What do I say to my neighbor?
I’m hardly alone in pondering that vexing question. She and I always seem to get along so well, in that informal, rather superficially friendly but consistently pleasant way in which women often interact with other women. Lots of smiles, small talk about our children and pets, a word or two about the weather; seldom more. Yet that was enough – it was comforting to know that she, her children, and their little dog lived next door, even if her boyfriend barely said a word to me. He didn’t seem like the talkative type, but together they made for nice neighbors.
In late October everything changed, when they placed the Trump sign on their lawn and the very rude anti-Hillary bumper sticker on his truck. That lawn sign stayed put right through Inauguration Day, and the coarse bumper sticker remains on his truck.
As for me, I’ve not found my way to saying a word to her since election night. I’m not proud about that. To the contrary, I’m saddened that I suddenly feel such an enormous distance between us. The awkwardness has been mitigated a little given that it is winter and too cold for any of us to linger outdoors; I barely cross paths with her. In time, we will probably return to our innocuous shared pleasantries.
But maybe not. How can I possibly get to a place in my mind and spirit where I “get over it”? Everything is different now. Suddenly, America feels different – crystallized into people with disparate realities and differing “facts” who neither care nor know how to engage across the chasm that has come to divide us. I’m not describing just the Red State – Blue State divide; the chasm I experience has opened up even between my house and my neighbor’s. It’s depth and width are exacerbated by the anger that still wells up inside of me, undiminished. Yes – I’m angry. Furious even. I feel indignation and outrage that the country that I know and love, a country of caring and progressive persons, has suddenly been snatched away. I’m angry that a man who embodies the antithesis of the virtues of everything that I honor and look up to in a leader is now at the helm of our great country. I’m angry that he has gathered around him the counsel and company of billionaires and extreme right wing people, people who have no respect or time for minorities, women, the poor, or anyone who doesn’t see the world as “us” and “them”. The bizarre combination of Russian intrigue, FBI Director malfeasance, an abundance of fake news, and outdated electoral college mechanisms have handed the government of my country to an Administration who lost the popular vote by an historic margin, and who now enjoy power with at best a very questionable mandate, and arguably no mandate at all.
Into that chaotic and unsettled context, we have heard a bellicose and imperial “America First” Inauguration speech unlike any before in American history. We have seen no credible evidence that this President and his advisors understand (or care to understand) that the management of intersecting challenges, opportunities, and subtle realities of this complex nation and world demands integrity, wisdom, skill, patience, understanding, reflection, collaboration, alliance-building, compromise, and accountability. Instead we have a brazen demagogue trumpeting his arrogance, fretting about the size of the crowds of his followers or boasting about the lower television ratings of his successor on The Apprentice, all the while seeking to reduce the world around him into transactional stupidity and deal-making. He is aided in his undertaking by a Machiavellian strategist (Steve Bannon) and a public apologist (Sean Spicer) who will attest to any politically expedient message, regardless of its lack of truthfulness. I’m left to wonder, bewildered, when we as a nation agreed to set aside our shared values of commitment to public service, environmental sustainability, economic responsibility, universal human dignity, or upholding a longstanding reputation of strong but principled international leadership in exchange for deal-making and self-aggrandizement?
So yes, I’m still angry. Still furious. And still very worried.
History will clearly record that this President and his staff have been joined in this conspiracy of exultant ignorance and short-sightedness by nearly all of the Republicans in Congress, engrossed in amassing power while sacrificing civic responsibility. In just the past few days, I’ve seen Republicans and this odious President crow in triumph as they’ve overturned rules that kept our streams safe from toxic mine wastes, and other rules that kept firearms away from persons known to have mental disabilities. I’ve watched appalled as cabinet appointees with intractably complicated financial affairs and dubious histories replete with unethical, self-serving actions move toward confirmation by the majority of Republican Senators who can only sing their praises. I’ve stood aghast as the acting Attorney General – a woman of undisputed competence, experience, and principle – was removed from her post in a manner clearly intended to humiliate and demean her. I’ve shuddered as I’ve heard of the boorish and unbecoming way our President has spoken to the prime minister of arguably our most loyal and honorable of allies, Australia. And I’ve seen the President verbally demean yet another judge, this one being one who had the courage of his jurisprudential convictions sufficient to impose a temporary stay on the outrageously un-American executive order banning desperate long-suffering, already vetted refugees from our shores.
And that’s all only in the last few days.
I’m a parent, and like all parents I want my children to inherit a better world, or at least one that is not worse than what I have lived in. I would dearly like my children to grow up in an America that still leads the world in environmental concerns, an America that speaks loudly at home and abroad in favor of human dignity and human rights, and an America where essential services like affordable health care for all and quality public schools are cherished priorities. I want my children and all children to be citizens of a country where concepts such as public service and the common good are not seen as quaint anachronisms, nor to be trapped in a world suddenly thrust back hundreds of years to a Hobbesian nightmare of every man for himself, winner take all…and Hobbes never said what happened to the women and the minorities in that barbaric world. If the venom and bile of Trump-happy internet trolls is anything to go by, that’s a world I would not wish on my worst enemies. As a transgender woman who is more than a little bit public in her advocacy, I have suffered more assaults from that dark, vicious, boorish world of caustic internet denizens than I care to admit. It leaves me hollow-feeling to think that this army of crude, sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic imbeciles has now been emboldened and unleashed like never before – and yet this is the world my children must go forth in. The fight for civility seems perilously close to being lost forever, with potentially dreadful consequences.
I know what I want and don’t want for my country, but I am at a total loss in understanding how this isn’t what my neighbor wants. I am baffled beyond comprehension at how anyone could want Trump and his world. And I don’t even know where to begin to have that conversation with my neighbor.
Spring will eventually come, and she and I will be outside more and more. We’ll have to talk. But what can I say, when I am still so angry?