Thursday, December 29, 2016

silence means approval

The day after the election, my family here in Oregon didn’t turn on the TV. We barely spoke. We stayed off of social media and news sites. Instead, we listened to music, watched some mindless movies, walked, and thought. We were shell shocked. And terrified.

On Nov. 12, I told my husband we had to have a talk. We talked about what our lives were going to be like over at least the next four years, our fears, if we were going to move to back to Europe much sooner than we planned, etc. It was a slow, quiet, sad conversation.

(For now, in case you are wondering, we’ve decided to stay in the USA, as job prospects in Europe aren’t bright and the darker forces right of the political aisle are poised to take over more European countries as well.)

And then I told him that I had thought very carefully over the last few days, for many, many hours, and that I had decided something that I needed to talk to him about. I said that he may or may not have noticed, but since 2011, I’d kept my offline, in-person political conversations very light. A lot of times, I wouldn’t say a word while people were joking about this or that politician, and I’d make some kind of excuse to leave if another guest at a gathering truly bothered me with political comments. I had avoided people that I found reprehensible politically, but I didn’t speak out, not for five years, when I found myself in the presence of such, because I wanted to keep the peace, not "cause problems", not cause a scene. In five years, there had been no confrontations, no pointed questions - I had had a policy of avoidance. But, as of this moment, that was changing, and I wanted him to know that, to be prepared. I would be getting rid of my secret Facebook account, where I raged freely about politics and other ridiculously with only my closest friend. I would now, instead, be using only the Facebook account with my real name, and that would become much more reflective of my beliefs - probably never as outrageous as my other account, but much more honest and less polite. I said that I was sorry, to a degree, for the pain and discomfort I would be causing him, specifically, but I couldn’t be polite and silent anymore. I wasn’t bent on making a scene, I wasn’t going to seek out a fight, but I was going to say what I thought if someone in my presence espoused anything that was even vaguely fascist, racist or apologetic regarding Trump supporters, or apologist for such. And if it was in my home, that person was OUT, no apologies. “I’m done” I said, through tears at long last. “I’m done, and I need you to understand that and be prepared for it. You can hope it won’t happen. I’ll hope it won’t happen. But I am DONE. Because I have been a part of the atmosphere that has allowed this election to happen. I’ve created safe spaces for these people by being quiet. I was too focused on being polite and accommodating and not making people uncomfortable. I’m not doing that anymore, especially not in my own home.”

I knew it was coming, and it is here, in force: an incredible pressure from so many, many people, and the media, to accommodate, to appease, the most vile ideas and proposals, to smile and stay silent, because that will help everyone be more comfortable and not have to face what's happening. The mantra: Be friends with everybody, no matter what, or YOU are the horrible person. These Trump supporters are really good people at heart, they just have different ideas. We can find lots of common ground. It’s not going to be so bad. It's not really going to affect you.

The strategy by so many that didn't vote for Trump is that the people that are bad, that are to be avoided, are NOT the people supporting a man that talks about Muslim registries, or talks lovingly about a murderous dictator, or promises to restrict a woman’s right to choose abortion and punish women who choose this option, or encourages followers to be violent, or courts white supremacists, or openly flaunting ethics rules, or refuses to talk to the US state department or the CIA, or promises to undo hard-fought, well-thought out international treaties, or appoints people to cabinet positions that want to dismantle the government programs they will oversee, or lies. No, the bad people are the "alarmists", those that remind you of what's happening, that remind you of the millions of people that will be hurt by his and his supporters' actions, and urge you to do something to counter what's happening. Those people are the intolerable ones, the ones to be avoided, the ones causing problems.

After saying it won’t be that bad, that the President and Congress won’t really do what they've said they would do, while thousands of people scream in delight, what comes next will be this: statements like “well, let’s just let them have this, and then they won’t do the rest of what they said they would” and then “it’s happening, true, but they’ve scaled back the plans, let’s be happy it won’t go quite as far as they said” and then "Well, yes, they are doing what they said they would do, but maybe it won't be that bad." And then "I'm just so busy, I've got my own things to deal with, I'm not watching the news these days, what he's doing is not really affecting me, I don't have time to think about this."

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived and traveled abroad so much. Or because I’m a history nerd. Or because I’ve both studied and seen first hand the consequences of racial supremacy propaganda, of demonization of minority groups, of marginalizing women. Or because I know people whove had a spouse or a parent or a child die in the wars of the two George Bushes, or women who faced horrific obstacles fueled by Reagan and Bush cronies regarding abortion services, or women forced to carry pregnancies to term as a result, or people who lost their savings in the savings and loan debacle of Reagan and the horrific financial practices supported by the second Bush, some of whom now live in tiny apartments or a room in a family member's home because they lost their own home. Maybe it’s because of how often I’ve thought of all the human rights fights in my country that I wasn’t in: the fight against slavery, the fight for women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the internment of Americans of Japanese descent, and on and on. I have sometimes imagined what I would have done in those historic human rights struggles, what role I would have taken. And then I remember that my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, were not involved in any of those struggles, at least not on the right side of history. They’d either sat those out or, sadly, participated in the oppression. I would have done better had I been there, right?

Whatever the reason, I am not able to pretend there isn’t something horrible happening, and about to happen, in the USA as a result of the 2016 election, or that what a President says and does don't have consequences for millions of people. I cannot excuse someone saying, “I voted for Trump, but I didn’t support all this anti-Muslim rhetoric” or “I didn’t support his children being put into positions of power”, etc. You knew who he was and what he represented, and you voted for him anyway. Take responsibility: without you, it wouldn’t have happened. Own it. Own it as much as I own my words and actions. Silence means approval - if you are silent about it, you approve it.

After being dressed down in my own home three weeks ago by someone that said I was being "alarmist" and "overly-dramatic" regarding Trump and his supporters, that it's not "that bad", that I should be more tolerant and caring regarding his supporters, some of whom are my neighbors, that they aren't "bad" people, that being polite and listening to them would be good for me, and who smirked when I tried to speak up for those that are at risk over the next four years, and feeling the silence of everyone else as they watched and listened, I understand the enormous pressure to stay silent.

However, I cannot be silent.

I have a friend who is a particularly sensible person, a very smart person, and a very privileged person in many ways. But her family has felt under threat for a long while by a neighbor, an avowed Trump supporter who, thankfully, is now in jail for threats against a certain religious group with which she is associated. Here's what she said recently on her own Facebook page:

I vow to not let a single step be taken toward authoritarianism without speaking up. I vow to actively fight against the retraction of rights for LGBTQ people. I vow to rage against the continuing systematic racism that makes life for nearly half our population almost impossible. I promise to NEVER let sexist actions or remarks or attitudes go unchallenged. I vow to never stop fighting for freedom of the press, and of speech and against an executive who is only working to gather power for his own interests and those like him. I vow to continue my dedication to public lands and environmental protections and my firm, unyielding devotion to science. And I vow to support YOU if you are targeted in this new administration or by those emboldened by it.

You fucked up, America. And while I certainly hope my worst fears don't come true, I also hope that you who believed he believed in your success aren't betrayed by his selfish policies and, if and when you are betrayed, can step out of your partisan stance and recognize it. I will do the same if this man who is to become our President surprises me.

I thanked her, I relished at not being alone, and I asked, “Is it really more important to be polite than to make people uncomfortable by pointing out, yet again, that a fascist is taking over the country? I don't want to be an asshole - but I can't keep quiet. I can’t.”

She responded:

I’m going to embrace my inner asshole and let it shine - bc what is happening is unbelievably dangerous. Let's be assholes together.

I hope we can be the most awesome pains in the ass ever. So glad to know I won't be alone.

I now listen to the news on NPR again, as I did before. Now, I also subscribe to the New York Times, and read it every day, before I read any social media. And sometimes, I watch the morning news on TV. But I'm not watching CNN or MSNBC and, of course, never Fox News. I want in-depth, well-researched news, or I don't want it at all. And I want news, not commentary.

I'll never go looking for a political fight. I'm happy to avoid talk of politics. I'm happy to sit down with a group and talk about non-political things, and eat, and laugh. But if you are going to say something political, or tell me how really sweet your neighbor is that voted for Trump, I'm going to respond. I won't be creating any more safe spaces for fascists - or apologists for such.

Also see:

1 comment:

  1. Very powerful post Hun. I have no doubt your inner asshole will shine and your friends including me are with you on this. I'd expect nothing less from you x

    ReplyDelete