I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my initial reaction after the election — the morning after that too-late Tuesday night, when I’d gone to bed exhausted, my nerves worn to a thin fray. I woke up thinking, “Oh, even if it didn’t go her way last night, Hillary has the good sense to not concede until all the votes are in…”
And then I heard that she’d conceded.
… the wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media …
… the wailing and gnashing of teeth in my own home …
Everywhere. Shock. Dismay. Distress. Despair. I live in a cornflower-blue state, now, and the vast majority of folks I heard from (most of whom I’ve worked with or hung around with in the general New England area), were pretty churned up about that mess.
And what sprang to mind for me, who grew up in blazing “red” surroundings… who came of age during the Reagan years… and who has friends who were preyed upon by the FBI, “Ratso Rizzo’s” Philadelphia regime, as well as undercover government goons who killed their friend and carved “n****r-lover” on the dumped body?
I thought, “Fine. Now it’s back to business as usual, after this extended liberal interruption.”
It’s not so much that I downplayed the risks. I’ve known he was trouble for quite some time, and I’ve been following the writings of people who have issued dire warnings about what a Trump presidency could mean for this country. I’ve known what a horrible, wretched person he is, since I lived in northern New Jersey in the late 1980s and saw his dealings splashed across the tabloids. I used to watch “The Apprentice”, which left a bad taste in my mouth with all the posturing and facade barely concealed its seedy underbelly. The racism, bigotry, white supremacy, misogyny, ridicule of disabled people, and steady stream of vitriol put me on alert, months and months ago. It’s not like I had no idea his fascist coup could get as odious as it has, in just the past few days.
I already knew. And frankly, I was already ready.
‘Cause folks, this is not my first rodeo with people like this. You may say, “Oh, you can’t possibly be accustomed to this!” But here’s the thing — I grew up under very different circumstances than the majority of people I know. And in almost unrecognizably different circumstances than the new generation of Millennials coming up on the public scene. I started elementary school during the first years of busing, and rocks were thrown at my school bus when we went through certain neighborhoods. One rock cracked a window not far from my seat.
I attended a high school where a Jewish English teacher had swastikas drawn on her car, along with other slurs I won’t write, and where German language students (for fun) sang the German national anthem and did a Nazi impression/”comedy routine” on the PA system one morning, to work up enthusiasm for their soccer team when they played against the Spanish language class.
In the world where I grew up, you never said the word “gay”. You didn’t even hint at it. Even if you were gay, you never said it out loud — you referred to yourself as “that way”, or “one of the tribe”, or “a friend of Dorothy”. A women’s bookstore (which of course carried some lesbian feminist titles) was firebombed in a small city 10 miles from my home — twice — so it went out of business. And if you had the audacity to visit the one known gay bar and park your car within two blocks of the place, there was always the chance you’d get your tires slashed.
The KKK was active in two small cities within a 50 mile radius of my home. It still is.
So, when I see all this drama around Trump’s people, his circle, his followers (including an unlikely Vietnamese-American) saluting “Seig Heil!” (sic. – yeah, she really spelled it that way), it just brings up a whole bunch of old shit with me that feels so, so familiar.
And it feels cold. Bitter. Stupid. For all the wrong reasons.
There are no right reasons, but the fact that nobody saw this coming feels like the wrongest reason of all. The fact that nobody thought it would get this bad, this quickly — with people so blatantly eager to rape and pillage and just send everyone around them straight to living hell, while next-to-nobody in positions of power steps up to stop them, or even question them… the news media treating this like it’s just another story, talking about the fashion choices of the new Nazified leaders — how spiffy they look in that coordinated ensemble — as if that’s The Thing Worth Reporting.
It feels completely convoluted, on top of it all, because here we are with a tender generation of Millennials who are perhaps the most sheltered and entitled creatures ever to issue from the loins of their parents, fond of their safe spaces and easily whipped into a frenzy about “microaggressions”, a larger generation than the Baby Boomers, who have even less political acuity and familiarity with the horrible world beyond their schools than those wild-ass Hippies… and they are no match – I repeat – No Match At All – for the machinery they are about to charge against. They haven’t a clue.
And meanwhile, people still say they voted for Trump for economic reasons.
Cue the dissidence.
I haven’t got time for despair.
See, I know what it’s like to live on the cultural margins in shitty times like these. I know what it’s like to be illegal — when my choice of intimate / life partners was punishable by law. I know what it’s like to live like you’re constantly on the lam, never drawing attention to yourself, never speaking up, learning how to keep yourself from becoming a target, because No One would ever come your assistance. I grew up queer in a world where queer got you killed. I grew up female in a world where women were good for one thing only — breeding. Oh, and obedience. Let’s not forget that. I’ve lived for quite some time in a world where there really is no equality, no justice, and there’s no point in getting my hopes up for it. Because no sooner does it show up, than it gets slapped away by someone with an agenda who claims they’re just protecting themselves from the “threat” of my existence.
Everybody seems to have forgotten just how awful it was to be anything other than straight, white, and right-wing in many parts of this country, for so, so many years. Everybody’s forgotten how oppressive it was, how soul-crushingly oppressive. They just think that all magically dissolved away when Bill Clinton was in office… and then they sealed the deal with Obama. But while people’s backs were turned, the elements that truly, genuinely want to crush and kill people who are Not Like Them, have been busy stoking their fires of resentment and vengeance.
They don’t go away. Not really. We just conveniently forget the ugly truth of them. We congratulate ourselves on how open and accepting and loving we’ve become… how much we’ve evolved. We forget about everything except our own little fanciful echo chamber, full of peeps just like us. Sharing photos and memes and our favorite songs.
And then Those Other People come back.
And we’re shocked.
Stop being shocked. You pretended not to see that puddle of mud in front of you, and you ran towards it in your favorite shoes, anyway.