The Zoopness: We haven't met the new us yet
Raise a glass to freedom
All weekend I was thinking about Obama’s inauguration in 2009. My grandma had just had surgery on her hips and was in a wheelchair, but she flew out to DC anyway and I drove her and my aunt and uncle around in my tiny hatchback VW Golf to the inaugural balls. It was bitterly cold that week and my trunk was frozen shut, so we had to lift my grandma into the car and then pass her wheelchair over her head into the back. Ever the Beverly Hillbillies, I’m sure we were quite a sight for the valets at the fancy hotels, but I had never felt more grown up. I went to the good mall in Virginia and bought my first and only ballgown. I got a really good spray tan and my first manicure. I remember feeling so proud being able to show off my grandma to my friends and show off my temporary home to my family. We went to a ball at a hotel in Adams Morgan and Webb and I followed Ashley Judd around all night and drank champagne and he spun Maggie around in her wheelchair and I got my picture taken with Marlena from Days of Our Lives. It was one of the best nights of my life.
The next morning, Paul and I got up super early and joined the massive sea of people taking the metro down to the Mall and walking through the 395 tunnel to Independence Ave. It was absolutely freezing, but I don’t remember caring about that. President Obama was a tiny speck on the steps of the Capitol and the PA system wasn’t great, but it was still exciting to feel like we were part of something historic. After President Obama was sworn in, the helicopter carrying President Bush took off from the Capitol to take him to Andrews Air Force Base and then back home to Texas. The emotion swelling in the crowd there that day at that moment is hard to put into words. Massive, deep, joyful relief. Jubilation? It’s so strange to remember it now! I thought George W. Bush was a monster then. A bumbling war criminal who had morally bankrupted our country with his Machiavellian wars and the domestic and international chaos they unleashed.
And now? I have to really work hard to conjure anything but fondness and bemusement at W. I think he genuinely believed he was doing what was in the best interest of Americans, as misguided, shortsighted, and lethal as those decisions might have been and as unqualified as he might have been to make them. I have no doubt that he loves this country and wanted to do right by it. I also believe he has had to wrestle with the ghosts of those decisions in his years out of office, the way that all presidents and leaders do. And if Michelle likes him, that’s good enough for me. (Sometimes I think about how much Trump rehabbed W’s post 9/11 image and absolutely destroyed Rudy’s and the change in fortunes is just astounding).
But on January 20, 2009, I was utterly convinced that President Bush was the villain of my political lifetime, second only to Dick Cheney. But that’s because I didn’t know where we were in the story. I thought the bad guy being taken away in the helicopter as the crowd cheered that day was the happy ending. Turns out it was just the quaint prelude to a dystopian nightmare.
Which is all a really long way of saying – I have some mixed feelings about tomorrow. Everyone I’ve talked to the last few days sounds so excited and relieved. And all I can seem to feel is tired. It feels like I’ve been swimming through time the last two weeks; like everything has taken on this gauzy, surreal quality. I keep telling people that I haven’t quite caught up to things yet -either with increasing wave of the pandemic or the terrifying attack on our democracy. It’s like I’m here but I’m not here. The older I get, the more ways my body seems to have to slow me down when the stress gets to be too much and I don’t know how to regulate it on my own. One of those ways is just bone-numbing fatigue, which is what I feel right now. Like I could sleep for 20 years.
I’m willing myself to be excited. Tomorrow is the day we’ve been waiting for; holding our breath for; praying for. It should be jubilation, and I hope we allow ourselves to feel the relief. To take a collective gasp of air after four years of suspended animation. I saved the bottle of champagne Stephanie bought for election night in 2016 and I want to shake it up and pour it on people like we won the national championship (I’m planning on a mini polar bear at 12:15 in Lake Washington in case anyone nearby wants to join 😉). We survived, and we deserve to celebrate. Full stop.
But I’m still not sure I know where we are in the movie, and I’m afraid tomorrow still isn’t the happy ending. 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump two months ago. Our neighbors and our coworkers and our family and our friends voted for him – probably some of you reading this now voted for him. So what do we do with that? That doesn’t go away when Joe Biden gets sworn in.
I hardly ever listen to podcasts, but so many people recommended this episode of The Daily that it felt like something I shouldn’t miss, and I can’t recommend it enough if you haven’t listened. It’s a real time account of the riot at the Capitol, told by NYT journalists who were there, the day after. A first draft of history. And hearing their version, it became clear to me that January 6, 2021 was a day important enough in our country’s history – like 9/11 – that the story of it needed to be told in minutes, not hours. So much happened that day that I still can’t seem to process it.
The #2, 3, and 4 leaders of our government were yards and seconds away from potentially lethal harm. The President of the United States incited a rebellion against his own government. The Capitol Building was overrun by white supremacists; CEOs, police chiefs, active duty military, and mayors tried to take down the US Government. A police officer was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. Republican lawmakers laughed in the faces of their masked colleagues while they spread covid to them in a locked room. A 22 year old woman stole Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and tried to sell the state secrets contained in it to Russia. A gallows was erected on the National Mall. My brain honestly feels scrambled as I type those sentences. How is that real?
The podcast episode starts with the remarks Ted Cruz gave on the floor of the Senate prior to the attack. And while I’m not usually prone to agree with Senator Cruz on just about anything – what he was saying was true: Recent polling shows that 39% of Americans think that the 2020 election was rigged, representing a “profound threat to this country and to the legitimacy of any administrations that will come in the future.” Ignoring for just a moment the fact that Ted Cruz is a primary culprit in fueling that threat, it’s still correct. Our democracy has been profoundly shaken and damaged by the lies of Donald Trump and his cronies. The extent of the damage remains to be seen.
Listening to the podcast, I actually felt some sympathy for Mitch McConnell as he was getting carried out of the Senate chamber by Secret Service because he was too frail from his age and his bout with polio. He’s an old man and he must have been frightened. But what I can’t seem to get over is that it took his own physical safety to be threatened before he would renounce Trump. I’m not sure how much humanity is left in someone when their empathy can only extend as far as themselves. What about the 400,000 Americans who have died from covid? Scared and separated kids at the border? Black men and women who didn’t have Secret Service protection from angry mobs and white supremacists?
I don’t know where we are in the arc of the American story anymore. We seem to be making it up as we go, even as inevitable as it feels while it’s happening. Where else did we think the road of unacknowledged institutionalized racism woven into our country’s founding would lead if not to the Capitol Building two weeks ago? But I feel quite certain that happy endings don’t come from half a country hating the other half. There’s so much work to be done to repair all that’s been broken – not just from the last 4 years but the last 400 years. And maybe tomorrow we can turn a symbolic page; maybe we can get started on those reparations. I hope so. I hope we can start a modern-day bohemian revolution and remember what it feels like to be anchored in love and freedom and mutual concern. What right relationship with our government and our neighbors feels like.
But for now, I hope we all can give ourselves whatever it is we need to get through the day tomorrow – the space to feel whatever it is that might arise. I hope it’s jubilation and relief, but know it will probably be a bit more complicated than that too. But pop your bottles if you have them, scream into a pillow if you need to, and come jump in the lake if you want to wash off the last four years too. 😉
Things that made me laugh:
If things go badly tomorrow and you need to distract yourself, the New Yorker is writing about aliens this week:
Have We Already Been Visited By Aliens? Between 1.5 billion and 2.4 billion planets in our galaxy could, in theory, harbor life. No one knows what fraction of potentially habitable planets are, in fact, inhabited, but, even if the proportion is trivial, we’re still talking about millions—perhaps tens of millions—of planets in the galaxy that might be teeming with living things. At a public event a few years ago, Ellen Stofan, who at the time was nasa’s chief scientist and is now the director of the National Air and Space Museum, said that she believed “definitive evidence” of “life beyond earth” would be found sometime in the next two decades.
“It’s definitely not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’ ” Jeffrey Newmark, a nasa astrophysicist, said at the same gathering.
When people say,
“we have made it
through worse before”
— Clint Smith
all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones
of those who did not make it, those who did not
survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who
did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.
I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms
meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to
convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no
solace in rearranging language to make a different word
tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe
does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.
Sometimes it bends in ways we don’t expect & there are
people who fall off in the process. Please, dear reader,
do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future
to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not
live to see it. I have grown weary of telling myself lies
that I might one day begin to believe. We are not all left
standing after the war has ended. Some of us have
become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.