I am hopeful that this essay will be the first of two.
That is about all I am hopeful about.
I know you’re already despairing, and I have nothing to offer to talk you out of it. Like you, I have clicked the links that promise perspective or wisdom from people I respect or steps I can take to make a difference in this Time of Great Bullshit.
But I am not hopeful about them. Civil liberties, a free, non-libelous press, a government that wins some other way than cheating and disenfranchising its citizenry, equal rights, access to that which should be guaranteed me as a human, these are not things I or anyone should have to pay for. So donating to organizations which support what by rights ought already belong to all of us does not ease my despair. Nor does the advice to call my representatives. The very fact that it seems reasonable to so many of us that I should call my actual elected representative and say, “I wanted to let you know that I oppose putting a white supremacist in the White House and urge you to do the same,” is proof enough of the end of days.
We are fucked, but that’s not why I’m despairing. I’m despairing because I can’t see how we won’t always be fucked. Take Anthony Weiner (please). Anthony Weiner is a Democrat, and you probably agree with 99 percent of his political positions, but you wouldn’t vote for him anyway because he sends pictures of his penis to teenagers. Good for you. Unfortunately, it’s why you’re fucked. You see lying, cheating, unscrupulous behavior, and illegal activities as criminal, reprehensible, dishonest, and unfair. If your candidate, say, redrew the borders of the district to ensure reelection, you wouldn’t vote for him. (I am wearing the male pronoun for elected officials now as a hair shirt.) If your candidate bragged about being smart enough not to pay taxes, you wouldn’t vote for him. If your candidate intimidated the people who were least likely to vote for him, you wouldn’t vote for him either. If your candidate came out and said — proudly said — hateful things about women and people of color and LGBT people and Muslim people and immigrant people and minority people and disabled people and really any people, you wouldn’t vote for him.
Which is too bad for you because their candidate wins both in spite of those things and because of those things. Some on their side, unlike you, are content to shrug and admit that their candidate does and says objectionable things, but they’re voting for him anyway because they want what he promises. Some, in contrast, see it as a sign of strength that their candidate lies, cheats, steals, and is as loud an asshole as possible. They agree that it’s smart rather than reprehensible that he doesn’t pay his taxes. They are delighted that when their candidate couldn’t win the regular way, he was strong enough to get the boundaries redrawn so he could. They agree that certain categories of people are and should be less than and are happy not only that someone’s finally saying so but that he’s making it okay for everyone else to say so as well. It’s actually hard for me to decide which of these positions is more deplorable.
The upshot is that your candidate has to find a way to win without cheating while their candidate thrives by doing so. This is just as well because once in office, your candidate has to play by the rules whereas theirs flouts them with impunity. Same reason. Your side didn’t like fifty percent of the current sitting members of the Supreme Court, and for good reason, but they advised and consented anyway because that’s their job as laid out by the Constitution. If they had simply crossed their arms and said, like five-year-olds, “Nope, we won’t and you can’t make us,” their side would have screamed bloody murder, and you would begrudgingly admit that your representatives weren’t doing their jobs. Whereas their side said exactly that — and promised to continue to do exactly that for years and decades until they got their way — and they’re getting away with it.
If you have any doubt that your side will confirm whatever piece of shit their side puts up, I have bad news about your side.
All this means more than that we lost. It means we will continue to. Their side is playing a long game. And they’re getting away with it, in part because, again, if your media of choice made shit up and reported it as truth, you’d stop reading/listening/engaging with it. Their media reports all sorts of made up, hateful bullshit about our side, and their side either doesn’t mind or doesn’t notice. Either way, we’re fucked.
Because I am a writer and because so many of my friends are writers, what’s been circulating in my circles are these familiar hopes: Love trumps hate. We need writers now more than ever. We must tell our stories and others’ stories. We must read and listen and empathize and teach. That is how we prevail.
Up until November 8, I believed all that. Not just believed it, built my whole world, my whole worldview, around it. I don’t want to be writing this essay. But I don’t know if I believe it anymore.
I think about those electoral maps, the ones that show what the country would look like if only men voted or only people under 25 voted or only college graduates voted, and wonder what they would look like if they showed how only the people who read at least one whole book last year voted. We’re writing — we’re writing like mad — but we’re writing for the choir. The point of reading books is to understand what it’s like to be and feel and empathize with and as someone you’re not. The people who are willing to do that are on your side already. The people who aren’t aren’t and aren’t interested.
The moral of the story — the moral of all stories, the point of narrative — is always that love prevails, that understanding and appreciating difference makes us stronger, that those who’ve been treated cruelly have those wrongs righted, that those who win do so because they learn and grow. The moral of the story is also always that those who lie, cheat, steal, ruin, hate, wallow, and swindle will lose. In stories, they always lose.
In life, they win. They win because they get to play by different rules.
My hopes, my scant hopes, are these:
- Even despite the cheating and manipulating and lying and different rules, it’s still close. Our side is hanging in with a deck stacked like bricks against them.
- Narrative is long. So perhaps it will prevail eventually. Perhaps I am despairing prematurely.
- We used to burn people alive in the town square or behead them for public gratification and then display those heads, also for public gratification. At least we don’t do that in this country anymore.
- Maybe in a few months, I’ll write a second essay humbly taking back some of what I’ve written here.
It’s possible though that when the only real hope I can come up with is, “At least we don’t set people on fire anymore,” I haven’t come up with any hope at all.