I don't usually get political around here, or at least not for a long while. I think politics in Maine have been so ugly—and so personal—for the last 6+ years, that I've come here to get away from all that. Perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps we need to confront the ugliness in our society wherever and whenever we can.
I feel so heartsick and heartbroken right now. I stayed up until 2:36 the night of the election, watching in horror a slow-motion multi-car pileup on the highway as state after state turned red. I didn't think I could sleep when I went to bed, but I went right out, waking less than three hours later from violent dreams. I lay in bed, listening to my children breathe across the hall, imagining them waking up in a world where hate triumphs over love.
I had been excited, it's true, to greet the day when the First Woman President was elected. Yes, Hillary had issues, but I knew that under her leadership things that matter to me—health care, reproductive choice, education, clean energy, environmental protection, social security, food stamps, TANF, equal rights for all races and genders, welcoming of immigrants, higher minimum wage, voting rights—would, if not able to move forward due to an obstructionist congress, at least not get dialed back to the dark ages.
And there was the symbolism of it. We are told (or not told, I now believe, in many cases) as little girls that we can be or do anything when we grow up. But the silent messages are so very different—the imbalance in positions of power, heads of corporations, representatives to congress, the president, even management at dinky little state agencies. Nowhere close to 51% representation. And when a woman vies for a position of power, she is called vile names, she is rated on her appearance, not her content, she is told she smiles too much or not enough is too loud doesn't speak up has a grating voice is not hot enough reminds men of their wives/aunts/mothers/teachers. It is wrong. It is vile. And it is so damaging to girls and young women, who pick up on these messages that they are less than, they are how they look, they cannot play with the big boys. I wanted a woman to shatter that biggest glass ceiling of all, to send a message. To give us all hope and a different view of ourselves.
I lay in bed, watching the sky fade to a pale, death-mask gray. I heard M's alarm go off. Heard him go down to breakfast. He would check online. He would know right away.
M was born in 2001, George W. Bush's first year in office. Four months before 9/11. The W invaded Iraq and my son has lived in a country at war his whole life. E and Z were 5 when Maine's terrible governor was elected. They have lived half of their lives in a state ruled by a "say-it-like-it-is" bully whose language is not fit for public radio, whose targets of vitriol and abuse include public servants, children, the poor, immigrants, people of color, the natural world.
And now. And now M will finish growing up and the twins enter their teenage years living in a country with a president who has been endorsed by the KKK. Who speaks of violence toward immigrants, muslims, people of color. Who brags about violence toward women.
Tuesday morning I had been feeling really good about my life. I had made steps to get out from under the terrible weight of an awful job (directly caused by the awfulness of Maine's governor), I had taken my family on an amazing adventure. I had my days free to write a book, and other, shorter works. I watched the birds on the feeder out the window. I had been very miserable for a very long time and now I was happy. Actually happy. Last spring, I didn't even know if I still knew how to be happy. But now I was.
I know my happiness resulted in part from a huge amount of privilege. We had tightened our belts since I left my job, but I only had to wonder if we'd be able to pay for driver's ed or music lessons for our older son, not whether we'd be able to eat. When M goes out with friends, my only thought is the amount of driving I'll have to do to get him there and back, not whether he will come home alive. When we go to bed at night, we hear acorns falling on our roof, not bombs. There was much to feel lucky and grateful about, living in (what I thought was) a civil society, far from the wars waged by our country and others, among a privileged race that is not the target of police violence.
It's easy to get complacent from a place of privilege. We try to remember to be lucky, grateful. My kids can tell you that nothing makes me angrier than when they act entitled, although that entitlement is (I believe) more of the "I'm a kid and therefore the center of the universe" kind of entitlement, not the "I'm a white male and therefore the center of the universe" kind. But I get antsy about where that line might be crossed, and try to keep them in their place, reminding them of responsibilities to the family. I don't think I've done enough to remind them of responsibilities to society.
This is what the result of this election reminds us of—or teaches us—that this is not a civil society. That there is a huge amount of privilege and that those who possess it will stop at no lengths to hold onto it. Watching, from a distance, the police shootings and extrajudicial killings of unarmed black men and women should have taught us this lesson. And, of course, the members of those communities knew all along. But it's easy to delude oneself. To imagine that the tide is turning. To believe that these are isolated events and that we are, at heart, a loving, open, and inclusive society. Illusion shattered.
I heard a woman on public radio literally say that she voted for T--- because she wanted to "go back to the world like it was on Leave it to Beaver." She was about my age—in other words, she only ever saw the Beav on reruns. Did she think it was a documentary, I asked myself? Does she have no understanding of what else was happening in the Leave it to Beaver days? Jim Crow, for instance.
I think our schools have failed. Both in the teaching of history, and in the teaching of the difference between fiction and reality. This is a skill children are supposed to develop around 2 or 3 years of age, but we don't seem to get it. Some people watch sappy old sitcoms and think that's the way life should be. Some of us read Harry Potter and Jane Austen and we think that good always triumphs over evil, that virtue is rewarded. But the good guys don't win. They get hit by cars, they develop brain tumors, they get shot in their own neighborhoods. We should be reading Kafka. You wake up a bug. You die. The end.
I know a lot of people are spreading messages of hope. Don't despair. Don't hate. Hold onto love. Right now my anger is too white-hot for hope. Right now I'm looking down the hole of four years of lives ruined. People killed by violence or lack of health care or inadequate food resources. I see wildlife refuges taken over my armed sociopaths. I see trees felled and oil fracked. Communities broken. Four more years of inaction on the greatest threat to this planet—and the people on it—we have ever faced. I see that half of the people in this country have said yes to hate. Yes to racism. Yes to misogyny. I see my sons growing up in a society whose values are anathema to everything I hold dear.
I went downstairs to say goodbye to M. To check the news to see if it had all been a terrible, terrible dream. M smiled at me, a sheepish, well-we-tried smile. An it'll-be-okay-mom smile. "At least when he does nothing about climate change Florida will be the first to go," he said. I wasn't ready to laugh. I won't see humor in this situation now, or ever. But I appreciated his vindictiveness.