Wading into the Trump era

Kindling K 01

In early November, I reluctantly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

I felt she was flawed, particularly in her embrace of neoliberalism and the status quo. I was disillusioned by the seemingly corrupted Democratic primary process.

But I also believed Hillary offered us an opportunity to continue making progress and perhaps open the door for more profound change in the years to come. I felt that electing a woman as president was an unmistakable symbol of progress in our society too enticing to pass up.

I also felt like her election was inevitable.

I might as well get on board. I might as well focus on what she could get right, rather than what I thought she’d get wrong. I might as well do my part in bringing progressives together, rather than further fracturing us.

I really didn’t think it was possible Trump would get elected. But here we are.

We could get into all the reasons why Trump did get elected. We could talk about everything from white supremacy, to sexism, to disillusionment with the political establishment, to a failure of Hillary to sympathize with the plight of rural America, to the injustice of the Electoral College, to potential intrusion from Russia or the FBI, to political correctness and the shaming of uneducated America, to an inherent desire for change, to even the astrology just being off, and on and on and on.

But we’ve heard enough of this already.

Everyone has their opinion. Everyone with a keyboard has written their article about THE reason why Trump won.

All of these perspectives have some truth to them. They are worth putting on paper. But they all only present one piece of the puzzle. They highlight whatever issue the writer feels most passionate about. They seek to comfort us by saying this ONE thing explains what just happened.

In the days after the election, what I felt most deeply was the unconscious racism running through our country. I went to social media and ranted about it. It made me feel good. It made me feel like I was doing something. It gave me clarity and focus.

But even at the time, I knew on some level I was oversimplifying. I knew I was clinging on to the explanation that had the most juice for me. There was comfort in identifying THE enemy and stating my intentions against it. There was comfort in closing myself to the paralyzing complexity of our world and focusing on just one thing.

The truth is we have no f*ing idea what really happened on November 8th or what could have changed the outcome. Yes, there is no question that racism and sexism were critical factors in the election, probably the most critical. But there were many, many other factors at play. The election was a tangle of systemic pressures all coming together in ways we will never fully understand.

I’ve been wanting to write an article that wraps everything up in a nice, little bow – that offers clarity, that shines a light on the path forward.

But I can’t. The truth is I don’t really understand what just happened.

For the last several weeks, unknowingly, I’ve done everything I can to keep myself from writing. With Kindling, the website is now several times faster. The posts and images are optimized to come up on Google searches. The homepage is reconfigured for better user experience. The logo is slightly adjusted to be a bit more modern looking. And on and on and on.

I’ve been doing everything but writing, everything but trying to make sense of our reality.

For the last month, I’ve been living in fear. I fear that my view of the world has been dangerously naive. I fear that the world I thought I lived in was just a mirage of privilege. I fear that I won’t have anything of worth to say in this new reality.

This fear has distracted me. It has lured me into doing the easy things, into being quiet, into trying to escape reality.

What has most helped me start putting pen to paper today is realizing that the world is actually exactly the same as it was a month ago. Sure, some hateful belief systems are becoming more overt with Trump as president-elect. But they were there before. Anything that seems new is simply something that already existed that has come more clearly into view.

What has changed is my understanding of our reality. I haven’t wanted to accept that my own belief systems and perspectives need readjusting. But now it’s inevitable.

My worldview is built around the idea of perpetual progress. I believe humanity has gotten consistently more compassionate, more capable, more discerning with time and we will continue to do so. The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.

I believed Hillary would win, in part because it confirms this story. No, she didn’t represent all the change I want to see, but electing a woman as president fit in with my worldview of progress and humanity’s evolution. Rejecting Trump would have signaled that we have moved beyond some of our basest instincts.

Now, with Trump as president-elect, the world all of a sudden feels like Game of Thrones. There’s no guarantee it’ll end up just fine. Who’s to say this isn’t the start of a massive and permanent decline?

But what I’ve realized is that, for most people, this is how it has always felt. Women, people of color, the poor have been getting punched in the gut for decades, for centuries, if not longer. This is how it has always felt. Yet we still have always managed to make slow, but consistent progress.

With Obama as president, I could work toward change from the cover of comfort. I felt that with liberals in office, political dissent and new ideas would be tolerated, if not welcomed.

With Trump as president, there is now deep fear in my belly. I have fear that my neighbors with less privilege than me will be victimized. I fear that free speech and political dissent will be squelched, maybe violently. I fear our entire government and way of being will be torn apart by a man who has no moral compass or sense of decency.

But today, I am deciding to be grateful for that fear. It has forced me to evolve my perspective and to get closer to the truth of our world.

Yes, the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice. I believe that. But we are not quite as far along that arc as I had hoped. We have not yet rid ourselves of our basest instincts. We are not at a point where we can work toward profound, systems change in relative comfort. This will be a fight and it’ll be painful and uncomfortable.

So it’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s time to realize that to see the world accurately is to be uncomfortable and scared.

And, thankfully, when I force myself into discomfort, into actively expanding and evolving my view of reality, I end up affirming my story of progress and evolution. I witness myself changing and evolving.

When I force myself back into the work – in my case putting pen to paper and trying to make sense of chaos and complexity – I push forward with what will be a long, painful, uncomfortable, and absolutely essential struggle.

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