Gut Punch


Back in 2006 I went through a pretty tumultuous time. I walked around in a haze for three months and spent nights plagued by anxiety. I could only describe the feeling in my chest as two sharp-edged pieces of metal being ground against each other. It was horrible. I was in a perpetual state of feeling rudderless. I didn’t eat much. I lost weight, which, if you know me, you know I don’t have much to give in that department. I feared so very much for the future because a chunk of I saw as it's foundation was suddenly gone. I was humiliated and decided on a sort of forced exile from Chicago for a bit.

"It'll be okay." It did. Slowly. Very slowly. Not always easily and definitely not smoothly. There were hiccups and setbacks but with one foot in front of the other, I got through, and definitely not alone.

Fast-forward a few years. I was in a much better place with the previous difficulty and uncertainty behind me. I was overseas for the second time in three years and learning more about exactly how the rest of the world views the United States and the impact of our decision makers. After watching the presidential inauguration of 2009, I walked out of my school’s auditorium and a classmate from eastern Europe asked, “So, are you proud to be an American again?”

“I never stopped,” I told her. “But there has been an asterisk on it for eight years. It’s gone. For now.”

That asterisk has now returned. As has the state I described in the opening of this post. I’m feeling very fearful right now. If this man governs as he campaigned, we are in for a long, brutal winter. I fear for minorities, the LGBT community, and immigrants. I fear for those who’ve slowly but surely been left behind over thirty years because the US failed to see the writing on the global wall and put in the hard work to adapt. It’s about to get worse. I fear for the poor and marginalized whose meager lifelines are under threat yet again. I fear for the global community that looks to the US to be at the head of the adult’s table, only to find us eyeing the kid’s table and a mountain of mashed potatoes to begin flinging around. I fear that every ounce of progress – and I will take all comers on this, there has been real progress – in the eight years since we took it on the chin and fell to one knee could be wiped out faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

Basically I’m back to feeling like I did in 2006. I haven’t had such a futile night of sleep since then. But I vacillate between that feeling and with hope. As I explained to my friend back in 2009, the president is just a person. Yes, that’s our national leader with the power to do great and terrible things, but it is democratic institutions that make our government special. They matter, they’re important and they are there to amplify the good and mitigate the bad – to the extent possible. Whether it was a civil war, a truly rigged election (Hayes), ineptitude (Hoover), scandal and corruption (Grant, Harding, Nixon), our institutions and citizens have helped save us from ourselves. Maybe not gracefully, easily or quickly… but they did.

And we’re off to a good start. For weeks we’ve been hearing about the peaceful transition of power being the cornerstone of our enduring government, largely from the side that wasn’t preempting potential loss with cries of “rigged.” We cannot lose faith in democracy simply because someone suddenly jerked the steering wheel. Democratic institutions might all be under siege from bad judgment and a lack of character, but they will endure so long as we fight to protect them; stand up for them; refuse to grow cynical or weary of them; think they have suddenly become outdated and old fashioned. We have to believe in them now and we have to stay engaged.

But right now, we’re toast. We need a stiff drink.

Maybe two.

Frankly the idea of staying involved and standing up for tolerance, understanding, equality, diplomacy – and bringing that fight to the mid-terms in two years -- leaves me with an overwhelming sense of …. tired.

The thought of working harder to listen to a post-intellectual and hypocritical malcontent chorus in the hopes of really understanding them (assuming they will not afford me that same measure of listening courtesy) has zero appeal right now.

And I’m perfectly willing to admit all of this hand wringing may be for naught. Check in with me in four years. I'll either be sprinkling a little salt on that crow before I eat it, or warming up my feet for a small moment of grave dancing.

Regardless, I have so much hope because despite the electoral college, Trump not only lost the popular vote by more than 3 million, it appears he only had the support of about one third of younger voters. That tells me the ones coming up behind us roundly rejected the hate, fear, xenophobia, racism, and blatant disregard for the truth peddled by the Trump campaign. They got the message and they got it early in life.

This isn’t an identity politics point. That strategy is useless. This is something larger. This is about the long game, one addressing the root instead of just the leaves. Those fruits may not fully ripen in the next election. Or the next. But they will. Through voting, organizing and being an informed and engaged citizenry that doesn’t tire of being a watchman ready to stand up for what is right.

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© 2020 by Mark Konold