I want to understand why I don’t feel as angry as I think I ought to about the actions of the Trump Administration. We all know by now how controversial their first week was, with millions of Americans taking to the streets to protest (not to mention the millions of citizens of the planet who joined them), but if you’re still a little fuzzy on the details, here are some links where you can read about…
- his ban on Muslim refugees,
- his reinstatement and expansion of the global gag rule on abortion,
- his appointment of the former editor of a white nationalist publication to the National Security Council,
- his censorship of government scientists,
- his order to the Department of Homeland Security to use existing taxpayer-provided money to start building a border wall with Mexico (not to mention his expansion of Pres. Obama’s deportation and detention policies)
- his reversal of an interest-rate cut for FHA-backed loans
- his decision to revive the Keystone and and Dakota Access pipeline projects
- and his executive order instructing Federal agencies to start dismantling Obamacare’s fees and regulations “to the maximum extent permitted by law,”
That’s a lot of shit I should feel angry about, and to be clear, there can be no doubt that I do feel that anger, but something is telling me — or maybe a better way to phrase it is someone is telling me — that I don’t feel angry enough.
Angry enough to do what, though?
I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier last weekend. I went knowing that I am a white heterosexual American male with a rewarding career and a wife who is intelligent, funny, kind, and supportive. We brought along our physically, mentally, and intellectually healthy four-year old daughter, who carried a sign that she helped my wife write before we left our house. Her sign read, “Women are Powerful.”
We were among the tens of thousands of Vermonters who joined together on the steps of our capitol building to stand proud and stand defiant in the face of the Trump Administration’s bigotry and aggression. We heard our famous Senator, a genuine political hero to tens of millions of Americans, speak in person about the need for courage and conviction. We heard Muslim and Latino teenagers rage in our predominantly white middle-class faces about the system that supports our lifestyles, and we applauded their righteous cry for justice. We heard the announcement that a young child had come to the front because she had lost her mother, and our hearts sank at the thought of our own daughter feeling so lost in such a big crowd.
Angry enough to do that? To drive two hours only to brave a traffic jam?
Yes, the Women’s March accomplished something. If it hadn’t been so successful last weekend, we wouldn’t have seen the protests at the airports this weekend. If it hadn’t been so successful, we wouldn’t have seen rogue employees of the National Parks Service demonstrate real courage by opening a Twitter account and refusing to remain silent. If the Women’s March hadn’t been so successful, we wouldn’t be reading about plans for the scientists of America to conduct their own march on Washington this spring, or hearing about the environmentalists planning a coordinated show of force on Earth Day. We wouldn’t have seen American lawyers descend on terminals throughout the country to defend (pro bono) the rights of foreign-born individuals. We may not have even seen something as private as a sign in a bookstore mocking the words of the President’s most senior advisors (“This way to the Alternative Facts section…we use to call it ‘Fiction'”).
If the Women’s March accomplished anything, it showed that there are millions of us who oppose President Trump’s words, actions, and policies, and we’re willing to stand up and be counted.
But is that all my anger is good for? Am I only willing to be counted?
There are a couple of memes going around that speak to what I’m talking about. The first one says something like, “If you’ve ever said to yourself, ‘I wonder what I would’ve done…,’ Now is the time. What you are doing now is the answer to what you would’ve done.” The other reads, “First they came for the Muslims. And we said, ‘Not today, motherfucker.'”
Those two memes capture the way I feel right now, but the fact that I only know them as memes better captures my reality. Because that’s what I’m doing. I’m reading things on the Internet, and then either sharing them or writing about them.
And yes, I’m also a teacher, so along with trying to influence my friends, family, and peers on Facebook, I’m also actively working to influence the next generation of leaders to take positive steps in the development of our humanity.
But again, is that enough?
Right now, on the streets of America, there are tens of thousands of people (including many members of our own government) who are either actively working to disrupt the president’s ability to effect change or actively working to reduce the harm of whatever change he succeeds in making.
The list includes college students who use the passion of their youth to set fire to the conversations of their elders, parents who leave their young children to enact real reforms through their local community-action boards, politicians who use the microphones provided to them by their constituents to propose legislative changes and protest or block executive orders, mothers of murdered children who congregate in shared spaces to provide real sanctity to citizen protests, and so many more doing so much more. Thousands of them, making daily sacrifices, not just of their time (as I have done), but also of their blood.
Is that what I expect from myself? What should I expect from myself? If now really is the time and this is what I would’ve done, what, indeed, should I do?
Two different friends of mine have used this moment to engage deeper with politics. One of them is running for a seat on our local school board; the other contacted his state’s Democratic Party to see how his Ph.D in Natural Resources & Environmental Studies (with a focus on climate change policies) could best serve his state. Both of their decisions inspire me, but with two jobs, a working wife, a young daughter, and a part-time hobby at home, seeking to do more on a political level is a path that (currently) feels closed to me.
I’m also not about to get involved on the physical level. Teaching is exhausting, and I’m lucky when I have enough energy left to give to my own child at the end of the day. When the sun goes down, the dinner is made, and the daughter is washed, read to, and in bed, I’ve only got enough in me to watch TV for a couple of hours, play a 45-minute game of Madden, and then read for about 30 minutes until I fall asleep in bed.
When I’m feeling particularly energetic, I open up my laptop and do a little writing.
But that’s about all I’ve got in me. Physically speaking.
And I know the response: “That’s how they get you.” First, they get you to go into debt by creating an economy that basically forces you to go to college and a culture that basically forces you to buy a house before you can feel settled. That debt makes you work for someone else so you can have the security of a steady paycheck, and that work exhausts your body of all its active energies, leaving you depleted at nightfall. The creative forces that do exist concentrate on your attention span, distracting you with their bullshit or pleasuring you with their dramatic plots and/or pulsating lights. And then another day is done, and the status quo remains, and four to five years slip away.
But that’s the reality, isn’t it?
Unfortunately (or sometimes fortunately), no. That’s just the privilege of my reality. For others, reality looks like an immigration officer telling them they’re not allowed to get off the plane. Or a dead neighbor gunned down by a too poorly trained police officer or a too undereducated teenager. Or it looks like a cancerous father whose insurance won’t cover it. Or an out-of-work mother whose husband has been captured and deported.
And what’s my problem? Well, I’m a middle-aged white heterosexual American male. My problem is debt. And debt just isn’t something it seems I can get angry about.
Was Sec. Clinton going to fix my debt? Perhaps. The success of Senator Sanders pushed her closer to policies that would have addressed the indebtedness of the average American citizen, but I doubt she would have pursued them had she been elected. When it comes to Sec. Clinton’s relationship to America’s worst financiers, we only have to look at her wallet.
Will President Trump fix my debt? Not bloody likely. His tax policies will probably end up having zero effect on my middle-class tax bracket, and if my family stays healthy, our insurance should stay relatively reasonable (thanks to the indefatigable work of the teacher’s union). We can feel pretty assured that he’s also not going to do anything to address student loan debt, despite the incredible weight it puts on our country’s economic growth; nor will he reduce rates for current (and probably future) homeowners.
But he’s also not going to come for my wife or daughter, not in any tangible sense, the way he’s coming for the families of Latino Americans and Muslim Americans. And the actions and policies of his justice department won’t rip my family apart by either shooting my child dead or sending her to jail. Unless he starts to come after the Atheists (which, let’s face it, won’t happen), I probably don’t have anything to fear from Trump or his platoons.
So, because of that, it seems I’m angry enough to write, “Not today motherfucker,” but I’m not angry enough to do much else.
I can only hope that that is enough.