No secret, I did not vote for our current President. But he is President, and that means that I, too, have to change my view of reality. Some things have not changed: I believe in America. I believe in its citizens. I believe we are much more than our current President thinks we are. I do not share his dark vision of this country as failing or of the world as “a mess.” Yes, there is work to be done. But work is positive. And we are ready.
There have been a number of leaders that I did not vote for, and each time, I’ve settled in to see how our democracy balances out the new and the old. And yes, I’ve done my share of protesting. That’s part of our valuable freedom.
This election feels different to me.
On this largely professional blog, I steer clear of politics. Yet this post is not about politics. This post is about language, creativity, and solving problems that involve miscommunication, sadness, confusion, anger, and frustration. Both of those–language and conflicting emotions–is exactly what my work is, and it’s time to talk about the next four years. Because they stretch ahead with a dark shadow.
Here’s what I will not do:
- Call the President names. Yes, I stooped to that in anger early in the primaries. But there is power in words, and I will not make fun of his hair, his makeup, or other superficial, physical features. No one is just their external appearance. We are made up of values and beliefs and behavior. There are larger issues at stake than looks. Much larger.
- Make fun of his current wife or youngest child. They didn’t ask to be in the spotlight. They are not responsible for his decisions nor are they part of the government.
- Over-indulge in news. It’s important to be informed. To think critically. To know history. If you are a news junkie, it’s easy to pile up story after story to fuel your anger. Stop it. (See items #2 and #3 below for reasons.) A friend gathered a group who read papers and watch TV in turn, and summarize the news for the others in the group, so no one has to marinate in horror for hours a day.
- Trivialize what is happening. Wait. Be silent. Many of my friends told me to “get over losing,” and “give
him a chance.” I’ve lost a good deal in my life, and getting up, dusting myself off, and moving on is a well-practiced habit. The President has shown who he is. He had a chance. I lost respect when I saw him call Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals.” I gave him a chance and saw him make fun of a disabled journalist and strand green-card holders (legal residents) at airports. He’s shown his values. They are not mine.
- Normalize hate speech, or divisive actions against religion. “Alt-right” sounds like a cool app, when it is really a slipcover for nationalism at best and fascism at worst. It’s easy to finger-paint ugly actions to hide hate and fear. I will not accept those words as “normal” or, worse, “the new normal.” America promises a separation of church and state, and a clear one, in the First Amendment.
Here’s what I will do:
- Recognize drama-chaos moves. Not be distracted by the shock event. The 45th President has said, more than once, that he “likes to be unpredictable.” And that is certainly the truth. If I chase after every tweet, every gesture, every insult, I will be likely, as Chuck Wendig writes on his blog Terribleminds (if cursing bothers you, you have been warned), be sorely challenged in “finding a calm state, managing to sleep at night. Eating, breathing, taking some time, drinking some water, trying not to drink the whole . . . liquor cabinet or eat every gallon of ice cream in the surrounding dozen zipcodes.”
- Choose carefully a few causes I care about and support those. As a coach and trainer, I know about compassion exhaustion. Fear exhaustion and anger overload works the same way. After a while, it’s easy to shrug and say, “I just can’t do this anymore. I have to get through the day. Someone else will be outraged and do something.” That’s when the real danger starts. When we stop caring. Yonatan Zunger slices emotions thin as a blade when he says, “. . . when people are already stretched to their absolute limit emotionally, with financial stresses, family stresses, medical stresses, lack of a clear future stresses, then hearing anyone else ask for something — even if that something is as simple as ‘the right to walk down the street without being murdered’ — feels like an added imposition.”
- Be kind. When I can’t protest, call up government officials to express my opinion, or write letters to newspapers, I can always be kind. So can you. There is always a smile to share, someone to let in the traffic line ahead of you, someone with fewer groceries to wave ahead of your half-full cart, a compliment to give, a hand to hold. When we refuse to be divided, we stand together. And standing together has power.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is the adult child of immigrants who fled Nazi Germany. She knows the results of “following orders” first hand.