I have never been a publically political person. I don’t post political stuff to my facebook, and I don’t tend to write about anything political in any of the blogs I’ve ever kept. I keep it more personal, which keeps it more easily within the realm I feel comfortable acting as an expert.
Part of the reason for this is a general disengagement that is (while admittedly a negative thing) seen as typical of my generation (I want to write more about generations a little later — true confessions, I’m numerically — and also in many other ways — a Millennial). We have been tuning out because stuff is depressing and we feel powerless to affect positive change.
Another reason is I tend to avoid conflict where possible. I never want to say anything that might offend someone, because I don’t want to think of myself as offensive. I have a lot of connections and a very big family, and everyone’s got an opinion, and one sure-fire way to keep on everyone’s good side is to just keep your mouth shut, so mostly I do.
Finally, I hate to weigh in on any topic about which I don’t feel adequately prepared. I won’t raise my hand in class if I haven’t done the reading, and I won’t try to talk to someone about a subject (especially a touchy one) if I don’t think I’ve taken in enough information about it. I’m happy to listen, and absorb, but I rarely make comment, because here’s the thing — there is always more to know. There are other sides of the situation I have not yet thought about, read about, or listened to, and until I have, I cannot hope to comment in a reasoned way. This is a great excuse for endless quiet, since no one will ever have all the information on anything.
So, disenchanted, conflict-avoidant, and perfectionist, I go quietly, I don’t make waves.
I have several half-finished blog posts, but I haven’t published anything for a while. My mind is all over the place. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, don’t want to be political. But then I feel like talking about the latest werewolf book I’m reading is pointedly ignoring some stuff that’s gotten pretty loud in all of our backgrounds lately. I like ignoring the loud stuff in the backgrounds. I like pretending shit isn’t happening. I’m conflict-avoidant, I don’t like to ruffle feathers nor be ruffled. More preferable is the harmonious benevolence of small talk, small enough to shrink to this bubble of “me” and “you” and what we’re up to lately.
Sigh. So let me preface this yet further by saying I try to be as reasonable as possible. I don’t like to freak out when things get weird. I assume there is a reasonable or at least somewhat logical explanation for stuff (even if I don’t know what it is or have access to it, there must be some reason for shit). I’d rather accumulate information than do or say anything. Accumulating information is easy, but trying to affect positive change (as mentioned), takes work, is hard, and still feels ultimately futile, so the inertia against it is pretty big.
I’m also, weirdly, an optimist. While I am doubtful of my own power, I am usually confident that things will just turn out okay, that there is no need to freak out because even if the process of getting there is messy, our natural tendency is improvement, bettering. Progress.
I didn’t vote for Trump. People who know (or assume) this about me also assume that I therefore must have voted for Clinton, but I didn’t vote for Clinton either. Like many, I felt I was given a choice between two different kinds of ‘ugh.’ Most people made their peace with one or the other in light of the alternate, but I didn’t. I went full on idealist kiddo and I voted third-party. I picked the platform I felt most closely reflected my values (although none of them were a true fit, let’s be honest). People who learn this much of me will often respond, ‘So you threw your vote away,’ but let’s not be hasty or crass. I vote in the state of Tennessee, so by that logic, unless I voted for Trump, it was a throw-away.
I’ve only ever voted in Georgia or Tennessee, and then that one time in Kansas. (This is part of what will contribute to the sensation of your voice not really counting — if you live and vote in a solidly Not-Swing state.) I also moved around a lot during those years. I voted absentee frequently, and didn’t feel very well versed in the issues. I voted in Georgia from Tennessee when I was in college, then in Kansas although I had only lived there a few months, then in Georgia again just shortly after returning from Japan. I did not do enough to educate myself about the local election issues, falling into the all-too-common-trap of only paying attention to presidential politics, and only for the short term of the campaign season. (I was young, full of existential angst, and always in transition here, so my attention was pretty self-occupied. /Millenial)
So anyway, I didn’t vote for Trump, and I didn’t expect him to win. Clinton was a capital-P Politician, Trump a conservative-party shakeup. I went to bed election night feeling ambivalent because I knew it would be one of them, and that meant I didn’t have much to be happy about either way. I was not crushed or upset when the results came in, nor was I celebrating. Just a little surprised, and intrigued. That’s interesting, I thought, I wonder how this will play out.
But then he started to do stuff. His early appointment choices made me pause. Once we got to Betsy DeVos I was over it. Having worked in education for as long as I have, her ignorance is inexcusable to me. Her appointment is also, in my view, another extension of the idea that education is anybody’s field. You don’t have to know anything to run things. That is the very mentality that has fucked up our whole system for so long (and caused such a blame-centric top-heavy system). It’s well-ingrained, culturally, for those of us in the US. “Those who can’t do, teach.” Teachers are looked down on and not paid well. There is no respect for the field or the profession (whereas being a teacher in Japan means you drive a nice car and everyone is impressed with you, not for your philanthropic nature, but for the expertise you are ascribed — you’re up there with doctors and lawyers in the professional hierarchy). Even those of us who have close friends or family members in this field will find themselves succumb to this narrative, because this bias is painted so indelibly on our set of assumptions.
I got really upset when I heard that a twitter account of the National Parks was being silenced, because of the principle of the thing. I mean, I don’t care whose facts were the most accurate, silencing the media is a hugely clear step outside of “America = Freedom” territory. It’s too blatant for my tastes. If a media outlet says something you dislike, it’s not the American way to shut them up (that’s more of the North Korean way, yeah? am I getting this wrong?); it’s more the American way to discredit them or ignore them.
Then of course, there was the recent travel and immigration ban from seven middle-eastern countries. Which seems like a pretty big babies-instead-of-bathwater move, at least from this vantage at this moment. Does it really do us good? If so, how? And conversely, what harm can this move do? To whom, and in what measures, in what times?
I make decisions slowly. I highly dislike loud-volume invective, rhetoric, and shock-value “yellow journalism.” All of these things interfere with the slow-processor in me, the thinker who is always asking, what else is going on, what don’t I know, and what is plausible that makes sense to me? I realize that I do not have all pertinent information, nor is my experience long enough to ensure that I would make the most rational use of what information I do encounter.
All of that is hedging, because I am not used to talking about these things in any kind of public forum.
There is no such thing as an unbiased source. Bias in inherent in the telling of any story. It’s part of being human. I know that providers of information must always choose what to leave out in order to be concise, and to be pertinent. They may “conveniently” neglect to say something that might be pertinent to me, just because it doesn’t seem relevant to them. Then of course there is deliberate spin, which is also inescapable in a world where everyone with money or power needs to protect it, and everyone without those things is trying to get them.
The powers of the Executive office have grown tremendously in the wake of 2001’s response to the 9/11 attacks. The administration of Bush expanded these powers to previously unheard-of levels, then the Obama administration expanded them further. The Executive can do more now than anyone who held the office before. I am not here to defend anyone, to push the blame in one direction or another. While it matters how we got here, I think it matters more what we do from here.
I think my Trump-supporter friends and family will be dismissive of me as a young naive ‘snowflake.’ I think my down-with-Trump friends and family will be dismissive of me as one who moves too slowly and does not do enough to push back.
I ask my family and friends to be patient with me. I am listening, and I am thinking. I am asking questions, and I am questioning the voices of information. I encourage you to do these things, too. I encourage you to think about history, about civics, about what you want, and what you can feel is okay. I want you to ask why things are happening, to consider different possible answers, to follow different threads of reasoning.
I am unsettled now by what I am hearing and seeing, because when I measure it against what I thought America was about, it’s not adding up. (Well the DeVos thing is pretty clear cut to me, but the other stuff…) I think there are a lot of factors at play. I think there is a lot I don’t know.
But I also think there is a lot that you don’t know either. And while output is important, you can’t output and input at the same time. I encourage you to take some time to switch between them. Input, and not just the sources that say the stuff you know you want to hear. Output, not just on social media, but in letters and phone calls to your Congresspeople. Switch. And, rest.
The other part of this is, if I spend all day thinking about it as I have today, I don’t get much of the mundane stuff done. Thinking about it all, going around in circles in my mind, researching different angles and sources, it gets overwhelming. Sometimes I gotta turn on an audiobook and sweep the kitchen floor. Sometimes I gotta shift my brain into cheerful-teacher mode.
No issue is clear-cut, and almost nothing in the real world fits into a binary system either. This either-or, I’m-right, you’re-wrong mentality is destructive. People change their minds, their policies. Trump has done it. Previous leaders have done it. You have done it. You will do it in the future, as you gain new experience and new insight and new information.
Be patient with yourself and your fellow Americans. Be patient with your leaders, but hold them accountable, too.
Or at least, try.
I write all this mostly to clear my own air, because I have trouble writing anything else having not addressed this at all. I’m aware that silence, too, speaks, and I have begun to mislike what my own silence would have implied.