Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Holding the Center

I'm just back from a two week vacation. You probably guessed that from the two week absence of posts. We went to New Zealand, with a four day stopover in Rarotonga on our way home. The main purpose of the trip was to see family and friends, but a lot of fun and touristy things happened, as well. I'll post about those soon.

I expected to get a lot of questions about Trump and his candidacy during this trip, and I did, despite the fact that the Brexit vote distracted people quite a bit. We were frequently asked what we would do if Trump gets elected.

The honest answer is that I don't really know. We've talked about it a bit, but given the current situation, it still seems like an extremely unlikely outcome, so we haven't really talked about it seriously. We said that we'd probably stay, to vote against him in the next election. We are, after all, not in any of the groups most threatened by him, and I feel a bit of a duty to try to stand up for those who are.

We'd probably start moving money to New Zealand, though, as a hedge against things getting worse. Besides, I'd love to buy a vacation property there some day, so it would perhaps make sense to do that, anyway. We'd certainly have more serious conversations about when we'd leave. I take the risk Trump poses seriously. I think he is a threat to our democracy, and I am incredibly disappointed in the Republicans who are acting like they have no choice but to support him. We all have a choice not to support him now, and if we do not exercise it, we risk a future in which we no longer truly have that choice. I really do believe that, and I am not alone.

So if Trump is elected, I'd want to sit down with my husband and define some criteria of what would make us leave. We are lucky to have an easy option for leaving, but we'd still need to recognize when we should take it. I like our life here. I think it would be all too easy to keep justifying and excusing things until one day we looked around and realized we missed our chance to leave.

And then, while we were in Rarotonga and essentially out of contact with the rest of the world (by choice: of course, there are newspapers, TV news, and the internet in Rarotonga, we just chose to ignore them), things got worse. It is very different reading about events like the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the subsequent attack on police officers in Dallas, after the outcome is known than to follow events as they are happening. Still, I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me want to turn right back around and fly back to the island I'd just left.

But as scary and frustrating as things are right now, I don't think it is time to start moving money or forming a plan to leave. I don't really believe in American exceptionalism. I think we can fall to authoritarianism as easily as any other country, perhaps even easier than some. I don't think there is anything uniquely democratic about us. But I'm not ready to give up on us yet. I think we just need to hold our nerve and keep working to make our country better, keep trying to build a better, more inclusive union while also working to allay the fears of those who feel threatened by the growing diversity that I see as our strength.

I look around and see a lot of people trying to do just that, and while I am dismayed by the slow pace of change and the violence that we're seeing, I want to stand with them, if only by staying and voting and raising my kids to believe in the value of diversity and the need to keep working to make the world a kinder, fairer, better place.

There is a famous quote form a Yeats poem:

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

The center still holds right now. It feels frayed, but it holds. It holds not because of any magical properties of our Constitution, but because enough people are choosing to make it hold. This is going to be a difficult time as the parties hold their conventions and the general election campaign really takes off. Let us hope the center holds, but also remember that whether or not it holds is partially up to us.


  1. Cloud, your post brings tears to my eyes. The way you honor the efforts of individual people, rather than the mythology of how "wonderful" and "special" America is, says it all. Thank you for being so eloquent in such a hard time. I'm using this time to talk more about race and law enforcement with other white folks, looking at our assumptions, our stereotypes, our unconscious filters. It feels like a start. I just hope I can maintain the momentum. Because I'm white, racism is bad, but it's not urgent. That's the nature of privilege.

  2. It may seem like things are getting worse, but they're actually getting better. We, as white privileged people, didn't realize how bad it really was. Now we're seeing how bad it actually is. Now that everybody is aware that there is a problem, maybe we can do something about it. For centuries we've focused on our tightly wound part of the ball and never paid much attention to the frays around us.

    The 1960s brought good things and they brought change. It would have been nice if the change could have come with less violence, less loss of life, but as a society we still have yet to evolve to generate peaceful revolutions. There's still a lot of people with power who don't like giving it to people without it.

  3. Welcome home!

    As one of the people who isn't directly immediately threatened but with a lot of friends who are, and would likely be next on the list after he does what he can to the obvious targets, I appreciate that you're willing to stand and fight because you have that power and privilege to do so, relatively safely, even.

    I think N&M are right that things have always been this bad but the evolution of social media has made more people more aware of the reality that my friends have been experiencing all their lives. One friend related to me the time he was a kid and a police officer held a gun on him to bully his dad. That was 40 years ago. Today, he's just as likely to have that happen as to be shot himself. Things have not really changed much for them, except that maybe this time, maybe, the awareness will contribute to real change. I hope.

  4. Thanks, everyone!

    @Nicoleandmaggie, I agree that things have been this bad for Black people for a long time. I heard an interesting interview with the surgeon who treated some of the gunshot victims in Dallas, who is a Black man, and he talked about how relieved he is to be able to talk about these things in public now. So that is good. My worry is more for the reaction from white people. I think we're the ones who need to hold the center, so to speak. So many I've heard interviewed talk about wanting everyone to stop thinking about race, which sounds to me like wanting to go back to when they could ignore the problems. Some guy down the street from me has painted his truck window with a message saying that we all need to "be American" and "support the police." I worry that the backlash against the racial angst they aren't used to feeling will be a vote for Trump... or even something worse.


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