It was close to midnight and I couldn’t sleep. In the crib next to me lay my two month old daughter — blissfully unaware of the world that she was inheriting. In bed next to me lay my wife — her tears having long dried up, but their path down her cheek still visible.
I opened up my computer and wrote these words:
As I face into the dark abyss of defeat, I finally understand their anger. I am consumed by it.
I was shaking with a rage that I’d never felt before. How could we have done this? What will it mean for our climate? For refugees? For those seeking a better life in America? For those with pre-existing health conditions? For minorities? For global stability? For democracy?
For my daughter?
And I continued:
I want to vilify those who didn’t vote for Clinton. I want to battle extremism with extremism. I want to stand on a street corner and shout at the world that we can do better than this.
That’s all that I could bear to write. The cursor blinked in its annoying rhythm. Taunting my lack of words. For years I’d said that we can’t be guided by fear, anger, or emotion. And here I was. Crippled by a fury I never knew was possible.
I forced myself to continue:
But, that’s not the answer. It can never be the answer.
Because if anger, fear and divisiveness created our problem, then kindness, love and a renewed sense of community are the only things that can solve it.
In the early morning hours of November 9th, 2016 — I didn’t believe that that was true. Could kindness and love have stopped any authoritarian leaders in the past? Could it prevent racist and brutal policy? Or is it just the kind of thing that a white heterosexual male who would be buffered by the majority of regressive White House policies says to himself to let him sleep at night?
It worked. I fell asleep.
That same day, the piece published at Civil Beat. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but it was one of the final op-eds I’d write for them. While getting yelled at in the comments section of the piece, I started the application process to get a Masters in Public Administration. Not long after, I stopped writing.
It’s now been 584 days. I’m halfway through my Masters. I’m running for local office. Every day people thank me for putting myself forward. I’m angry, but I’m not consumed by it. I’m helping build community, I think. I say that there are two sides to everything and that we need to do a better job of listening and conecting. Right?
But, what about when there is no justification beyond hate and tribalism?
Every day, the news seems to get worse. The US pulls out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump praises X authoritarian leader. Corruption. Hate. Collusion. Obstruction. Lies. Hate. Hypocrisy. And more hate. Trump praises Y authoritarian leader. 10,000 children in detention centers. Zero tolerance towards those seeking asylum. Children lured from their parents by being told they’re going to get a bath.
I type up a post to vent my outrage on Facebook. About how my wife was one of those children seeking asylum. About how I am the product of those seeking asylum from a country that failed to stop the contagion of hate. About how far we’ve fallen as a country.
And then I remind myself of the words of Henry Adams:
Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatred.
Do I keep widening that gulf, reflecting the hate right back, knowing that it will do no good? Or do I focus on what I might have a chance of influencing?
And so I delete the post. I continue quietly researching housing policy. I hang out with friends who supported Trump, trying to bridge the chasm. Instead of feeling the “satisfying purity of indignation” (to borrow a phrase from President Obama), I feel the smug righteousness of action.
And when I start to feel uncomfortable that maybe I am complicit in my silence, I convince myself that I am fighting Trump without becoming Trump.
But, if love, kindness, and community are the answer — why do I feel like I’ve lost my backbone? Like maybe I’ve become the rhinoceros described in a haunting New York Times editorial days after the election:
The rhino sightings continue to be the subject of pointless dispute. Then, one by one, various people in the town begin to turn into rhinos. Their skin hardens, bumps appear over their noses and grow into horns. Jean had been one of those scandalized by the first two rhino sightings, but he becomes a rhino, too…
It is an epidemic of “rhinoceritis.” Almost everyone succumbs: those who admire the brute force of the rhinos, those who didn’t believe the sightings to begin with, those who initially found them alarming. One character, Dudard, declares, “If you’re going to criticize, it’s better to do so from the inside.” And so he willingly undergoes the metamorphosis, and there’s no way back for him
Am I Dudard? Is this really the way to make a difference?
For once, I don’t have an answer.