The Moral High Ground

Politics has always been a matter of morality to me. I know politicians lie: I think you’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t. Victories are exaggerated, the nature of or reasons for defeat manipulated, everyone is begging for money all the time but no one wants to admit it. I would like to live in a United States where the amount of money legally permitted to be spent on an election was severely limited and campaigns could only last for a certain amount of time, but our reality being what it is, I’ll take Elizabeth Warren identifying herself as being of Native American descent based on family lore over Aaron Schock using his government expense account to recreate Downton Abbey in his senate office and to go to the CMA ceremony any day.

Probably due to having grown up in the South, for a long time I had the distinct impression that the Republicans were the party of morals and family values, while the Democrats were self-aggrandizing, their fondness for money second only to their thirst for power. When I was about five I came home from school and recited the pledge of allegiance for my parents, altering one key phrase–I managed to change “and to the Republic, for which it stands” to “and to the Republicans, for where they stand.” My mother, despite still being a conservative at that point–at least as far as U.S. politics were concerned–had a fit; she did not forbid me to continue making the pledge at school when required, but she made very sure I understood what it was I was saying and that the Republicans were in no way synonymous with the Republic.

This perspective started to shift during the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton. I could understand finding him repellent for his inability to keep it in his pants; I could understand, and did myself, question bitterly his leadership skills when he launched airstrikes against Iraq, as I personally was convinced that he did so as a distraction from the allegations about his womanizing. What I couldn’t understand were the complaints that he was unfit to lead because of his womanizing. I’ve always been fascinated by histories of monarchies, particularly that of the British royal family, and as a teenager branched out to biographies of more recent political and military leaders. Many of the most revered of these men had affairs by the dozen. Horatio Nelson. FDR. Douglas MacArthur and possibly George Patton (with his niece, ugh). Churchill was known to have had at least one affair (very likely more), but I’ve yet to hear anyone fault his leadership on that score. You can desecrate your marriage vows and still be a good leader.

It isn’t so much that I think moral relativism is necessary in a political context; it’s that I don’t see how it can be avoided if we are to make useful choices, given the scope of the choices we have to make when we vote in an election. I believe that Bill Clinton used his position to persuade women to indulge his sexual proclivities, and I find that repellent, but in terms of scale it doesn’t match the vicious, degrading, and often physical harassment that Donald Trump has bragged about, let alone the credible claims of rape that have come from several women, including his ex-wife and another woman who was a child at the time of the alleged assault. Could Hillary have granted greater access to the President in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation, the proceeds of which she did not personally benefit from? Possibly, but I haven’t heard any convincing evidence that she did so (if you disagree, please feel free to enlighten me), and if the story is true, in no way does it compare to Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his businesses and the numerous ways his hotel empire opens him up to direct violations of the emoluments clause. If Hillary had won the electoral college as well as the popular vote, there would have been no immediate drastic change in the situations in Syria or the Ukraine, there would have been no quick fix for the military and moral quagmires that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 set off, innocent people would have continued to die. If she had won, however, Putin would not have immediately intensified its assistance of Assad and attacks on Ukraine. Fewer people would have died. As I heard someone else point out recently on Twitter, I would far rather have spent the next four years arguing and wishing and voting to push Hillary further to the left than waking up every morning wondering if WWIII has started and if we still live in a republic rather than a dictatorship.

The U.S. has never truly had an inviolate moral high ground. The extermination of the native inhabitants of North America, slavery and later Jim Crow, the imperialistic acquisition of Hawaii, the voyage of the St Louis, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq–we’ve never had a spotless record. What we did have was a government that didn’t silence people who spoke out against it; dissent has always been present and loud, whether it attracted only a handful of listeners or grew to such influence that it started the Civil War. Now I and the millions of other people who voted for Clinton are genuinely scared we are going to lose this. Putting aside all questions of financial corruption, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, and creationism being taught in school, if Trump’s refusal to denounce Duterte and his open admiration of Vladimir Putin doesn’t scare you, either you are not paying attention or you lack any shred of moral integrity, full stop. Even disregarding the allegations against Putin that are supported only by circumstantial evidence–the blowing up of apartment buildings, the manipulation of Russian state oil companies, the fifteen or so journalists he is suspected of having had killed–we have plenty of evidence that he’s an authoritarian dictator with no interest in preserving freedom of speech and no respect for the concept of innocent lives. He was not troubled by the distraught relative of one of the sailors lost in the Kursk disaster being involuntarily drugged live on television as she demanded answers from the then deputy prime minister; he has demonstrated that he is quite willing to kill hostages along with terrorists in the event of a crisis, as happened in the Dubrovka Theatre crisis and the Beslan school siege. If we have to work with Russia because it is better not to have the country as an enemy, because there are people who depend on the oil and gas that Russia sells to European countries, because the citizens of a country should not be conflated with its leader(s), that is one thing. It is quite another to hold up Putin as a leader to be admired and even emulated, as Trump has done.

In the months since the election I’ve started to separate Trump supporters from conservatives and Republicans as a collective group. There are plenty of Republicans–not least a number of the party’s most prominent leaders–who would not vote for Trump, even if they couldn’t bring themselves to support Clinton either. There are those who supported Trump and started to regret it as soon as two weeks after the election; there is the celebration on the part of the stridently anti-semitic, xenophobic, neo-Nazi demographic, of whom I expected no better. What troubles me most are those who have watched the actions Trump has taken in the weeks since his election, the steady stream of lies, deflections, and misinformation coming out of the White House and across Twitter, and yet continue to argue that all this is acceptable because of “the conservative agenda,” believing that said agenda is morally desirable and benefits everyone. I have often wondered what this conservative agenda is–the rise of Trump has proven that it is not in fact about fiscal conservatism, an admiration of honesty and marital fidelity, or a disdain for corruption and authoritarianism. The only thing it seems to be nowadays is the privileging of private (corporate) profit over the collective good, respect for personal autonomy, and human life itself. If the U.S. is to preserve the Constitution, let alone any shred of moral integrity, it’s a damn good thing the people are rising up against Trump’s Putinesque, Bannon-directed “conservative” agenda.

Marching against a mirage

This past Saturday, I was one of ~150,000 people who swarmed the Boston Common–the largest demonstration in Boston in decades. We represented only a tiny fraction of the millions of women and men who took to the streets worldwide, responding to the threat posed by the newly-minted 45th President of the United States.

Women's March protest sign in BostonDetermining the extent of that threat is still in progress. Fighting it will be the work of many coming years. We know that his administration poses a serious threat to the health, safety, and agency of women (the gestalt of these protests); to the very life of people of color; to the health of most Americans, but especially the poor ones; to the longevity of human habitat on Earth; to the pursuit of science; to a free press; to truth; and to the American experiment itself.

The most frequently-heard chant at Boston’s rally was to that latter point. Call (from a few throats): “Tell me what democracy looks like!” Response (from many throats, deafening): “This is what democracy looks like!” And it is–or at least, one of its most attractive faces. The vibe in Boston was downright joyful. There was drumming, dancing, laughter everywhere, waves of applause. There was a sense that we were there to be uplifted and damn it, we would be uplifted.

But this was just one day. And democracy for a day, as was made abundantly clear on November 8, 2016, is not enough democracy to make this thing work. Our participation in politics must become consistent, passionate, and supremely well-organized for the resistance to stand a chance against the empire.

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I don’t have the slightest idea how to do this. I’ve been an armchair American for a long time. Fortunately, some thoughtful organizers out there have made it easy for those of us with occasional-democracy syndrome to take some baby steps out into the world of action.

10 Actions / 100 Days: The babiest of baby steps! The first one is sending a postcard with a nice note on it. (I can do this!)

The Big Hundred: Just a few days in, these actions to counter Trumpism seem geared to approachable, be kind to others-type things. Don’t be a jerk! (I can probably do this.)

Call Them In: I don’t even call people I love on the phone. Why would I call people I don’t even know? To save the world? Yes, okay, good reason. But I can’t just…like…do it. So these lovely folks have made it incredibly easy. I don’t even have to pick my own words. So easy. So democratic. (I will work up to this.)

Swing Left: This might be my favorite. Results-oriented planning FTW! These folks want us to take back the House in 2018. Without it, we just can’t have nice things–such as checks and balances! Or an impeachment! Find out where your nearest swing district is and get to work. I get overwhelmed by how much there is to be done; I like that this is not only clear but scope-constrained. (I look forward to doing this.)

And yes, obviously, find some way to support groups like the SPLC and the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Defense Fund, groups that have been fighting this fight for a long time and know what they’re doing.

I’ve seen numerous sources point out that yeah, this whole Trump thing is a disgrace and a catastrophe, but without it, would millions of us have taken to the streets to raise our voices for women, for people of color, for indigenous rights, for gay rights, for immigration justice, for environmental justice, for a better America? Would we have finally realized that a better America means all that other stuff, all at once? (Um. No. In case you were wondering.) Yet these issues have been taking their toll–on real human lives–not just throughout our country’s sordid history, but during the past eight years.

We’ve had a President we could be proud of for the past two terms. He was classy and smart, handsome and charming. He had his heart mostly in the right place most of the time, and plus he had Michelle and Joe Biden backing him up, so, yeah, we swooned. Now we have a President we’re ashamed of–but truly, there was a lot to be ashamed of all along. Our love affair with Barack Obama just made us overlook the flaws.

This is a serious lesson in silver linings. We’re being forced to decide what we want this country to be. We can choose to make this a country to be proud of, which will take an unthinkable amount of hard work and coming together and action and love, or we can choose to wake up from the American dream once and for all.

If the moral universe does indeed have an arc, then justice is the horizon. This weekend’s march made me view what’s happening right now across the world–the regression towards xenophobia and insularity, the desperate last gasp of the reign of the white man–as merely a fata morgana. That’s when our eyes get tricked into perceiving something on the horizon as bigger than it actually is, and unreachable: ships that seem to float above the ocean, or cities in the clouds. But America is not a city in the clouds. We can reach its heart, and lay siege to it, and take it back.


I’ve never been much for New Year’s Resolutions. I think I’ve made lists a handful of times in the past, but I quickly lost track of where I put the piece of paper I wrote the things down on; the supplies I’d piled up for whatever effort was at the top of the list (usually learning French or Japanese, for some reason) were eventually dispersed, lesson books put back in their place on a shelf and paper requisitioned for other uses. I find myself faced with some gargantuan professional commission or personal task and everything else non-essential gets tossed aside. I don’t like this about myself, but I’ve learned over the past couple of years that changing things is easier if I divide large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and remind myself of my ultimate goal regularly but not constantly.

New Year’s Day is not something I usually look forward to. This time of year is the occasion of a number of unhappy anniversaries for me, and while I have retained enough of my childhood memories of Christmas to give me the will to make December a festive sort of month, I never gained enough of an adult’s appreciation of New Year’s Eve for the same to be true of today. By the time I make it to New Year’s I’m usually somewhat overwrought and dreading the impending return to work.

This year is different. It is not that there were no new occasions to mourn: Anyone who has been awake this year knows that we have have dozens, even if you leave politics aside. 2017 is going to be a long year and I have no doubt I’ll spend a great deal of it feeling inadequate, tired, ill, grief-stricken, and quite frankly terrified if half of what Trump has talked about doing actually comes to pass. I have always cried easily, and I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of that too.

This year, however, I do not feel without hope. Even in the face of what I expect the GOP and Trump’s cabinet to do. Some of the damage has already been done, and there will be more that we will not be able to undo. Parts of the fight were lost the moment that Trump won the electoral college, because there will be consequences for the environment and for vulnerable populations both domestically and internationally that we can’t roll back. We will only lose more, however, if we give in, and in the midst of the fear and feeling like every champion for equality and intersectionality in the cultural sphere is being methodically taken from us, I, and I think a lot of us, tend to forget that we far from powerless. We may not have David Bowie or Carrie Fisher, but we have their work, their legacies, their memories as inspiration–and we have so very many more champions. President Obama is not going to blink out of existence the moment he steps down from office, and he isn’t planning on retreating from public life to take up painting or womanizing; he’s organizing an effort to support Democratic nominees for the 2018 mid-terms and to stop gerrymandering. We have Lin-Manuel Miranda, Heather McGhee, Rebecca Solnit, Reza Aslan, Sarah Kendzior, so many strong voices and leaders in the cultural, artistic, and political spheres I can’t begin to count them. Those who voted against Trump still comprise the majority, even if you don’t count those who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton either; not all of these people have capitulated. For all of the Republicans who managed to evolve from supporting more rational candidates to accepting Trump obediently or even enthusiastically, there are a great many who have not, and some of them have never ceased speaking out. There are others, even among those who supported Trump from the outset, who are unwilling to stand by silent while Trump openly colludes with Russia. There are governors and other state officials unwilling to comply with some of the measures Trump has alternately threatened and implied that he will impose; there are generals in the U.S. army who have been studying the extent to which the Constitution and the law permits them to disobey Trump’s orders, should they feel it necessary. I have said before, and I repeat again, I will not condone or collude in any act of violence, but civil disobedience is going to be necessary if and when the rights of the LGBTQ community, minorities, and women are rolled back and stripped away.

If we are going to have a real chance of dismantling Trump’s crass, meretricious cult of personality and counteracting the fascist and far right groups he is enabling (e.g. Richard Spencer and his revolting followers, the John Birch Society), we have to be better informed, better organized, more active than we are. This year, therefore, in addition to the usual renewal of my regular vows to be tidier, exercise more, eat less sugar and more vegetables, I intend to write and to read more, and read more seriously, as I did when I was still a student–more politics, more newspapers, more blogs–and to make a better effort to take part in conversations and demonstrations. I still have to earn a living, like everyone else, but there are phone calls I can make, letters I can write, dozens of other actions I can take.

The recent pronouncements that 2016 was the worst year ever are understandable after all the losses the country and the world endured, but they were hyperbolic as far as life in the West is concerned. It was not a repeat of 1937–we are not there yet, and we stand a reasonable chance of making sure we don’t get there again. We still have the means and the opportunity to be more informed, more compassionate, more understanding, better critical thinkers and less tolerant of corruption. Let’s make the most of it.

Right Here, Right Now

I had plans for Tuesday night. I had a bottle of decent prosecco chilling in the fridge and a bottle of very nice single malt, a lovely gift from some friends, ready to celebrate. The day itself turned out stressful for other reasons, and by the time it was 5 pm I was extremely on edge and feeling unaccountably panicky. By 10 pm I was feeling quite sick. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, and then on Wednesday morning I woke up to find myself a part of American Horror Story: Politics.

I believed the polls to the extent that the 25 to 35 percent chance of a Trump win bothered me; for those of you dismissing Nate Silver’s calculations as inaccurate, at no point did he discount a substantial possibility of Trump winning, even if it was never more than 50 percent. What I couldn’t believe as the vote came in was that so many women would tolerate a man such as Trump has shown himself to be–on camera, on the record, unfiltered–as president. I knew there were women who supported Trump, I saw them on television just like everyone else, I know a few personally, but I thought we had reached a stage as a country, as a culture, where a flat-out majority of women, regardless of race or ethnicity, had more respect for themselves than that. I have never been so bitterly disappointed to be wrong.

I don’t blame the Democratic party. I don’t think they’ve done a great job, I think Debbie Wasserman Schultz has done plenty of harm, but to believe that Bernie Sanders would have won where Hillary Clinton failed is to discount the common voiced again and again by conservative media and the conservatives I’ve spoken to personally that there is no daylight between socialist policies and Stalinism; that if we have universal, single-payer healthcare and repair our infrastructure and improve education, the next step is pogroms and gulags. You know, like they have in Denmark and the UK. It is also to discount the poisonous anti-Semitism that came out into the open during the months of Trump’s campaign. Having Sanders as a candidate wouldn’t have eliminated any of that.

I do blame the media, to an extent; I blame the thousands of hours given to obsession over emails that revealed very little more shocking than John Podesta’s recipe for creamy risotto and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Huma Abedin having a weakness for creme brulee. Clinton had already faced Congress a number of times over what happened in Benghazi, and then over the server; none of the recent so-called “revelations” brought to light anything substantial that wasn’t already known. Little time on television media platforms was given to covering each candidate’s policy proposals and actual political experience, and how these things would impact our lives in a practical sense. They could have done so much better. The thing is that we don’t force them to do better; we’re abandoning print media ostensibly because the online versions are cheaper and more convenient, but we don’t seem to be reading much of anything that delves deeply into facts. The problem isn’t that CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc., are feeding us poison; the problem is that they’ve become the ‘circus’ part of bread and circuses, alongside reality TV. There are still voices on each of the cable political stations worth listening to–Shep Smith, Rachel Maddow, Christiane Amanpour, Sally Kohn, Joy Reid–but no one hour of news coverage or commentary per day is going to be sufficient to present a full picture. The television news media found that we preferred name calling, demonstrations of shock and outrage, and fuzzy human interest stories to confronting uncomfortable facts and searching for constructive ways to resolve problems, and by god have they given it to us. Enough of it to drown a democracy. So yes, they may be to blame, but so are we every time we discount a story of what’s actually happening in favour of watching Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews spluttering in outrage over their offended sensibilities. It’s all well and good to remember how nice it was to grow up as white boys in places where most women stayed home and minorities were barely visible (if present at all), and secure jobs that paid enough to support a family were available the day after you graduated high school, for those who didn’t want to go to college. The constant indulgence in nostalgia for those experiences discounts everyone else whose opportunities were denied in order to make that life possible, and it doesn’t do a damn thing in the way of confronting the fact that technology has moved on, demographics have changed, the pressures and dangers we face now are wildly different, and people are no longer content to be pushed aside and suppressed so that straight white men can continue to dictate the terms of everyone’s existence. We don’t live in that world any more, and this desperate pretense that we can somehow go back there is causing us very real harm.

I cried a lot on Tuesday night and most of the day on Wednesday. I’ve had a few breakdowns since then. I argued with friends who tried to tell me that it’s not as bad as it looks, that Trump’s supporters want at heart the same things that I want–safety and security, and the freedom to live in peace. I argued because I’ve been watching for months as his supporters have targeted journalists who spoke out against Trump with anti-semitic attacks, images of their faces, their children’s faces, superimposed on images of gas chambers with Trump flicking the switch. Threats of rape, beatings, lynchings. Children being told by classmates that they’re going to be deported once Trump wins. The LGBTQ community now has a vice president who believes that their respective sexualities can be tortured out of them, and the fear that their right to marry, so recently and so hard won, may be taken away from them. Trump has threatened to repeal libel laws so that he can sue those who criticize him, and on Wednesday implied that he would require all Muslims to register with the government (because that’s never gone wrong before…). In my worst moments, I wonder about the prospect of violence and what could happen where I live, a predominately conservative neighbourhood in a predominately liberal city in what was, as of last Tuesday, an almost evenly divided state, if the voting reflects the state as a whole. The rest of the time I am worried mostly for my friends who are part of the LBGTQ community, who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, who are people of color. I am a heterosexual white woman; I’m not an obvious target to the people I fear, at least not yet. It is up to me, then, and the other women and men like me, to support those who are targets–to put ourselves between the people who are the targets of the bigotry Trump’s campaign has enabled and those who seek to do them harm. I’d like to think it would be enough for this shielding will take the form of arguments, protests, votes, and petitions, but given the people Trump is appointing to his transition team–including Peter Thiel, a man who has publicly expressed admiration for Apartheid–I wonder how soon we’re going to have to act as human shields.

By mid-Wednesday I started to feel better. Anxiety and grief take a very real physical toll on me; I find it hard to sleep, hard to concentrate, hard to sit still at times, and my body has a knack for producing physiological reactions to my emotions. I can’t afford any of that right now. I started to play more energetic songs that I liked, even if I didn’t feel like listening to them, and I started to map out what viable options are left to protect what I value in the face of a government that appears entirely committed to taking most of that away. I will renew my second passport, as that remains legal for now, but I have no intention of leaving at the moment. This is my home; moving our household overseas is not an appealing prospect for myself or my father, even if it remains an option. I believe that the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, although I worry about how long it is going to be. I believe the rise of these nationalist governments is the death throes of a white, male-centered supremacy that sheer force of numbers is in the process of overwhelming; the question is how many people will it take with it before it dies out.

The media has now by and large taken the tone that as Trump is president-elect, we must accept and learn to work with him. I refuse to accept this in the sense of treating any of the policies he has threatened to impose on us as normal, as a simple conservative alternative to the progressive policies President Obama pursued. It drove my mother mad for years that the conservatives she knew refused to treat the president with the respect he was due as holder of the office because he was black, because he was liberal, because of his education; I am not willing to engage in similar hypocrisy. When Trump is inaugurated as President, I will be willing to call him such; I don’t think it’s of much use to dispute the legitimacy of the electoral college at this point, however little I like it. I will not engage in violent protest, and I will not condone or connive in others committing violent acts against Trump or his supporters. I will, however, continue to protest, in whatever ways I can. I will write letters. I will donate to causes supporting the rights that the GOP is threatening to take away from us. I will not stand silent if I witness someone being attacked for their faith or their sexuality or the color of their skin. If I can get to a protest or a march, I will participate, as I have done before. If any conservatives happen to be reading this (unlikely as that is)–to those who are mocking and insulting liberals for questioning whether they want to stay in the U.S., for wondering if our rights are going to be taken away, for fearing the worst is coming–if you’re wondering what hypocrisy looks like, take a long look in the mirror. Conservatives have been whining for years about Obama was coming for their guns, which never happened, and there were plenty of conservative media figures who *promised* they would leave when Obama was elected but didn’t. We’ve already witnessed reproductive rights being rolled back, by some of the same people Trump is bringing into his administration. We already have evidence that our fears our justified.

Things will get better. In two years we have a chance at taking back either the House or the Senate, if not both; in four years, if Medicare is privatized, Roe v. Wade overturned, the ACA repealed, gay marriage once again prohibited, journalists are silenced, if we’re in a trade war with China and NAFTA is repealed, all of which Trump and/or other Republican leaders have promised in the last months and weeks, I hope that the combination of those of us who are angry enough now and those who will have buyer’s remorse over voting for Trump will make a Democratic victory a certainty. The party does need work, but we have a number of strong candidates rising through the ranks. The problem is it will not get better in time for the women who are going to die or be left severely ill from botched abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. For the people who are going to die all over the world as a result of accelerating climate change, from worsening economic inequality and the other financial consequences of lowering the U.S.’ tax rates across the board, from losing their health insurance, from any wars that Trump escalates or instigates. For the people who are going to die of their injuries after attacks by people who now believe that anyone they look down on is now fair game, as happened to a Saudi Arabian college student a couple of days ago.

This is the song that kept running through my mind on Tuesday morning, and I was so looking forward to posting it again and again, any excuse I could find, on Wednesday, instead of being unable to shake the lyrics of “This is not America”. This is the first political song I understood in political terms, being old enough to have a grasp, if not a full understanding, of the events that inspired it. I played it again and again back in 2008 following Barack Obama’s election, and I hope that I will get to irritate all and sundry with it the day after election day 2020, along with a clip of Daveed Diggs shouting “We Won We Won We Won We Won.” Because we will. I hope we will all be there to witness it.

Fight or Flight: Or, A Dilemma of American Privilege

Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States.

There. I said it.

I couldn’t say it yesterday. I needed the day after the election to begin to wrap my head around what had just happened. The 2016 presidential campaign felt like a satire–often, a farce–from the very beginning, and it’s been tough to recognize that this is now my reality. We all know the facts: endorsed by the KKK, with a platform that articulates bigotry and misogyny, beyond anti-intellectual and into anti-conscious thought, this creature of America’s basest instincts was legitimately elected into power by more than 59 million of my fellow citizens.

The disastrous results of this election put the alt-right in the Executive branch of our government, to be checked by the hard right in the Legislative and the soon-t0-be-determined level of fucking crazy in the Judicial. Even if Trump manages to last four years without doing something incredibly illegal and getting impeached, or just quitting when he finds out it’s actually a really hard job, this particular conformation of government is going to screw the vast majority of people in this country for a long time to come. I expect we’ll get a flipped Senate, at least, in two years, but that’s cold comfort.

Before the election, my husband and I discussed what we do in the event of a Trump presidency. Of course these conversations had a flippant tone–such a thing wasn’t going to happen, after all–but we decided we couldn’t live in such a dystopian version of our country. We’d go to New Zealand: gorgeous, no language barrier, as far away as possible from nuclear strike zones. We recognize our socioeconomic privilege in having the choice at all. We haven’t had the heart to bring the topic up seriously now that the dystopia is here, but the talk is coming. My first instinct is certainly to flee this place. Why would I want to live in a country that chose white supremacy? Why stay in a place that is growing farther and farther away from my own ideals?

But Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 200,000. Other than rubbing salt in the wound, that means that nearly 60 million of my fellow citizens are on the right side of history, on the side of civil rights and of basic human decency. If I left, I’d also be leaving them. I’m not sure what the Venn Diagram looks like of those voters and the most vulnerable to Trumper policies, but I’m sure there’s a lot of overlap there.

That’s where privilege comes up again: I’m not at great risk to Trump’s would-be policies, though as a woman some absolutely affect me in deeply personal ways, and I’m sure that I could use my position of relative safety to fight for the most vulnerable. I could use my privilege as a white person, as someone with financial security, as someone in a (relatively) safe state, to advantage by staying and fighting for the America that should be.

Staying and fighting also requires an acknowledgement that I have let my country down so far. Of all the emotions I’ve been facing over the last couple of days, one keeps rising to the top like an oil slick on water: guilt.

Democracy doesn’t magically come into being every four years and then go away. A government by and for the people demands the people’s involvement for real success. I have voted in every election since I turned 18, but that is not enough.

I am not an activist. I am not a politician. I throw a bit of money at likely candidates every few years, I sign petitions, I write to my Senators and Representatives if something big comes up. I understand that this is more involved that many Americans, but what a disgustingly low bar. How easy to step over it into real engagement with our political process.

At least, it should be. I don’t know there to go from here. What constitutes a step towards being a truly good citizen? Volunteering with some local org? Running for local office? Finding a job with the Elizabeth Warren office, hallowed be her name? What does fighting look like?

The loudest demographic of this election was a plurality of voters across America hungry for change–even change at the expense of human decency and the ideals of the American experiment, apparently. The establishment parties have seen that hunger and they’re scared. That’s why Republicans stuck by Trump, through all the unfathomably awful things he’s said and done; they were afraid to let go of this “change agent” and be left by the wayside. But they’re going to get back to business as usual to the extent their constituency lets them.

By the same token, the Democrats yielded to progressive pressure early on, incorporating much of the “Bernie revolution” message into the party platform. Will the party keep fighting for those ideals? It seems they have to–we must swing wildly left to counter the fast-sinking right. Change is hard, though, and it is our duty to make sure the DNC knows we’re watching. Or better yet, participating. Perhaps that’s continuing to put pressure on the party to change. Perhaps that’s committing to nationwide election reform so that we can make third parties viable parts of our process instead of wisps of St. Elmo’s fire that lead otherwise good people off into the wastelands when they’re needed most.

Flight sounds easy but of course it isn’t. I don’t want to leave behind those I love. Fight sounds hard, but maybe it’s not as hard as I think. The wounds of this election–the hatred and the bigotry, seeing progress shoved so forcibly back–will turn into scars no matter where I live the next four years. Over the coming days what I need to figure out is: do I still believe in America? Can this go from being my country by an accident of birth to a country I help build? The one thing I know is that I cannot stay here and remain a bystander.

I want to hear how you see us saving the dream of America. Or, toss out some good business ideas for New Zealand and let’s look at real estate. I’m open.

This is New Zealand. I mean, can you blame me?
This is New Zealand. I mean, can you blame me?

The Real America

My parents always referred to themselves as expatriates. They were both born in London, England, but met by chance in Atlanta, GA. Neither had planned on staying in the U.S., but that’s what they ended up doing, I assume because they had good jobs and were uninclined to cope with the financial upheaval of moving back–they were happy with their jobs, and a few years later Britain was grappling with the energy crisis (if there’s anything my mother hated, it was being cold). Eventually they had me, and bought a house, and here we stayed.

I read somewhere recently that people who take up residence in a new country refer to themselves as expatriates when they look down on the country they’ve come to, whereas self-described immigrants look up to and admire their new home. I never thought much about my parents’ preference for the word “expatriate” over “immigrant”. I doubt they considered it in any conscious sense–it has a ring to it, and evokes British colonialism in a way that they remained faintly (or very, in my father’s case) nostalgic for and makes me distinctly uncomfortable. My mother considered applying for citizenship at one time and studied for the exam, but never went through with it, because time or, later, physical energy was always lacking; my father has never wanted to. When I was growing up we listened to Garrison Keillor and watched every minute of Ken Burns’ The Civil War many times over, we celebrated Thanksgiving without fail and looked forward to the Boston Pops concert every July 4th, but the most important tastes and traditions in my household growing up were the ones they brought with them from England. Whenever my mother heard certain Americanisms creeping into my speech, she would correct me constantly until I stopped doing it, from saying “ben” instead of “been” when I was eight to interspersing every sentence with three or four ‘likes’ when I was fifteen. (Oddly, she never objected to me saying “Y’all”.)

I was born in Atlanta, and so the appellation “expatriate” has never applied to me. I never thought of myself as an immigrant either, or the child of immigrants, until I recently, but I always knew myself to be foreign, “not from around here” despite my birth. People recognized my accent as not local, but, unless one of my parents was with me, could rarely tell where it was from–some asked if I was Canadian, but most people assumed I was from up north. Until I corrected them, that is, as I’ve always been insufferably proud of my heritage. For a long time I wished I had been born in London like my parents, that I was fully English; but I did, after all, grow up here. I may be able to change my accent at will, but I can’t entirely eradicate either part of the blend, no matter how much I concentrate, and I no longer wish to. I am American as much as I am English.

I know what it is to be subject to xenophobia, albeit such experiences have been rare for me. I remember occasions growing up when my mother would be pointedly ignored by staff when we were out shopping. When I moved to Scotland I encountered a regular, if not universal, assumption that because I was American I wasn’t as prepared for university as everyone else, and that St Andrews lowered its standards in accepting students from the U.S. because we paid more in tuition. When I visited Japan, there was one occasion when I was standing in a queue to pay for food and the person behind me insisted on pushing the edge of the tray she was holding into my back, no matter how many times I stepped from one side or the other to get out of her way. These incidents were few and far between and by no means characteristic of the reception I’ve found wherever I’ve traveled, but few though they are I found them maddening, infuriating, sometimes to the point that they kept me up at night. I can’t imagine the frustration of having to live with such behavior on a daily and weekly basis; I’m not surprised that persistent racism has been linked to PTSD and other psychological disorders in PoC.

I started to think more carefully about the question of immigration and personal identity when I returned to the U.S. at the end of 2006 and endured the 2007 presidential election. I started hearing frequent references to the “real America”–a specific segment of the U.S. population distinguished by a particular income bracket and living in the land-locked parts of the U.S., or at least that’s what I thought the phrase meant the first few times I heard it. Its meaning seemed to morph and grow the more Sarah Palin and other politicians and media figures used it, and like a lot of such catchphrases, it was used more exclude than to include. The real America wasn’t the liberal strongholds in California and the east coast; the real America wasn’t respected universities and research institutions; the real America wasn’t communities where a significant percentage of the population spoke English as a second language, or had dual nationality, or retained any sort of multi-ethnic character. It didn’t include me (liberal elitist, apparently), or many of my friends (not white or not Christian or, like me, liberal elitist). Palin lost the election for McCain, but the idea persisted, under different names, taking on additional implications. Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the “47%” who would vote for President Obama in the 2012 election revived the idea, giving it different parameters–which bore little resemblance to his technical definition of this group as those who don’t pay income tax, as most of the states with the highest populations of non-payers are reliably red states, not blue ones. Now we have Trump, and the “real” America–the Americans who want to “make America great again”–is predominately white, Christian, and heterosexual. Where does that leave us, the “not real” Americans, who still comprise a majority even as the race grows a little tighter?

I fit the definition of the so-called “anchor baby”. My parents were never citizens, and when they arrived in the U.S. they had high-school educations. However, no one ever accused them of being under-achieving or lazy. They had high-paying jobs that could, after all, have gone to U.S. citizens, but no one ever accused them of “stealing American jobs”. No one ever hissed or shouted at us to go back where we came from. This is what white privilege is; in a crowd I am accepted, whereas people who can’t–or have no desire to–conceal their accent or the color of their skin or their hair are not. People of color, from various backgrounds and heritages, are every day told to go back where they came from, that their parents must have been engaged in illegal activities to earn a living, that they don’t belong here, even when in many cases they were born here, as I was, or come from families who have been American citizens for generations, centuries. Now there is talk of rescinding birthright citizenship, which would make me and everyone else whose parents came and remained here legally, never breaking any laws or avoiding any taxes, no longer Americans in fact as as well as in the minds of Trump’s supporters. I find this monstrous, coming as it does from the mouths of politicians and members of the public who constantly criticize the President, democrats, and liberals alike for not understanding or respecting the Constitution.

The backlash against Barack Obama snowballed, as calls grew for immigration reform, as gay people were granted the right to marry, as our arts and culture began to better represent the country’s demographic reality. Now the backlash has gained not just a local habitation but a name: the alt-right. The people comprising this group are not by definition Trump supporters, nor do I imagine that all Trump supporters would define themselves as alt-right, but there is a significant and frankly quite frightening overlap between the two. The past few months have brought a barrage of defensive pundits, Trump supporters, and Trump surrogates–not to mention a broad variety of thinkpieces from left and right alike–insisting that Trump’s popularity is rooted in the economic grievances of working-class Americans. If I hear one more such tirade I think I’ll scream. I know that the ramifications of the Great Recession and economic policy over the last several decades has fueled a great deal of this bitterness. What I would like some of the people writing these thinkpieces and arguing this point in the media to acknowledge is that while financial strain may have been the spark, the tinder and now the fuel is a strong desire to return to the America before Obergefell v. Hodges, before Roe v. Wade, before the Civil Rights Act. I do not hear Trump supporters on television discussing the complexity of U.S. tax law and how it has given major corporations and manufacturers incentives to move jobs overseas, where they can pay their workers less, or admitting the damage that trickle-down economics has done. They do not discuss how Donald and Ivanka Trump have taken advantage of the cheap labour available overseas to increase their own profits from their clothing and fashion lines. Instead they talk about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, complain about NAFTA as though it Bill Clinton was responsible for it (he wasn’t–it was George H. W. Bush who signed the treaty), and suggest instigating a trade war with China. There is a lot of heated discussion about severely reducing or stopping immigration (from some countries) and doing more to deport those who have arrived in this country illegally, but I’ve yet to hear Trump or any of his surrogates present a practical policy proposal to do this. Many of Trump’s suggestions over the past few months have been just as irrational and ridiculous as the idea of having open borders, but any time this point is made in the media it is dismissed as ‘liberal bias’ rather than a reflection of a decent grasp of policy, law, and economics.

Trump and his son Eric have many times retweeted and reposted comments and slurs against Hillary Clinton and a variety of other targets that originated from white supremacist and neo-Nazi accounts. Trump, despite crowing about how ‘the blacks’ love him, last week noticed a black supporter of his in the audience at a rally, called him a thug, and had him removed. The man hadn’t said anything; the color of his skin was enough to identify him as an enemy. There’s a bumper sticker of a figure representing the confederate flag delivering a roundhouse kick to another figure representing the pride flag, the image of which is making the rounds on the Internet. Anti-Semitic harassment of journalists and anyone who doesn’t support Trump have surged, particularly online. Kurt Eichenwald found himself the subject of a barrage of attacks and harassment when he began reporting on the many questionable aspects of Trump’s personal, financial, and business history, including one email that included a flashing image capable of inducing an epileptic seizure (Eichenwald has been very open about his struggle with the disorder). A politician who considered running against Trump decided against it after receiving images of his adopted daughter superimposed on pictures of gas chambers and other violent scenarios. Children are being harassed at school, and some schools have cancelled classes for the day of the election. These attacks aren’t manifestations of the desire for greater economic equality; they are the product of racial and ethnic hatred, a belief that being white, Christian, and heterosexual makes a person superior to any one with a differing skin color, creed, or sexuality.

I’m tired of hearing how American was founded as a Christian nation, and thus everyone should say “Merry Christmas” to all and sundry during the holiday season, school children should be required to recite Christian prayers, and the Ten Commandments should be posted on the wall in courtrooms. The founding fathers also lived in a world where it was taken for granted that only white men had the right to vote, where it was legal to enslave other people based on the color of their skin, and Native Americans were often as not ignored or massacred if they got in the way of what the U.S. government decided to do on American land. The America that exists today would be unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers–we have cars and smartphones and medical practices that would be tantamount to miracles to someone from the 18th century; women vote, being gay is no longer a crime or a form of madness, and slavery is illegal. (I guess the “ignoring Native Americans” part hasn’t changed much.) Quite frankly, I find the idea that people are nostalgic for a time when women were second-class citizens and people of color barely citizens at all rather nauseating. Every nation, every culture has committed wrongs that it must come to terms with, accept responsibility for; reverting to the conditions that gave rise to those wrongs is not going to make anything better. The United States is not the same place it was in 1775–not geographically, not demographically, not technologically, not environmentally. What this country has always done right is the struggle to fully manifest the words of the Declaration of Independence: that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident and inalienable. The alt-right is the latest manifestation of the idea that these rights are not self-evident and inalienable, but can be denied based on one’s skin color, sexual orientation, religion, gender, and apparently, in some minds, the birthplace of one’s parents. If that is the Real America, if Trump wins the election next Tuesday, I am alarmed to think of what might happen to the millions of Americans who don’t fit into that mould, me and most of those I hold dear among them.