a collective breath-holding

note: I started this blog five days ago. Because of the unprecedented rapid change of the news, this is almost out of date. I just can’t keep up. 

I’ll be straight – I didn’t want to write anything about the inauguration.  Notwithstanding the news coverage, every time I think about what’s going on in Washington, I feel like someone punched me in my gut.    I keep sifting through the stages of what I can only describe is grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.   But instead of going though stages linearly, I circle around them as I sift through the news.  From anger to depression, to acceptance back to anger.

But I feel like I need to. So here goes.

I – a Clinton supporter – attended Trump’s inauguration.  On Friday, January 20th, I sat in the bitter cold and rain as I saw Donald J. Trump put his hand on his bible and become our 45th President.  I thought – perhaps – that even though I didn’t vote for him, he would surprise me.  He could be President I could support.   I shivered as I listened to him in our VIP seats – in the splendor of the US Capital and in front of three previous US Presidents – rant about American carnage, praise the virtues of protectionism, and extol the virtues of America First.

 

Here is what hasn’t been in the news recently – most of the crowd around me that day cheered.  They said good riddance to the Obamas, and welcomed with open arms the new era of Trump.  An era of Trump right-wing populism, of power to the people.  Flags and red MAGA baseball hats were everywhere.  Sitting one row behind me was some guy from Duck Dynasty.  He wore an American bandana.  In front of me a gentleman held up a huge Trump flag and posed for pictures with bystanders.  I felt like everywhere I turned, I ran into someone with a New York accent (was it me? or was I hearing things?).  I felt like an outsider, sitting there.  But then again, I felt that way the morning after the election too.

The days which followed have shown me that President Trump and Candidate Trump and one and the same. As we all now know, his administration has been marked by a flurry of actions over The Wall, Affordable Care Act, TPP, a temporary refugee ban and more.  All of which I disagree with, and I’m not alone.  Many moderate republicans have voiced their dissent (my recent favorite was Mccain/Graham on immigration).

Trump is a populist President (this has been argued a bit, but I think it’s largely true).  Populism isn’t new, but is largely misunderstood in America.  Europe has had populist parties for decades (predominantly) as the result of immigration.  I remember writing about the rise of populism in 2007 in Europe and in Latin America (Are these national icons truly lovers of the people, or are they agenda-driven opportunists who deceive their constitutents with their charisma?).  Sound familiar? Populism can be exciting, and dangerous.   It’s a f%$k the current system – no matter what the cost.  And most of us aren’t suck big risk takers.  Most of us like to hedge our bets, and not shake the whole system.  Think about all the people with the red MAGA hats around me that cold day a week and a half ago.  Is this what most Trump supporters wanted?  Because lets not kid ourselves – the answer is yes.   This looks a lot like America First to me.  This looks like a big f%$k you to the current system, and frankly, the rest of the world.

So what does this mean for our government?  For the first time in modern political history, the traditional two parties of America (both Republicans and Democrats) are anxious.  I saw it with my own eyes last week.  There is a collective breath-holding in Washington.   And career public servants, military members, diplomatic corps?  Their job has never been more important.  These are patriots who work for the American people, largely out of sight and with little recognition or glory.  An excellent Foreign Policy article …they [career officials] need to continue to keep America safe by speaking truth to power and keep providing fact-based, high-quality, informed analysis, advice, and recommendations. Uphold, and make sure that the U.S. government’s policies and actions reflect, the values, principles, and laws that make America exceptional. Speak truth to power.

So what have I done in the last week to try to shake my cycle of grief?

I’ve looked up my congressman (I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know who he was in Texas).   I’ve called his office, told them my zip code, my name, and left my voice heard.  It was easy and non-confrontational.

I decided to sponsor a refugee family with some friends at my local church.

I’ve resolved to stop looking at my phone ever .45 seconds for news.

And I’ve started to let out my breath.

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