Thursday, November 10, 2016

Report from Day Two: Consulting My Moral Compass

My report from day two is that I only cried a few times and I ate better. It was my first day in an office: Wednesdays, I work from home, mostly on my own projects. Thursdays, I'm onsite at a client. Even today, faces were pinched. Smiles were rare and hard won. One of my colleagues told me that yesterday was surreal. People were dazed.

Another colleague told me that there were racially-motivated incidents at both of her kids' schools yesterday. It was relatively minor: some jerk saying mean, racist things. She said the high schoolers shut it down on their own, with no adult help. The middle schoolers needed help. I was both sickened and encouraged by her story. Her kids go to school in one of the suburbs people move to if they worry about the "rough" schools like ours (which, for the record, is not "rough"). On one hand, it sucks that this happened. On the other hand, it was shut down immediately and decisively, by white kids, their teachers, and their parents.

A third colleague tried to tell us that the world had not changed that much. He meant to help. He was not a Trump voter. But I still felt I had to push back. I told him I am worried for some of my daughter's friends. (I named them, but their story is not mine to tell, so won't describe it here.) He was taken aback, but I think we need to do that, as much as we are able. Put specifics on why we're worried.

When I wrote yesterday that I thought we all needed to consult our inner moral compasses, I meant it. I've been consulting mine.

I've been thinking about which battles are essential, and which battles are winnable. I've been thinking about what I can stand to see used as a bargaining chip, and what I think we can not bend on. It has not been happy thinking.

I want to be clear here: this is the result of consulting MY inner moral compass. YOUR inner moral compass may tell you differently, and I think that is right and good (unless your inner moral compass tells you that racism is OK and can be appeased- if it does that, it needs a tune up). From all of our different priorities and approaches, we will save as much as we can, maybe even more than any of us think we can.

Anyway, my inner moral compass is a bit depressed, but here is what it tells me right now.

I have resigned myself to the loss of all Supreme Court rulings we depend on. I do not think we can save them. If some are saved, it will be because of John Roberts' conscience and the specific lines of his legal reasoning, and there is nothing much we can do, I think, unless we're a lawyer called to argue a case.

That is a hard loss to take, but it can be mitigated. Losing the rulings will mostly revert decisions on things like abortion and same-sex marriage to the states. This is not at all my ideal, but there is a lot of room for mitigation there. Travel funds can be set up to help people travel for abortions. Local action can be taken to preserve the right to an abortion as broadly as possible. Most people, even among the most single-issue voting abortion opponents, favor allowing abortion to save the life of the mother. A lot of people favor allowing it in cases of rape and incest. More than you suspect, even in red states, are OK with "safe, legal, and rare." We have room to work, and we must take up that work, or women will die. We also need to work to spread information about birth control in states where it is not as easily available. I hope to see some creative ideas on this, since the internet provides lots of avenues to get the message out. But I also know Planned Parenthood is gearing up for the effort.

Similarly, on LGBTQ rights, it will still be illegal to beat someone up. We need to work to make sure that is enforced. There are legal funds we can donate to to help with that. I do not know which are the best groups here, but I plan to find out. Similarly, legal defense funds can help people who need help getting the legal paperwork in place to mimic the rights provided by marriage. Same-sex marriages will remain legal and recognized in many states. All of us can vow to treat people as married if they are married, no matter what the law in our particular state says. In the time since same-sex marriage was a fiercely contested culture war issue, public opinion on it has changed. It is more broadly favored. If we take this fight to the states, we might find we win in places we did not expect to. Again, FAR from my ideal, but there is room to work.

I think we came to rely too much on the court, and not enough on elected offices, particularly in "red states," and that was a mistake. I've actually thought that for awhile: change handed down from a group of Supreme Court justices is always going to be harder to accept than change that comes from your own elected representatives. I don't disparage the good those rulings did, but there are other ways, and we may find that those other ways actually get us farther. 

For instance, I know of a few single-issue voters who I suspect might be persuaded to vote Democrat once Roe v. Wade is no longer their sole focus. We might gain some allies in other fights that we did not expect. 

On the environment, well, we're screwed for awhile in terms of the federal government. But state and local governments can be pushed to act. Non-profits are acting, and can use our money. We can talk to our friends and family about making changes where they can. We face more global warming than we would have under a Clinton administration, but again, there is room to work.

Our safety net is likely to be eviscerated. This is going to hurt a lot of people. I am not exaggerating when I say I think people will die. This is where most of my financial mitigation is going. I am going to be a hell of a soft touch for medical GoFundMe campaigns. I'll be increasing our donation to the food bank and the local group that helps families in crisis. I need to look for where my money will be most helpful in other places. Trump, Ryan, and McConnell plan to give me a tax cut.  I do not need a tax cut. I am determined to use as much of it as I can to help those who actually needed it. 

Where I come up short is on mitigation ideas is on immigration and racism. 

You cannot mitigate "your parents are being deported," not really. Sadly, I also think this is one of the fights that will be hardest to win. It was Trump's signature issue. There is no disputing that many people are in this country without legal status. The ACLU will fight where there is legal room. Perhaps our representatives in congress can find scope for negotiation here, and soften the blow. Since I live in a border city, I will be looking for local groups who might be able to soften the impact as well.

The rise of racism is already apparent. Paul Ryan's unfortunate decision to call this a time for "redemption" was horrifying. I literally gasped when I read that quote. The best case scenario is that he did not realize the implications of that choice of words. Even that is unforgivable, because it betrays who he thinks US history is about. But what if he knew and did it on purpose? Then we cannot count on him to help check the newly energized Breitbart wing of the Republican party at all. That is horrifying. We need everyone who is willing to push back on the racism and targeting of ethnic and religious groups. Everyone, no matter what they did during the election. 

There is no mitigation for racial violence, either. World history provides us many examples of just how bad this can get. Hell, US history provides us plenty of horrifying examples. Lynching is not that far in our past. We must fight with all our might to stop the rise of racial violence. I do not know what that fight is going to look like, but we white people can start with contradicting racist speech whenever we encounter it. We can refuse to tolerate it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. We must continue to insist that it is unacceptable even as Trump and the people he puts in his administration accept and affirm it. 

While I don't have ideas for how to fight this hate, the people at the Southern Poverty Law Center have been doing this for a long time. They have ideas, and they can use money. They probably have resources on their site, too. I'll be looking for them.

We must not allow hate speech to be normalized, because that dehumanizes the targets of it, and makes it easier to convince people to sign on to terrible policies that hurt them.

Beyond that, I don't know. I am open to hearing ideas. Feel free to add ideas in my comments below.

I put racism (and even that word seems to gentle for what I fear) last, but it is actually my top priority. It is where I think we have to resist most strongly. And yet, it is where I have the fewest ideas. 

I have been encouraged by the robust response from the ACLU and the SPLC, from Senators Warren and Sanders, and from other Democratic leaders. I feel they will fight as hard as they can, but we cannot rely on them alone. We all must find our way to resist this, especially white people who are least at risk. We must fight the racism and hate from the start, or we will find that it is too late to do so. Trump has openly admired strongman, undemocratic leaders. It is not alarmist to worry for our civil liberties, and if we let those be curtailed, the fight for everything else will be much harder. The ACLU is clearly ready for this fight, and we must support them.

I told a friend in email today that I do not feel like I've lost my country, and that is true. This ugly racism was always here. I do feel like we have been conned by people within our country and by a foreign power into turning away from our better natures. Or, I should say, I feel like some portion of us have. I fight not to regain my country, but to turn us back to our better nature. I fight to protect my fellow citizens, and yes, my country.

I am not particularly interested in participating in the arguments about what caused Trump to win. There were many factors, and the question I think is whether each thing identified is harmful now or not. If it is harmful, we should work to change it. If it is no longer a risk, we should learn what lessons it offers and then move on. I don't care if someone didn't vote, voted a protest candidate, or even voted for Trump. If they want to help push back against any of the harmful things I think are coming, I personally will be glad to have their help. If someone looks at the list of what I think is at risk and does not agree with all of it, I don't care. I'll take their help on the parts they agree with. We have too much at risk to indulge in pointless recriminations or refuse to accept allies.

One thing I will not bend on, though: that all people are inherently equal and worthy of respect and deserve the chance to live their life in an authentic way. If you don't agree with me on that, we probably won't find much common ground. 

So, that's what my moral compass is telling me. I find it helpful to think of what we might do to fight, but I'm not yet ready to actively engage. I need a bit more time to grieve that this fight is necessary. And I think I need to also consider where I will put my time and energy, and where I will have to be content with putting only money. There is too much here for me to do, so I must prioritize and trust that others will prioritize differently and that in doing so, we will cover it all.  I need to think about how I will maintain the rest of my life and continue to find joy, because I must. I have to think about how I will help my children understand the coming years, because I must. That will come first, and I may or may not be more quiet here than I planned while I do that. 

But soon, I will be ready to engage and fight. Because I must.


  1. I must admit I'm still so disappointed in the election results, I can't be on social media or listen to any kind of news (even my main source of NPR). But, I have been thinking I need to put my money where my mouth is a bit more strongly in the coming years and find some organizations to combat the worst parts of the coming administration. You put it even more eloquently into words and gave my thoughts a bit more focus - thanks.

    1. I'm still devastated. One advantage of our long transition period is that we have time to mourn and come to terms before being called to act most strongly.

  2. I love this. I linked to it on my blog. I agree with every single word you wrote. thank you for setting this out so logically and thoughtfully! I'm giving myself a little longer to reflect and mourn, but I'm planning to engage and fight too.

  3. All excellent thoughts.

    I'm not a lawyer, but I'm a bit more hopeful on same-sex marriage. Lawyers (even conservative ones, and perhaps especially those who land on the Supreme Court) have great respect for precedent, and the principle of not upending people's lives by changing basics like who can marry whom. The Supreme Court also needs a case on which to act, and I'm not sure who would have standing to begin a suit that would result in overturning same-sex marriage, for the simple reason that no one is really harmed by it (in the way that the plaintiffs in the original case were harmed, e.g. by inheritance law/taxes). I hope that means nationwide protections for same-sex couples (especially when it comes to immigration -- a really tricky intersectional issue -- and tax/inheritance law) will remain. But there's still plenty of work to be done on anti-discrimination law, and that's probably going to have to happen at the state level (which, yes, isn't all bad, except for people who have constraints that require them to live in unfriendly states).

    Reproductive rights is the really, really scary issue, especially since the most rabid anti-abortionists would like to outlaw some of the safest, most effective, longest-acting contraceptive methods. That makes it harder to find common ground in "safe, legal, and rare," with emphasis on the rare, which I agree is the best hope for cooperation. Given some of the laws that Pence signed as governor (which I think were later struck down by the courts -- but that may change over time), I wonder whether it will be possible to create and publicize travel funds, etc., since everybody involved might be aiding and abetting a crime in at least one of the two states involved (it's a strange parallel, but can one advertise or recruit for Nevada brothels in states where prostitution is illegal?). If doctors and other medical personnel are required to report/track pregnancies, then you also have the possibility that woman who receives an abortion in another state will face questions when she returns home (much as she would if she took an already-born child to another state, and returned without him/her. Of course, that scenario gets at the ways in which pregnancy is different from post-birth parenthood, but Pence et al. don't view it that way.)

    I also wonder whether there's something to be done to support mixed-status families. I think this is a case where the people affected should take the lead, and the rest of us should take a supporting role, but at the very least children who are U.S. citizens should be supported in claiming the benefits of that status (especially education), whether they end up growing up in the U.S., or returning with their parents to their homeland (I suspect that will be the wrenching decision for many families, and different families will make different decisions, but there may also be room for supporting older children who remain in the U.S., and/or family and community members who take in younger children). There's also the question of helping people who've contributed a great deal to the U.S. economy try to resettle in their country of origin (or helping them get refugee status in a third country if that's too dangerous) if it comes to that.

    Sorry for the long comment, but you got me thinking. Yes, there's plenty to do, and much of it is doable, but it may take a while to summon the energy.

    1. Long comments welcome anytime! I appreciate your insights.

  4. Anonymous7:19 AM

    I'm a new reader, but I thank you for this list. I am still so angry and disheartened, but it's time for me to remember that I know how to take action and now is the time to take it. When they go low, we go high.

    You wrote that you were not sure what to do about immigration, and I wanted to write to give some ideas to you and any other readers who might be grappling with the same questions. I'm a lawyer and I have represented immigrants in asylum cases, so I know a tiny bit about what is at stake here. Immigration law is incredibly complex, and studies show that immigrants with a lawyer are less likely to be deported, more likely to be released from detention, and more likely to gain relief than immigrants without legal representation (more info here: Right now, no immigrants -- not even unaccompanied children -- are guaranteed a lawyer in immigration court, putting them at a great disadvantage as they face government attorneys seeking deportation. This is in addition to hurdles such as language barriers, trauma, or lack of understanding of the legal system. There are many good organizations representing immigrants, but the need is so great and these lawyers are underpaid, overworked, and doing the best they can for each of their clients. I often felt if only there were three of me, or four of me, or a hundred -- how many more people I could help. But there are important steps we can take.

    If you are a lawyer, you can take a case pro bono. If you speak another language, you can help with translation of documents or interpretation. If you are a therapist or medical professional who can document trauma, injuries, or other medical conditions, and provide a declaration to the court explaining the client's symptoms and now they affect his or her abilities, you are useful. And if you can donate, please do. Even underpaid lawyers are not cheap for nonprofit organizations, and the more excellent lawyers serving out immigrant communities, the better for everyone.

    1. Thank you! Next week (maybe), when I'm ready to engage more fully, I will start by doing research into groups already active in all of these fights. Because I know they are there. I'll post what I find.

  5. From my inbox (apparently Blogger is not behaving well today):
    for some reason my browser is not cooperating in posting a comment so I wanted to send you a quick email with what I would have posted. I am really, really impressed that you have been able to not only think this through so rationally and thoroughly but also to frame them articulately and eloquently. I am still not completely done wailing and gnashing my teeth and fruitlessly imagining what I would say in letters to the electors from my barely-red home state to try to convince them to at least not give Trump their vote,and only able to start identifying very nebulous thoughts. I suspect that when I do get to the point (soon, I hope) of being able to really think through what comes next, I will wind up with very similar thoughts and priorities. Maybe not, we'll see, but I'm thankful for this excellent example of the thought process.

  6. Re the Supreme Court and its effects, I agree with you: I think in the long run, change that comes via popular vote will be more lasting, and that since younger people are more accepting of things like gay marriage than older ones, in the long run, that will work out. In the short run, yes to your ideas about helping people.

    On "your parents are being deported," this morning I gave to the Young Center, which assists unaccompanied minor immigrants:

    Thanks to Anonymous for the suggestion of translating. At the moment I'm sticking to money but if I can find time and opportunity, I have a couple of foreign languages I might be able to put to good use. They're not the rarer and more valued ones, but my efforts with what I have might free up time/money for a translator of a less-commonly-known language; it's also something I could suggest to some of my students, those who are heritage speakers of something and would like to help. If they ask for ideas, that is.


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