I had an ultra-stereotypical suburban Mom day yesterday. The Kid had a dance recital, so I spent the morning googling how to put long hair in a bun. (Conclusion: Without hair spray you need roughly 8,000 hairpins.) On the way to the recital location, Spouse and I chatted about, among other things, future college costs and strategies. Then we sat in a hot, cramped room and watched kids dance to Christmas songs for two hours before heading home, The Kid in the back seat under her iPod.
It seemed so normal. But nothing is normal.
When we were talking about college and scholarships and loans, I wondered aloud if such things would even be around by the time she would be going. (Yes, given everything, that will likely be the least of our problems; but money is a quantifiable thing and is sometimes the easiest way to put worries into words.) And then we went back to the financial discussion, because life goes on and you still have to plan and as yet I have no idea how to plan for the sorts of contingencies that look more and more like they’re going to come true.
That’s what I struggle with the most, day after day, as the news keeps getting worse. Generally if I can see the road ahead I can strategize. But this is becoming a mish-mash of the worst possible imaginable scenario, and things I never thought could happen in this country. Without a clear path, paralysis begins to feel normal.
That’s the thing to guard against. Routine is good, and can be helpful. Continuing to make plans for the future can be helpful. And heaven knows it’s impossible to stay constantly engaged in the news. We have to take breaks, in the spirit of putting on our own oxygen masks first, if nothing else. If we don’t stay strong, we really will be paralyzed.
But allowing it all to fade into the background? That’s how normalization happens.
And right now, it’s a really rough balance.
Politicians know how to play this game: propose something hideous, take one smidge of hideousness out of it, and a relieved electorate accepts something that would otherwise have been unworkable. (Wait for the “modification” of the Social Security proposal, probably along the lines of exempting a percentage of the older population from the changes.) This is how the entire country has been hauled further and further to the right.
But that’s politics as usual. I know what that looks like. I know how to react to that (although not, apparently, how to stop it). What’s happening now isn’t politics as usual. Some politicians will be taking advantage of the same old methods, but there is nothing usual about any of this.
When life gets difficult, I turn to writing. This is a thing I’ve done my whole life. It’s reflexive. It allows me to survive. And I’m doing it now, although I’m finding some of the work I’ve been planning is changing. I had some thoughts on near-future stuff, and it seems both insufficiently post-apocalyptic and too depressing to think about. Among other things, I write to escape, and near-future isn’t looking escape-worthy. I’m toying with bumping the timeline out a few hundred years and working with a similar story. Anything that shows humans surviving that long is optimistic, after all.
Writing isn’t going to be enough. This isn’t going to be the kind of thing where we can put our heads down and have earnest discussions until the next election. The hardest thing to fight against is going to be the normalization, the complacency. The acceptance of the “merely” horrible.
Some time ago, I lived with an alcoholic. It was creeping cohabitation that started with me spending a few weeks at his place after I broke my foot and couldn’t drive. He was drunk every night. He was awful. And then he’d sober up and apologize and that apology felt so good, so soothing, and I got hooked, like any drug addict. I stayed with the source of the pain because I liked how it felt when that same source made the pain go away.
This is how it happens. The day-to-dayness of our lives stays more or less the same, because objects in motion stay in motion. We hang on to routine because we need to breathe, we need to regroup, we need strength to strategize. And routine becomes an opiate, and the worse things get the more we cling and the less capable we are of making necessary changes.
It’s doubly hard when we can’t see what those changes are going to be.
I always thought voting was the answer. Research your candidates. Support them. Vote. In this case, it didn’t matter. It’s possible it never would have mattered. This was a perfect storm of civic ignorance and foreign interference. If it was just the election, that would be one thing, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s the politicians themselves. Our government is not our own. This has probably been true for a while, but there have been enough people to hold the line. Now there’s no one, and it’s unclear how many of the usual tools will continue to be available to the rest of us.
So what do we do?
The only thing I’ve concluded is that compromise is exactly the wrong way to go. Most people–even those who identify as Republican–agree with the bulk of the policies championed by progressives. Now is not the time to view this as an election defeat requiring a change in strategy, because that’s not what it was. This was not an ordinary election defeat, and it’s not going to be an ordinary administration. Human compassion and civil rights have just become decentralized in this country, and we must each become a center of compassion.
Does that sound amorphous? It is. I live in a bluer-than-blue state, and it’s very easy here to get lost in the inertia of routine. And we’re still in the anticipatory stages. We’ve seen enough by now to know that it’s impossible to underestimate the perfidious nature of the next administration, but even so, we keep being shocked by the realities. We try to imagine the worst, and we find out the next day we had it wrong.
So for now? Maybe we do focus on routine, on self-care, on hugging our people and our animals and remembering why all of this matters. Maybe all we can do right now is make ourselves as strong as we can. And remember that we are not alone. We are not even few in number. We are the majority, and that matters.