Refuse to Play the Game

“Words are all we got.” Dean Baquet, December 8

Remember when, “Don’t let the terrorists win,” was the refrain of the moment and we were urged to get out and go shopping after 9/11? Most people, of course, knew it was about more than shopping — that we didn’t need to simply resume our daily habits; we needed to overcome our fears because the terrorists’ goal was to make us so afraid we’d turn on each other.

Then it became about shoe bombers, waterboarding, and recession. Underwater mortgages, the Boston Marathon, and Newtown. Somewhere along the way we forgot to not be afraid. We forgot to not turn on each other.

Of course, social media makes it worse by providing anonymity to people who confuse ranting with cogent thought. But social media is also a chance for real discussion and while I find it there every day, it’s also been disappointing to see how many people try to tamp down any talk of anything worthwhile.

People are comfortable in the status quo, especially when it is blissful ignorance. Disrupting the status quo is uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable every time I post on Facebook or publish an essay like this.

But, as the daughter of a woman who once went running into the middle of a fight outside Walgreens, I am also uncomfortable in the role of bystander on the playground watching a bully at work, hoping he’ll calm down and leave the poor kid alone. There are a whole slew of rationalizers who keep pressing the “wait and see” button but for me, for many, that time has passed. The lip is bloodied, enough damage done. I don’t want to wait quietly to see if he goes for the throat.

It is purely, unabashedly, American to speak out against leaders who threaten liberties, who keep a hand over our mouths.

Much has been said about the need to understand Trump voters. I agree. I’ve sought them out, read their words and talked with them face to face. I’ve listened as they speak about industry, health care, and welfare reform and growing up around racism — growing calloused to words that, to them, were just words. I’ve listened as they said this election season the news was too overwhelming so they didn’t pay much attention and then simply voted the way they always do.

Listening to them does not threaten my beliefs but it does help me understand, a little, theirs. I can start to separate Trump the voter from Trump the man.

And I want nothing to do with dividing this country further. I refuse to be a pawn in Trump’s game.

The same should be asked of Trump voters: Listen. Believe us when we say it’s different this time. Believe us when we say it is about dignity, equality, and patriotism. Trump represents everything we feel threatens our democracy — he uses his words in anger to divide us. He has continued this rhetoric after the campaign, as president-elect. And he pushes us steadily backward instead of moving us forward on matters like climate change, human rights, and even the notion of truth.

I suspect there are many Trump voters who are concerned but want to see their vote vindicated. The problem is, the man we have elected is such a master of marketing and sparkle and colorful balloons, that it will be even harder these next four years to get at the nugget of truth in the middle.

But we must, and we can’t do it divided. The truth will lose.

He says he hates newspapers and accuses them of lying but that is because he wants to control the message. That is why he loves Twitter. By controlling the message, he controls us. Don’t let him. Some of what he says in the next four years will be true and good, and we should talk about that. I hope he helps small businesses and the working class. But we shouldn’t let it silence us during the moments he will lie. He has, by many accounts, nominated a knowledgeable general in Mattis. But that shouldn’t silence us on the fact that he has also appointed a racist in Bannon, or insulted China on Twitter.

Scrutiny is good.

Donald Trump is the worst of the dividers, but he’s not the only one. They are on both sides, in both parties. They say “all” and “always,” painting us with the broadest of brushes and taking away our faces, our humanity. They rely on the things we are angry about, the things we are scared of, and that’s their main message. These politicians and pundits are afraid, too — that we’ll vote them out of office or turn off the television — so they coddle anger and the attention it gets them like a newborn baby. Or like a crack addiction.

They think we’ll read a headline and maybe the first paragraph, we’ll listen to the screaming heads on cable news, and we’ll become enraged. It doesn’t matter whether a bill is good policy. It doesn’t matter whether this country was founded on the very idea of compromise.

Or they play games, attaching controversial language about abortion to a bill about roads because they know we aren’t paying attention, and they think we like the game.

I wish their assumptions had no merit, but the problem lies with us. We — you and I — have a responsibility and we are shirking it. A small fraction of voters put Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the general election ballot. We have power but we give it up. We forget that we are the parties, from the school board on up to president.

When did it become too hard to be an informed citizen? It isn’t easy, but when did it become too hard?

What happened to thoughtful conversations about government? When did that become an eye-roller?

We don’t talk politics with friends because we’ve been taught it’s a taboo subject. But that is accepting the notion that everything has to be a fight. We’ve accepted the idea that to disagree with someone is to insult them. To have an opinion is obnoxious.

But to be angry — boy, that is acceptable. That feels good. We’re so damn afraid, we indulge in anger like children. Even those of us who did not vote for Trump read about him and feel almost happy in our anger, righteous even. He invites our anger, deserves it, and we hand it over gladly.

This line from the movie Glory comes to mind lately: “We all covered up in it. Ain’t nobody clean.”

Politics is personal. But we have to be able and willing to express our ideas with respect and base them in fact. Anger can be good, useful even. But we have to know when to kick it out the door.

We are a nation of people who refuse to know each other, to read the news and have thoughtful dialogue with people we disagree with, and that is dangerous.

Because when we lack connection with each other, we elect people who work hard to divide us further. Donald Trump is working very, very hard to divide us.

Great leaders use their platform to rally people around a common cause for good. They help us feel the possibility of what we can be, and they remind us of our humanity, our sameness.

True policymaking and real governing are the hard things in all this. We need to quit voting for the clowns who put on a good show. We need to look for the guy who people make fun of for being a policy wonk. Vote for the woman who doesn’t end her statements with exclamation marks and who doesn’t use bombastic language to freak us out. Vote for the people who compromise.

We can still tune out much of the news. Paying attention and finding truth is easier than it seems.

The current situation is exactly what terrorists wanted back in 2001 and it’s what they want today: that we are so afraid and angry we forget who we are.

We have forgotten there are stories behind each of us. We have forgotten what our purpose is and where the meaning lies.

We need to remember. We have got to work together to hold on to America’s common cause, together. It doesn’t mean we stay silent in our corners and it doesn’t mean we don’t write the truth out of fear of making people uncomfortable. It certainly doesn’t mean we’ll always agree. It means we keep talking, and reading and listening and writing our stories, because that’s all there is to do.

There’s a reason this blog is called True STORIES. There’s a reason I put a quote by Colum McCann on the masthead. “Through our stories, we survive.” I believe that.

child patriot.jpg

Our Liberal Creed

Recently someone asked me, derisively, what we liberals even believe in. Last night over drinks, my sister and I answered that question:

  • We believe most people have good intentions, no matter what country they were born in.
  • We believe in bootstraps. We also believe no one pulls them up on their own.
  • We believe in faith—in gods, in trees, in the sun…whatever floats your boat.
  • We believe in the scientific method.
  • We believe intelligence is a good thing. We view this as formal education + street smarts + a good amount of reading the newspaper.
  • We believe in the fundamental importance of journalists to a republic.
  • We believe conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories.
  • We believe family tradition is good for stuff like Christmas pajamas, cookie recipes, and Sunday night dinners, but born-and-raised gets you only so far. At some point, you have to step away and decide what you believe on your own.
  • We believe in hard work.
  • We believe “the common man” is all of us, whether you are a white rancher in Montana or a black nurse in Baltimore.
  • We believe Real America includes the coasts.
  • We believe in the dignity of the presidency.
  • We believe people deserve second chances. But not many.
  • We believe in the gray areas.
  • We believe in the 2nd amendment. We also believe no private citizen needs a military-grade weapon and that people who buy guns should be vetted, just like teachers, politicians, and babysitters.
  • We believe in hunting. By this, we do not mean: trapping, using dogs to corner an animal, using a guide to lead you to an animal on a reserve so you can shoot it and hang its head on your wall, sitting in a blind waiting for an animal to cross your path while you drink beer, or anything else that is not hunting.
  • We believe people who work 40 hours a week should be able to feed their children, support an ailing parent, pay their bills, and have something left for popcorn and a movie. If not, then the minimum living wage should be raised.
  • We believe government can’t solve all our problems but it should also be judged by how well it treats its weakest members.
  • We believe sick people should have the medicine that will help them get better, chosen by their doctor based on need and not the insurance companies based on cost.
  • We believe in quality childcare and support for new parents. This includes paid maternity leave that is on par with the rest of the civilized world.
  • We believe college graduates should be able to afford groceries and their student loan bill.
  • We believe the world isn’t always fair, but you change what you can.
  • We believe in helping others. We don’t care if the beggar on the street is lazy or an addict. He is on the street and we are not.
  • We believe in renewable energy. We could power up this whole country using the sun. And it’s just sitting there, free.
  • We believe in the entire Shakespeare quote: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow…thou canst not then be false to any man.” And when you get to the top of the ladder, whatever ladder you’ve climbed, lend a hand to the person below.
  • We believe in contraception and teaching people how to use it. We would love to believe our children will remain abstinent until 25 but that’s not the real world.
  • We believe women should have the choice whether or not they want to become a mother, and whether or not it is safe for them to do so.
  • We believe in life, including the hundreds of thousands of U.S. children waiting to be adopted.
  • We believe love is an emotion that should be celebrated no matter who is doing the loving.
  • We believe in freedom of speech but we also believe that comes with the responsibility to not be an idiot. Or a racist.
  • We believe political correctness is synonymous with kindness.
  • We believe we are connected, irrevocably, to the natural world. As the most intelligent creatures at the top of the food chain, we have a duty to Manage. This. Shit.
  • We believe jails should contain violent offenders and the people-with-more who screw people-with-less on purpose. Everyone else needs either traffic school, rehab, mental health care, or a living wage.
  • We believe our Irish immigrant ancestors, who were spit upon and denied jobs (“No Irish Need Apply”), were just as American as we are today, seven generations later.
  • Finally, we believe in the words of Benjamin Franklin, who, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, told gathered citizens that the founding fathers had just created a republic, “if you can keep it.” Being an American citizen is a privilege and a responsibility. Don’t complain; do something. Don’t ignore the news; read it. Don’t stay home; vote. Honor America. Keep it.

The Emotional Roller Coaster at Trumpland

Some of you will read this because you want to hate everything I have to say. Some of you will read this because you want to love what I say. Some (a small fraction, unfortunately) will read this because you are curious and want to understand a different point of view.

Some will just be wondering why I write at all. (Who the hell is she?) Boy, I hear you. This compulsion to write has been with me since third grade and I have a very close love/hate relationship with it. Mostly love, rarely hate, often annoyance. My sister smokes (still!) and for me writing is kind of like that, without the disgusting smell.

In the near future, I hope to write about my conversations with others—including those who don’t agree with me, because that’s important. I’m not a “I’ll stay in my corner and you stay in yours” type of person. But this post is not about them.

On election night, I wrote on Facebook: “America gets through things. We congratulate the other side and move on.” Don’t get me wrong; I was devastated. But I’m also pragmatic.

Frankly, I feel like what I’ve gotten from Trump in return is a big “F*** You.”

To recap:

Stephen Bannon: runs an online news site that has little to do with journalism and, as Bannon himself said, serves as the platform for the alt-right movement (read: white supremacy plus a lot of phobias about people who don’t look like them). Trump appointed him chief strategist. He’s the guy who will be leading Trump’s vision on foreign and domestic policy. There’s been some justifying going on (He’s well-educated! Trump appointed mainstream Priebus, too! He’ll unite the Republican party!) All of that, simply put, is bullshit.

Sen. Jeff Sessions: His middle name is Beauregard. Names don’t usually mean much, but I think that adds a nice touch for a man who was deemed too racist to serve as a low-level federal judge. Trump nominated Sen. Sessions for Attorney General, the country’s chief law enforcer. Has his heart changed? I’m not the one to say. I can look only at his record, and that doesn’t look promising: he’s called the Voting Rights Act of 1965—you know, the one that allowed blacks to vote without being taxed or beaten—“intrusive.” Last spring, he said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.” He voted against a bill that prohibits bringing children to animal fights. He voted against the Violence Against Women Act—that last one is tricky. There were some provisions in the bill that were arguably ineffective.

Senate majority is needed to confirm, so call your senators if you’re so inclined.

Alex Jones: Trump loves nothing if not media attention, and this radio host was a big supporter. Described as a sort of fringe show but with millions of followers, it was important enough that Trump appeared on it during his campaign. And it was important enough that, according to Jones, Trump called him after he won the presidency to thank him for his support. The problem is that Alex Jones thinks, among other extraordinarily ridiculous things, that the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary is a conspiracy and a hoax. I’ll just leave it at that.

Twitter: You read a lot about his tweets in the media. How he goes on these tweet storms of anger and acts like a two-year-old. But reading about it is different from reading it first-hand. Let me tell you, it’s cringe-worthy. Reading Trump’s tweets is like watching an episode of The Office. Supremely uncomfortable.

I literally just went on* and here are the three at the top of his feed:

  • The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior
  • The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!
  • Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!

This is our president-elect. And I’m hiding in the corner. But I’m not laughing. I encourage you to go on his Twitter page and see how you feel.

He also regularly re-tweets (sends posts from other people to his own followers, for those reading who might not be sure what a re-tweet is, ie. my dad) fake news that is verifiably inaccurate and takes credit for things he didn’t do. This week’s example: he tweeted he “worked hard” to keep a Ford plant in Kentucky, and that the Ford chairman had just called him to tell him the good news. The problem? The plant never planned to leave.

News flies fast, especially in Trumpland. Fake news and factpinions fly even faster. Who doesn’t like a bright and shiny meme? I know I do. The problem is memes, while appealing to emotional truth, too often don’t tell the actual truth. You know that one with the map of the U.S. showing red and blue voting patterns? Much of the country is awash in red, signifying Republican voters. The problem is it confuses geography with population. America is not land mass; America is people. The miles upon miles of uninhabited land out West don’t vote; people do. A map of voting by district is actually quite colorful.

Truth is complicated, and we have to be willing to find it.

Hate crimes:

This week, I read in my personal Facebook feed about women having their hijabs yanked off their heads; a “No Ni**ers” sign in L.A.; a swastika and “Trump” spray-painted on the wall at a neighborhood park; devil horns and beard markered onto the face of a black boy on a poster outside a store along with the name “Trump”; “Trump That Bitch” bumper stickers and Confederate flags; a swastika scratched into a car driven by “brown people with head scarves” in the parking lot at a Costco; a man in a Milwaukee coffee shop in a white hooded coat embroidered with a noose; and others I can’t even remember. Again, this was in my personal feed (including a few from a larger group I belong to), as opposed to my news feed, which included many more.

If you think these things aren’t happening or don’t matter then you aren’t paying attention.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been keeping track of hate crimes since 1971, collected 701 reports of hate crimes in the seven days after Trump’s election. They are not all verified and the number will drop off, but it is still highly worth noting. Most were anti-immigrant and FORTY PERCENT happened in K-12 or college educational settings.

And our president-elect is tweeting about the cast of Hamilton.

I get that these people do not represent all Trump voters; just as I understand a small group of Trump protesters who smashed windows and burned things do not represent all Trump protesters. But Trump fostered this hate, he ran on it, and now, as president-elect, he has a duty to quell it.

A bully ran a hateful campaign, a bully won, a bully is adding racists to his inner circle. A bully thinks words don’t matter. “It’s just words, folks,” he said, in response to the world finding out he said he could grab p***y whenever he wanted.

So yeah, I’m worried. I think words matter. Of course they do. That’s why good people say, “Do you wanna have sex?” instead of “Shut up and take off your pants.”

And yeah, I’m emotional. My love of country is fierce and I won’t just give it up to a misogynistic, racist bully with thin skin who cares more about his reputation than serving the people. I thought his obsession with his own reputation would actually help those of us who didn’t vote for him, since we’re the majority. Nope. Not so far.

I don’t want this crap to ever be normal. It already is for too many people. I don’t like the road we’re heading down.

Clinton lost four states by a combined total of about 100K votes. I and millions of others will be watching.

Yeah, we’ll calm down. We’ll still get our children ready for school, but we’ll remind them more often to be kind, especially to the victims of bullies.

We’ll still go to the grocery store for milk, but we’ll make a point to smile at those who don’t look like us.

We’ll still post pictures of our dogs on Facebook, but we’ll also post facts and spread truth.

We’ll still call our friends to chat about Fixer Upper, but we’ll also call our senators.

And we’ll still gather to eat, drink, and be merry, but we’ll also gather to organize. We’ll volunteer, we’ll write, we’ll donate.

We progressives might not always agree and we might not yet know how to work with the nation’s top bully, but you can be sure as shit we know how to organize.

*I wrote this at 6am Sunday morning. I’m scared to check Twitter again.

It’s Not About Policy, It’s Not About Losing, and It’s Not About Clinton

A few years ago, I told my friend, Melanie, who is black, about a black family, all adults, I’d encountered on a plane. The family shouted in glee as the plane took off. I asked the father if this was their first time flying and he said no, they just loved it. I commented to Melanie that it was an example of a difference, broadly speaking, between white and black people. No white people I knew would ever whoop it up on takeoff just for the fun of it. We’re generally too reserved.

She asked me had it been a boisterous white family, would I have thought, “Hmmm, first time”? I answered that I would have.

But that question stayed with me. I didn’t know why. I’d find myself reminded of it, and turn it around in my head. I’d picture a boisterous white family on the plane, and I’d re-confirm that yes, I would have assumed it was their first time.

Still, I’d find myself thinking of it again a few months later. I finally began to think it was just one of those things we writers do. We’re interested in human nature, we ask difficult questions and noodle on the answers obsessively.

Then, a few months ago, four years after she first asked me the question, I realized I’d been wrong. And it came down to the clothes.

The black family on the plane were dressed up—suits and ties, dresses, heels. The white family in my mind, the one I was sure I’d also assume was flying for the first time, were dressed like poor people. I can see them now: a housedress, frayed t-shirts, jeans. When I re-imagined the white family dressed like rich people, I realized no, I wouldn’t have wondered if it was their first time flying. I would have wondered if they were drunk.

Currently, in this country, we have a disagreement about what racism is.

It’s not just the obvious list of people who spray-paint swastikas on synagogues and won’t let their daughter marry a Mexican.

Racism is also quiet, the silence that doesn’t call someone out for using the word “nigger” in a joke, or assumes black people, like poor people, can’t afford to fly, or allows a candidate to perpetuate the myth that President Obama wasn’t born here and many illegal immigrants are “rapists” who bring “tremendous crime” to America.

It’s this allowance, this acceptance–this refusal to noodle on the question–that is as dangerous as any guy in a white hood.

People voted for Trump for all kinds of reasons, I understand that. I want change, too. I want lower debt, manufacturing jobs, less gaming of the welfare system. I have more in common with Republicans than many of them think, and I voted for one on the ballot this year.

As someone who didn’t vote for, or like, Clinton the first time she ran, I can also understand that some people didn’t want to vote for her.

I can understand why it’s hard to self-reflect on racism. No one besides proud racists thinks they have racism in them, including me.

What I haven’t yet been able to understand, no matter how many conversations I’ve had or articles I’ve read, is how people were able to ignore some of the more objectively unacceptable of Trump’s offenses. The ones that can’t be nuanced or finessed or explained away.

None of us—literally, none—would be okay with some old guy peeping at our daughters in a locker room. How, then, are some of us okay with our president-elect doing it? This isn’t some crazy liberal accusation. Trump admitted he did it.

None of us would be okay with a man grabbing our genitals without asking. Even if you believe Trump was simply bragging on the bus like a drunk nineteen year old (and believe all the women who have accused him of sexual assault are lying) the Republicans I know would knock out the sonofabitch who talked like that about their daughters, not elect him president.

How do we tell our daughters it’s what is in their hearts and minds that matters, not the shape of their bodies, but support a man who rates women using a number?

How do we promote kindness and tell our children bullying is wrong, that mocking the disabled student in a wheelchair is wrong, when we allow it in our candidate?

It’s this disconnect—the refusal to put up with it in our private lives but the willingness to endure it in a president—that have many people stunned.

The deepest disappointment I feel–the one some on the right are telling people like me to get over–isn’t about policy and it’s not about losing. It’s not about “what might have been” if we’d elected a woman president.

It’s about my core values, the ones I impart to my children, and knowing that my future president undermines them. Since I was a 4th grader devouring biographies on Lincoln, I have admired leaders who appeal to the better angels of our nature. Trump didn’t do so as a candidate. I hope he can rise to the occasion as president.

Meet: My Mom

I saw my mother today and then came upon this old post. It gives a pretty good summation–though nowhere near exhaustive–of who she is.

Three years later, three more years of being a mother myself, and now I can add some important things to it, things I recognize as so very mothering:

–She dove fearlessly into the world of BRCA surgeries, going last (after me and my sister) so she could care for us through our difficult recoveries.
–She once waved a cheerful goodbye to me and my sister as we drove off on a three-week road trip across the country by ourselves, and only told us once we got home that it was the worst three weeks of her life.
–She is the first person my sister calls when there’s a rabid raccoon in her yard, the first person my brother calls when he is sick, and the first person I call when one of my children is sick and I’m unsure what to do.

Happy Mother’s Day, every day.

True STORIES.

For Mother’s Day, an early Monday Morning Meeting:

My mom…

  • Was born and raised on the northwest side of Chicago and attended Catholic school there. (She will forever say the word “nun” with some disdain.)
  • Lost her mother to pancreatic cancer when she was a freshman in college; afterward, she dropped out to help at home with her younger siblings.
  • Became the first flight attendant instructor without a college degree at United Airlines by walking into her boss’s office and insisting she could do it, back when female employees were weighed and had to be single.
  • Earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology while raising three children. She now works with mentally disabled adults and runs her own consulting business.
  • Forced us to sit and wait on the stairs Christmas morning until she’d made her first cup of coffee.
  • Loves ham. And also Red Hots.
  • Let us take one “mental…

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