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

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.

8 Years Later: Why I’m Voting for Hillary This Time

Eight years ago, I read an essay by Gloria Steinem urging young women to vote for Hillary Clinton. At the time, young people overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama. Steinem wrote something along the lines of: If young women knew better, they’d vote for Hillary. If they’d been around forty years ago and really understood the women’s movement, they’d be making the right choice.

It made me angry. I was an Obama supporter. I liked his message. I didn’t like the way Clinton ran her primary campaign. And I wasn’t going to vote for someone just because she was a woman—wasn’t that the opposite of equality? Talking down to people is never a good idea, especially if you’re trying to persuade them, and Gloria Steinem should have known that. If anything, she alienated me from the women’s movement. For a time.

This election season, I filled out one of those questionnaires about government policy that supposedly matches you with the candidate you’re most aligned with. I am in 99% agreement with Bernie Sanders. I like him. And yet, I think I’ll vote for Clinton. Why?

It’s a serious question. I’ve been a bit stumped. Admittedly, I’ve paid little attention outside of the headlines this campaign season. Something about hearing or reading the name, “Trump,” in almost every campaign story has turned me off. I decided awhile ago to ignore it all until it started to really matter.

imgres Yet, one thing has been clear to me: I feel a strong urge to vote for Hillary. What has happened in the last eight years to change my mind?

Sure, Clinton has gained even more experience. This didn’t use to matter to me as much. I think probably eight years and two children later, with a 40th birthday looming, I now value life and work experience all the more. But Sanders is experienced, too. They’re both intelligent and capable public servants.

It’s not about the issues—I’ve never been a one-issue person. I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face, and both Clinton and Sanders represent my basic ideals. I might be in 99% agreement with Sanders, but I’m in 97% agreement with Clinton. I do think Clinton has a stronger chance of putting her policies into place, of “getting things done,” as they say.

As far as I can tell, my affinity toward Clinton these eight years later comes down to two things:

  1. Someone close to me was raped.
  2. I had a daughter.

I now see the world differently. The women’s movement used to be intellectual for me. Now it’s personal.

I have new eyes, so when they see women ignored or shamed because they were raped, it stays with me. I have new ears, so when they hear a man talk to me about house maintenance issues like I’m a kindergartner and then ask me, “Can you remember what I said so you can tell your husband when he gets home?,” I file that away in my brain.

I can remember. Oh, yes I can.

The world hasn’t changed; I have. Women are still objectified, vilified, paid less, patronized, underestimated, raped, assaulted, and beaten simply because they are women. We are still told to “Be quiet” and “Be nice.” It is still assumed that having boys means you’ll have an energetic household but having girls means you’ll have a quiet one. A woman news anchor can still be called a bimbo by a presidential candidate and people will adore him. I still have to fold my body in and look around me when I walk alone at night, anywhere. The world hasn’t changed—now it all just means more to me.

Actually, let me be honest. It means more to me sometimes. But other times—when, for instance, a man gives me a proverbial pat on the head and tells me, “You’re alright, kid,” after he finds out I know how to use a shovel to dig a trench, I feel pride mixed with my anger. A part of me still likes those pats on the head.

Electing a woman has become a priority for me and I’m not ashamed to say it. Too often, I think, women cower to the finger-pointers and respond with, “I support her because she’s qualified, not because she’s a woman.” Why can’t it be both?

Now, would Sanders help women? Sure. Maybe. I can’t know for sure. Does Clinton being a woman mean she’ll always do right by women? Sure. Maybe. I can’t know for sure.

But I do know that figureheads are important. I do know it’s high time we elect a qualified, dedicated woman to the top office. And I do know I don’t want my daughter to like having her head patted—not by a handyman, not even by Gloria Steinem.

So the bigger question isn’t, Why not Bernie? The bigger questions are: What took me so long to put a woman first and what is the women’s movement going to do to recruit my daughter, not alienate her?

To Yard Sign or Not to Yard Sign

Unlike what seems like the rest of the country outside of D.C., I love politics. It’s as dramatic as a reality show, but smarter (and real-er).

Dramatic, because instead of sex, drugs, and sparring… That is, in addition to sex, drugs, and sparring, there are Big Deal issues like freedom, justice, prosperity. Dramatic, because of the history of this country—the founding principles, suffrage, slavery, death, war, love, hate. Every human emotion is tied up in politics and policy. Not even to mention what’s tied up in campaigns and elections–it’s as competitive and aggressive as football but without the concussions and literal chest-thumping.

Smart, because policies are complex. Because we field hundreds of bits of information thrown at us and figure out which are facts and which are opinions, what is true and what is false. Smart, because we have to have the self-awareness to know what we really care about.

That’s not to say I always love politics. I have to turn off cable news for months at a time. But I always find myself drawn back to it because at heart I’m a patriotic American. (And you thought the right-wing had hijacked that phrase.) And I love a good debate.

Also unlike what seems the rest of the country, I think we should talk more about politics, not less. If we all talked–and listened–a bit more we would force the few at the top doing most of the squabbling to squabble smarter. And truthier. We’d raise the level of the conversation.

However, I’m not the type to make the first move. I (usually) don’t babble on about politics at parties unless someone else brings it up first. I volunteer for campaigns, but I’m the one who makes calls to supporters simply to remind them to vote. I drop off yard signs to those who’ve requested one.

Every election, I delay putting a sign in my own yard declaring whom I support because it feels like I’m drawing a line in the sand:

Here I stand : There you stand. Aren’t we different.

I also worry it too-strictly defines me to my neighbors who vote otherwise. Sure, I love a good debate, but some of my favorite moments in a debate are when those I disagree with get me to think twice about my opinion, when they make me stop and reconsider. (My husband will say this absolutely never happens; don’t believe him.)

In the end, I always put up a sign because of this: if politics is as important as I say it is, I should do what I can to help elect the person I support. And if I can’t openly declare where I stand and what I believe in, then what’s the point?

For this Monday–Meet: My Yard Signs