It’s a new day, and way too many of us still feel super disoriented. After “What the heck?!” or other synonyms for “heck,” we many of us are turning to “What to do?” Or we’re just plain doing, in multiple directions, every day, with a nagging sense of disorientation. Herewith I offer the best answer I can muster under the circumstances, a post
in two parts originally intended to be a two-parter, macro and micro. However I, like so many of us, rapidly was just felled by it all, and could only muster a publishable Part 1: Macro.
[TL;DR version: 1. Digest the fact, and then find a way to cultivate protracted intolerance that, we are indeed in circumstances which are not normal, and which require of us the exceptional. 2. Act, as close to daily as we can, in ways you know we act best, and trust that we are many, and that self-care must always come before burn out, because we need all of us to stay in this for the long haul.]
Now to the details: it feels nearly impossible to digest this wombat (picture it whole, in our bellies, and we’re shocked snakes with a big lump in our middles, “Don’t tread on me” tattooed somewheres on our skins). I, like so many of you, initially wondered, after the Trump/Pence installation: “It couldn’t be as bad as our worst nightmares, could it?”
As we all know, the answer to that last question is: Why, yes. As a matter of fact yes it could be as bad as our worst nightmares, and in fact so far it pretty much is worse.
Last Wednesday, NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell drew the logical conclusion we all needed to hear from someone with her deep experience and insight. We were at this year’s Fair Share for Equality, the annual statewide LGBTQ issues convening hosted by Equality California Institute, and she told us: “We no longer live in a constitutional democracy. We have to act as if we lived in an autocracy and dictatorship. And those of us with privilege have to use it to change this. Think: what can you do, and do that. And then think: what else?”
“We’re in an entirely different reality,” she said, “and it demands of us something different.”
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which she has helmed since the mid-1990s, would be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. She said she had been reflecting on that time, anticipating a likely continuation of Obama’s (ultimately) pro-LGBT civil rights legacy, and wondering what their next step would be. And then with Trump/Pence’s installation, she realized: “It turns out that we have been working all these years to be ready for this moment.”
Words for us all: we have been working all these years to be ready for this moment.
To maintain equilibrium and perspective, Kate said she keeps on her desktop and regularly re-reads Masha Gessen’s brilliant piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” published November 10th, 2016. It should be required for all thinking folk who may feel adrift and disoriented: as a two-time refugee from Russia who has written volumes about Putin, Masha knows an autocrat when she sees one, and has critical advice for those of us still wrapping our brains around it all.
Masha’s six Rules for Survival have been very helpful for me as well. I list them below, with some brief explanatory commentary:
- Believe the autocrat. “He means what he says,” writes Masha. And he cares not a jot for consequences.
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Catastrophic periods of history have always included what Masha calls “pockets of normal.” Override your brain’s ardent desire to find anything about this regime normal. My addition here: your brain will want to do this, in the same way as we always seek to impose or find some pattern or order amidst chaos. It’s a sanity-seeking impulse, but it will not help us under these circumstances.
- Institutions will not save you. Many of our most cherished pillars of democracy are not protected by law, but a presumption of decency on the part of elected officials. Thus can a majority Republican Senate hold an open Supreme Court seat hostage for a full year, clearly against the intent of the Framers. My addition here: it is up to us to save our institutions.
- Be outraged. It is utterly critical to preserve the sense of shock and indignation: never should the takeover of the executive office via foreign tampering, voter suppression, and more, be acceptable to a lover of democracy. All of us: hold on to this.
- Don’t make compromises. In Masha’s words: “This will be fruitless—damage cannot be minimized, much less reversed, when mobilization is the goal—but worse, it will be soul-destroying.”
- Remember the future. “Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election.”
Bracing. And, I believe, necessary to absorb. Again, to be found here.
For me, it has been a big challenge simply to begin to absorb the scope and reality of all this in such a short amount of time. I have been alternately disorientated and then depressed and then focussed and then disoriented again, which of course has been the precise object of the shock-and-awe onslaught. Yet I know I need to pivot to action, and this cycle pins me in place.
I have been loathe to recognize and properly name the truth: that political conditions are super-dramatic and extreme. And it’s okay that extreme action is called for (even if I would prefer to be at home in front of a fire playing charades with my family). For those of us who are slower to digest, I think we should fret not, and judge ourselves not. It’s a big-ass wombat to digest, and we have to digest it fast because it’s poison to our system (ok forgive me; the metaphor is rapidly deteriorating, but I hope you get the spirit of it).
And? Inherently calm and drama-averse folks like us are precisely the ones who need to complete the digestion process and get off the pot, if you know what I mean.
Yesterday, Rachel Maddow acknowledged a bit of this as well, that we are currently lost in cycles of being appalled. Parsing and reacting to each new proposition or lie can lead us to overlooking what they’re actually doing, which she noted includes sourcing foreign policy priorities directly from Russian propaganda. (Couldn’t get a direct link to it, so embedding it below. Super useful for helping set the overall mental approach: treat them like a silent movie. Focus not on what they say, but what they do.)
There is much more sense of this all to make, but this at least is a start. Whatever the case, we need to help each other get it, and then get in motion.
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