration reform, to celebrating individuals with disabilities, including mental illness, as equal partners in a just nation, and to a United States that was a part of a global network of commerce and diplomacy.
Tonight I am indeed sad because Hillary Rodham Clinton lost. But moreover, I am sad because Donald Trump won.
And I am sad not just because Donald Trump himself won, but because he is, while most assuredly racist and xenophobic and awful, ultimately a terrible puppet, as beholden to his own ego as he is to the manipulations of those in his inner circle who whisper approval in his ear.
I am sad because the ill-mannered, irrational, thoughtless and heartless people behind him — the racist, sexist hordes, the most deplorable Americans, the people in league with the KKK and David Duke and other execrable hatemongers, the people who cannot summon the kind of loving imagination we call compassion — voted for him.
You know, some folks will say that liberals and progressives were too smug and that we underestimated him. But I don’t think that’s quite the whole story. The real story is that we recognized him for exactly who he was, and shall forever be. We overestimated the goodness and decency of a lot of Americans. We believed in them and as it turns out they did not deserve our belief and good faith. They are not good and they most certainly are not decent.
Now this is the part I have revised and will continue to try to explain appropriately, because I don’t want to make it something other than what it was (often after I publish a piece on Medium, I will go back in and edit for clarity and so forth. This essay is no different.) One could reasonably read what I’m about to say and conclude that I just ran into three people who were having a bad night. One could also reasonably conclude that these were people out of touch with reality. I would argue they were very much in touch with reality although I certainly cannot tell you for sure how they voted or if they voted. My interest is more in showing that the climate Trump enables is aggressive and disturbing.
Tonight I tried to walk from an event at the New York Times to the Javits Center. I wanted to be there to see Hillary Rodham Clinton speak. It was a little before 11:00 p.m. and by that point it seemed her speech might be one of concession. But I wanted to be there. I was taught and I believe that you do not abandon someone or an entire group of someones when all seems lost. You do not say, “Eh, whatever” when somebody gets fired, or doesn’t get the job they want, or doesn’t see their contract renewed, or doesn’t get the prize, or doesn’t win the national, state, or local election. You go and you show your support for a fight well-fought. You tell them you still believe in them and you are proud of them.
I have been honored by the friendship and the familial love of people who didn’t drop me or run away when I stumbled, fell, lost, crashed. And so I do not as a rule practice the art of convenient abandonment. I wanted to be there, in the room where it happened, win or lose.
And then, as I tried to walk over, I ran into a few separate guys on separate blocks who yelled at me. I lived in New York City for eight years and I am not unaccustomed to strangers yelling in my face or catcalling me or shouting at the sky randomly. But this was different. This was not NYC being NYC, quirky and loud and gloriously rude and strange.
One of these men blamed me, in loud and colorful language, for a Hillary loss. At first I thought he was some angry Hillary fan (?) but I’ve had a few hours to consider it and I don’t think that was the case at all, obviously. What was really going on? I suppose one would have to interview him. The other blamed me, in loud and colorful language, for the existence of Hillary Rodham Clinton. And the third just hated me on sight, for reasons that remain murky although in retrospect perhaps my existence as a woman and/or the Hillary event credential hanging around my neck was offensive. [EDIT: someone asked me if all three of these dudes were Trump supporters. And I honestly can’t say. I don’t even know what the hell was going on except that I do know what the hell was going on, which is that they felt all whipped up and entitled to act like jerks. It’s basically the pass that Donald Trump gives to men regardless of their actual political affiliation.]
They were all so passionate that I really hope they found each other later and made fulfilling, glorious homosexual love of the sort that Mike Pence probably gets a weird hateboner thinking about (did you know he wanted to make it illegal for same-sex couples in Indiana to even apply for a marriage license? It’s true. Mike Pence, the “better politician,” the smooth-talker, wanted to put two ladies in love or two dudes in would-be matrimonial bliss…in jail. That’s the kind of idea that only arises after a really sad late-night hatesturbation sesh in the master bathroom, while crying.)
I could’ve kept going. But when I was a stand-up comic, once upon a time, we talked about taking the temperature of a room. This means that when you are onstage, you figure out what the audience’s mood is (and perhaps its level of drunkenness). You figure out if you want to play to that mood, play with that mood, or play against that mood.
I took the temperature of the room. They all felt emboldened to approach a lone woman, barely five foot three inches in height, and yell at her.
That’s the Trump Effect.
I went to my Airbnb and I locked the door and I started to write. I wrote and revised for four hours. And now here we are.
I believe we’ll see much, much more of the kind of behavior I described above. It will be directed at white women like me, who walk around with so much privilege we don’t always recognize it or see it for what it is or identify its poisonous origin and the effects — often inadvertent yet still deeply damaging — it can have on our thinking and our behavior. It will be directed far more often at people who are visibly not white, or not “straight-acting,” or not in the same sorts of bodies Trump and his ilk narrowly define as “normal.”
It is sad indeed that so many of those voters — Trump’s collaborators — turned out. It is sadder that not enough of us did, or that a sizable faction voted for a third party candidate instead of Hillary Clinton, or that too many people stayed home altogether. As I write this, it is too early to break down exactly what occurred. And again, I’m not a political scientist.
I can say, broadly, that a lot of straight white people in this country are fucking assholes, and voted like it.
So what do we do now?
We get angry. We get really, really angry.
We get sad. We get really, really sad.
We mourn. Have you ever mourned the loss of someone you loved? Mourning an ideal of democracy or a dream of a country is not unlike that, I think. It’s ugly and strange and it happens in stages and the stages come and go and it looks different for everybody. Find somebody you love or at least like, somebody who can make room for your mourning. You go ahead and make room for theirs. Help each other.
And we go on.
We fight, with words and right action borne of faith in the innate goodness of this insane, out of order, madcap, beautiful, fucked-up American experiment.
We learn about intersectionality. It sounds fancy. I used to be afraid of big fancy terms like that, because I have trouble understanding complex theory of the sort they teach in the graduate school I somehow managed to attend (I wanted to be a high school teacher.) But it’s a pretty understandable and even instinctive concept, so named in 1989 by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. I’m going to quote our friend Wikipedia here: “Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society — such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry — do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the ‘intersection’ of multiple forms of discrimination.”
All oppression is interrelated. All hate is interrelated. All the groups Trump hates? Those various “isms” and forms of hate are related to each other in a web, not just in his stunted “anybody who isn’t like me is gross” mentality but in the world at large. And no one person can be free while any other is oppressed.
For those who never knew about this idea, but for whom it makes sense (let it settle — you kinda know it’s true already anyway, I’d wager): let’s learn about that and think about it and apply it in our daily lives. Let’s figure it out and ask questions of each other and listen to the answers.
What else do we do?
We make it uncomfortable for the assholes. Oh, we make it very uncomfortable, socially and emotionally and any other legal way we can, for the folks who collaborated with this chump called Trump.
You know why?
Because fuck ‘em.
They don’t get to look us in the eye and lie and say they love us or they just did what they thought was best ’cause Pastor Jake told ’em to do it. Their vote — whether it came from a man or a woman — was an insult to every woman in this country, to every queer person, to every person of every shade of the human rainbow that is not lily-white. It was an insult to every immigrant. It was an insult to every son or daughter of every immigrant. It was an insult to every scientist. It was an insult to every Muslim, to every Jew, to every real Christian who sees Trump for the fraud he is — a man who would quite possibly see a camel attempt to go through the eye of a needle and, frustrated by his inability to grasp this or any spiritual metaphor, would loudly brag, “I’ll just write a big check to get into the kingdom of God. A yuge check. The best check. I’ve got the greatest checks, you’ve never seen checks like this.”
And then, of course, he’d never write that check. Because he lies. He lies all the time. He lies to your white relatives who voted for him. And they love it. They don’t care that it’s not true. Because they don’t care about anyone but themselves.
Tell them, these relatives and friends who say they love you, who scream that they were just worried about the economy or trade or Hillary’s emails. Tell them that their love for you is hollow.
Because it is.
Personally, and this is just a thought, I suggest you take them off your Christmas list, at least in the usual way. No material gifts for them. You are not waiting in line at Wal-Mart for these motherfuckers this year, baby. No. It may be true that God has a plan for us all, and we cannot know it, but we can make our own plan, and I have a good one for you.
Take the money you would’ve spent on their Christmas gifts and contribute it to a charity that supports the types of folks Trump mocks. Start with folks living with disabilities. That’s a good place to begin. Locate the ARC in your community and send them a nice check.
And now buy those precious fragile white Trump voters a card, and tell them what you did, and why. Tell them you love them. Seal it with a kiss. And smile at Christmas and tell them you’ve turned over a new leaf, for American Jesus. (He’s a brown socialist refugee radical Jew, btw, just like Actual Jesus. Tell them that, too! They’ll love it.)
And do not worry about their sweet feelings, my love. Really. Don’t. Be perfectly polite, but don’t waste your time or energy. They don’t need you. They have their golden calf now. I’m sure he’ll take great care of them, just like he promised.
Besides, if he’s as rich as he claims he is, I assume Trump can buy them a gold-plated birth certificate or maybe a KKK uniform embroidered with their initials.
Now take the time you need to deal with what you feel. Take care of yourself. And look out for your friends and strangers. Be a neighbor. Listen. Keep an eye out. Help. Not in some parental way, unless that is called for and appropriate. Not in some condescending way.
Be a helper.
And take breaks. It’s okay to take breaks, too.
You still get to be loved and to love and to hope.
Remember that you still got to be you under every president you’ve known in your life and you’ll get to be you under every president you will know. And I hope that you will know many, many more.
Here, in the end, is what I come back to time and time again throughout my own life. It’s by my hero, the late, great Molly Ivins, who would have had one hell of a time with Donald Trump, had she lived to see this terrible evening. I might say, “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this,” but the truth is that I’m not glad. To be glad would be to imply that Molly Ivins couldn’t take it. And Molly Ivins could take just about anything — look at it with clear eyes, size it up, and cut it down to size with that razor-sharp wit of hers. Oh, she would’ve had a field day with this asshole. But she’s been gone some 9 years now — 10 on January 31 — and her words remain to comfort and to inspire.
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
It isn’t fun right now. I know that. It may not be fun for a good while yet.
But we’re gonna get through it and we’re going to fight on.
You are good.
You are loved.
I am sorry, and I am proud of us, the messy and the brave and the fucked up and the compassionate, and I am proud of what we’re going to do.
The great work goes on.