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 Because of the unprecedented rapid change of the news, this is almost out of date.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.

an inauguration invite explained

I’ve struggled to watch the news lately.  My stomach turning at every tweet and retweet of our incoming President.  I’m saddened by his fundamental misunderstanding of our foreign policy, and his flippant disregard for decades of diplomacy.

Like many women, I regard him as misogynist; however, I don’t so much think of him as racist – as misinformed.  Profoundly disrespectful and careless with his words.   I have no illusions that he will change when he takes the  White House, but I have a small degree of hope that the selfish dedication of the political servants, diplomats and military; and the largess of the job of the Presidency will lessen his selfish ambition.

It is from this vantage point that I stood when my husband called and said, “Do you want to fly back to Virginia to the inauguration?  I have been offered tickets.”

innaguration

Now, for most of you out there the answer is probably easy.  An easy yes or an easy no.  Either you can stand on your pedestal and claim you would never go and support this new President.  Sure, I get it.  The view is pretty nice up there on the high road.   Others of you, whether you voted or him or not, would jump at the idea of attending an inauguration.  I wouldn’t fault you for that either. For many of us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle.

A few nights ago we watched the movie Selma.  It was my first time watching the history of MLKs march between Selma and Montgomery.  It’s a remarkable movie and I recommend it.   The most interesting part was the relationship between Lyndon B Johnson and MLK.   Before MLK walked on Selma, he approached LBJ more than a few times – pushing him towards the voting rights act.  LBJ knew it was the right thing to do, but – as politics goes – had other priorities at the time.  He also knew it would use up a large amount of political capital.  So MLK took to the streets to protest.  He raised awareness, and forced LBJ’s hand.  A few years later, we had the voting rights act of 1965.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Trump and LBJ are similar. To start, LBJ was a progressive, and MLK and LBJ ultimately had similar visions for the country.  They just didn’t agree on the methods and timeline by which it would be achieved.  MLK didn’t simply protest.  He sought to persuade the President to his vision; and when he couldn’t, he worked other means.  Many of us do not share most of Trump’s vision for our country.  However, I don’t believe that the solution is to simply protest, (or rant and rave on social media).

It is childish and ineffective to claim that Trump is not my President and to shake our fist at every move this government makes.  This is our Government, and this high office deserves our respect, regardless of our vote.  If we want change, we need to work with and through our government.   I was reminded of this much last night.  As our outgoing President said so eloquently in his last speech:

Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one….

Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when you own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.

Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir in goodness, that can be a risk. And there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this one and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. 

The central problem in Washington DC the last 15 years is the intransigence of its people.  Many Americans (including myself) feel lost in a battle between extremes of the left and the right.   And I – for one – will not contribute to that problem.   I may not agree with most of what Trump says, but I do believe that most of the people who go to Washington to serve do so with some sort of honorable duty.  They have a desire to help.  If you haven’t heard of it, become familiar with an organization called No Labels (https://www.nolabels.org).  They are doing their best to try to fix Washington’s problems, without partisanship.   If you are frustrated, sign up.  Learn about it. Be a constructive part of the solution.

So when my husband called and asked if I would go celebrate this incoming President, whom I did not vote for, and whose policies I generally do not support, I said yes.   Yes because despite what I believe about him personally; I do believe that he wants what’s best for America.  Yes because I believe in the Greatness in our Democratic Project.  Yes because I believe we need to do a better job of understanding and not judging or assuming.  And yes, because we all need to participate to move us forward.

 

 

 

on the value of saying yes

Tomorrow is December 1.  It seems improbable that we are almost at the end of 2016.  This year – for all of us – has been characterized by extremes.   Extreme highs – the joy of watching the US olympic team bring home gold – and extreme lows – the polarization of the national election.

For us too as a family, we struggled with extreme highs and extreme lows.  I was so sad to move from our home in northern Virginia to Texas – a state so totally unfamiliar.  A place that – for me – evoked foreign images of cowboys, guns and country music.   But we also rose to that challenge as a family, and with that, comes happiness.  It may have taken three-quarters of a year, but we resettled and are grateful.  In the end, experiencing the joy of a new place, a new adventure, and new beginnings.

I’ve reflected quite a bit on what makes the difference between the highs and the lows this year.  How do we make a good situation out of a bad one?  How do I make a happy life in Texas when I didn’t want to move here? How do we change the game, when we don’t like the hand we have been given?  How do we swim upstream in a culture or community that we perceive as antithetical to our own thinking?  How do we figure out how to mend the wounds of our country’s political divide when all we want to do is tune out?

For my life, it came in a pretty simple answer.  I resolved to say yes.  Yes to questioning all my assumptions about Texas.  Yes to trying new experiences, even if they would result in failure or make me super uncomfortable (both happened).  Yes to meeting new people, even if they weren’t quite like our friends back home.  Yes to getting more help with the kids, even though I was certain I could do it on my own.  Yes to moving forward and trying things out.   Yes to cowboy hats and jeans, huge highways, mutton busting, bible-study, monogramming and yard signs.

And here is the thing.  When I said yes, things got a lot better.  This fall, when I opened myself up to the possibility of new ideas – of new experiences – I started to like Texas.  I may not ever be a true Houstonian, but I can appreciate this large red state for what it brings to the table.   And I sure am happier.

So – if at the end of 2016 – all you want to do is curl up and tune out, I understand.  I felt like that in the middle of 2016.  But maybe now is the time to start listening, to meet people outside of your comfort zone, and question your own assumptions.  I assumed Houston would be full of cowboys.  I was really wrong.

If you felt blindsided by this year, and especially this election (as I did), my advice is to say yes.  To listen, to hear and to try to understand – and maybe we have a chance at bridging the extremes in 2017.

the failure of news and why my father thinks we are stranded

A few days ago my mother sent me a text: Urgent. Your father is convinced you are stranded.  He wants to help you evacuate you from Houston.  Please call.

I smiled, and later that morning took a picture of the picture blue sky outside my front door and the dry driveway.  All is well.  I wrote. Tell dad to stop watching the news.

Don’t get me wrong.  We have had more than our fair share of rain and flooding this year.  It’s a serious problem down here.  Thankfully, even with the 1 in 500 year floods we have had (twice in the last month), our house has weathered just fine.  It’s true outside of Houston, the rivers are higher than they have ever been and some communities next to the rivers are in danger, but that is far from our enclave in the center of the city.

all dry

don’t send a plane. we are all dry.

However, if you were to watch any of the national news programs, you (like my dad) may be inclined to think Houston was sinking into the Gulf  from all the flooding.   And aside from the dramatization of the flooding; more and more of the nightly news is devoted to yearly United States weather patterns.  A tornado hit a town in Kansas.  A flood in Texas.  A drought in California.  You get the picture.   Is this really all we, as news-consuming citizens, care about?  Weather, and US politics?   The news has become a predictable cycle of local weather stories and political pandering.

All of this may not be so bad, despite the fact there is newsworthy information all around us that rarely hits our TV.  Venezuela – one of the world’s largest exporters of oil – is becoming a failed state.   It’s economy is collapsing and US TV news has told us virtually nothing about it.   The 2016 olympics start in two months; and they have been dubbed the “Zika Olympics“.  South Korea’s team are going to be wearing mosquito-proof uniforms.   And then all those Olympians will travel back across the world; back to their home countries.  How risky is this?  Is this not newsworthy (and bizarre)?  And have you heard the word “Brexit”?  The British are looking to possibly exit the EU.  This is big news for Europeans who live in Britain, and speaks to the greater feeling about the anxiety over immigration into Europe.  The same anxiety many Americans feel right here at home.   Isn’t our closest ally newsworthy?

You could argue that TV is not where you get quality news programing.  Print news (and some new media – such as The Atlantic) do a far better job reporting than the rating-driven TV news.  And that’s true.  If you want to get real news, it’s in print, or online.  Not on TV.  But should that be the case when the majority of Americans still get their news from the Television?  At the end of the day, I still like to sit down and watch the headlines on TV.   And I’d like to trust I’m getting the HEADLINES.  But I don’t, and that’s a problem.

American TV news is failing consumers.   And not just because it references social media posts as facts, or quotes random people as if they are experts.    The weather may be important if newscasters are trying to make a larger point regarding climate change; or if many lives are truly in danger.   But by spending so much time covering stories like the rain in Houston, we are only failing ourselves.

And don’t worry dad, really, no evacuation necessary.