National Character Assassination

I tell him he’s not alone. Not to mean I am with him, though I am. But that he can’t escape in the cave too long, deep black bleak. I need him beside me. I need my turn.

It feels like Robin. Only one of us can grieve, go dark at a time, the other de facto The Strong One, pulling all weight, putting on a blank face. I braced to hold his ache, not feeling my own.

I went first, there was no negotiation.
His eyes distended in horror.

We didn’t lose an election. We lost what we thought we believed in. Equality, kindness, human dignity—a national character that doesn’t exclude, and certainly doesn’t bully and assault. Joke’s on us. Too long we enjoyed the illusion of decency, and yes I feel like a privileged asshole I have the audacity to insist that something now has changed. When this was us all the way—or a part of us, enough, a nation of narcissists: Them who think only of themselves + Us who think people are generally good.

I don’t need to go through everything. I write this for me, not you, and plenty has been said already. Rationalizations, vitriolic screeds, dumbfounded weak, white tears at turns I take comfort in and want to slap silly. People on the internet I’d like to punch the lights from. People in person doing cruel things. Girls—children—getting grabbed by the pussy. The LGBTQ threatened and harassed. Minorities of all kinds straight-up attacked, an uptick terrifying.

The calls for unity, understanding, even within my own communities twist my guts. I am nowhere near… calm? complete? OK-as-a-human-being? enough to meaningfully have the conversation of why not all Trump voters could possibly be racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic—at worst, all these things, at best… “best”… complicit in that bigotry.

The not-OK trauma for the most part is not my own, though #yesallwomen I’ve been stepped on, pushed around, feared for my safety. Grabbed by the pussy. But I still feel the trigger of hate, the threat of everything, anything goes. Feeling others’ alarm and distress as your own is part of empathy, even if admittedly diluted—I don’t imagine I truly experience the fear of deportation, of being shot or lynched for the color of my skin or who I love. Yet empathy is part of my identity. I read books, and talk to people, and listen. Being a public librarian is nothing if not an education in compassion.

And so I try to imagine what it was like to have eight years of Obama, and hate it. To feel your identity undermined and threatened. What in actual hell your conception of national character looks like when the corrective is Donald Trump.

Gotta say it’s gotta be worse for progressives, with our reliance on rationality. Using facts to make decisions, data to back ideals, holding dear that we can / we will / we must make sense of this. Appeal to reason, let its light shine, lead us out of the cave. A totem we allow. A mantra we pray.

I’ll think my way out of these feelings,
the dissonance between them.
Self and society.
Who the fuck are we.

(RIP, Leonard.)

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