Who we really are
At the risk of being repetitive, wow-- what a week.
Before I get to anything else, let me wish you a happy new year, whatever that means, whatever that looks like for you. Part of the calamity of 2020 is that it encapsulates a state of mind as well as calendar days, and can not be easily shaken off with a turn of the page to the new year. If anything, it's a reminder that a year ago we were going along in our lives, making plans for 2020, heedless of what was already in the works for all of us.
I'm not big on New Year resolutions, but it's always nice to start something new to mark the beginning of a year no matter what is going on. For me, that's getting back to painting again, writing more, and taking a break from alcohol, which I like to do from time to time. After months of leaning in hard on the lovely numbing effects alcohol brings, it's time to lean out.
Despair came in hot a couple weeks ago with an article I read titled "The Vaccine Rollout is Already a Disaster". I understood that the rollout would be impaired by poor planning, a hallmark of the current milieu, and that the optimistic projections of how many would be vaccinated by the end of winter would certainly fall short. But that article was my first hint that it was more than just underdelivering, it was becoming an unmitigated disaster. I sifted through a half dozen articles, hoping to find some better news. I didn't.
What really stabbed me in the heart was the reporting that we could ultimately end up letting vaccines go bad because we didn't get them into arms fast enough, as Pfizer recommends vaccines only be stored for up to 30 days I felt intense grief for the United States, and for the rest of the world. We were, once again, ugly flailing. There is no coherent strategy or a commitment to creating one until the next administration comes in. There are people at the top, lying to us and saying everything is fine, or giving absurd and nonsensical excuses for the problems. The result is that we are essentially hoarding vaccines that we may not even be able to use, while other countries don't have a hope of even getting the vaccine delivered to their people for some time to come.
The selfishness and incompetent actions of my government make me feel embarrassed to be an American. And I don't say that lightly. I've traveled outside of the US since my early 20's, and have encountered many times the skepticism people have about America, and I understand it. I have felt embarrassment and shame for things my country has done, but I've never felt embarrassed or ashamed to be American. I also view our system with a degree of skepticism. I know our myth often does not match reality, and part of our job here is to work toward our ideals, when it's hard, when it's against the odds. We live by a principle that people make all the difference. We see the positive results of that all the time, and it only means we have to keep working, because the job will literally never be done. That's part of what it means to be an American, to believe in that potential. But this ongoing squandering of our opportunities and privileges is inexcusable.
I was steeping in these feelings when the news came from Georgia Wednesday morning that Warnock and Ossoff had won their run-offs, giving Democrats the power to run the Senate leadership. I had not allowed myself to follow the race too closely or have hope that there would be a favorable outcome, so I felt true and unexpected joy that they had prevailed. This is what I'm talking about-- the belief that Stacey Abrams had in the power of the Black and progressive vote in Georgia, a seat of the old confederacy. The work she has spearheaded for years is what created this outcome. Stacey Abrams is a light in the darkness.
My elation was almost immediately tempered by the fear I've been carrying for days about the showdown our current president was contriving over the counting of the elector ballots. I could feel the violence stewing, and I told my husband that I was feeling sick to my stomach. There have been many threats of violence since the election, and I have mostly not taken them seriously. But this event was weeks in the making and it was billed as the last act where Republicans could change the outcome. I was worried. What I don't understand is why I was concerned, and people who coordinate security in the capital apparently were not.
There's not much for me to say about this insurrection that has not already been said. It was an utter travesty. And when I look at the faces of the people who were there, carrying it out, I can see why they failed to achieve anything beyond chaos. They are emblematic of the administration and of the current political moment. These are not people guided by righteous principle. They are people in the grip of a cult, who want to break things at their cult leader's behest, not make it better. They don't know how to make things better, and they have been used by people with way more power than they will ever have, voluntarily debasing themselves in the process. It was a sickening display, and I don't know how we are going to move forward without a serious reckoning, America's least favorite activity.
Joe Biden said in a speech after the riot, "This is not who we are". I know these are meant to be soothing words. But I think this phrase needs to be examined more closely. Sadly, this is a hard and clear facet of exactly who we are. Everyone seems to know this, yet it is not readily acknowledged.
I don't want to go out on such a downer note. That's the American in me wanting a hit on some optimism. But I'm feeling very uncertain and frankly, I have a very active and dark imagination. I remind myself that Americans did what they had to do during a pandemic to get this current administration out of office, and that in itself is a reason to hope that we can get through. And I have no idea what's next.
I'm going to leave it there for now. Here are some links I want to share.
Start building something that is not reactive and defensive but forward-looking and strong: your own vision for what this country could be, for what you describe it as being in your political oratory. Because the opportunity here isn’t to persuade conservatives to like you through conciliatory language and milquetoast gestures, rather to enact the kinds of policies that would, in fact, make everyone’s lives, including Republicans’, better. -The Only Strategy Left for Democrats, Rebecca Traister, The Cut
_ think this whole myth that you have to be dispassionate, that you can’t feel things, was constructed by men in power and is an excuse for why we have bad policies. But when you feel the pain of a family not having health care or losing their home, or being in poverty or losing a child to police violence, you are more inclined to address it. -"It Was No Accident"(), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, interviewed by Rebecca Traister, The Cut
Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions_ -The American Abyss, Timothy Snyder, New York Times
_The conspiracy theories and delusions across the political spectrum – from anti-vaxxers to QAnon devotees to climate deniers to Confederacy cosplayers – prove that we desperately need a citizenship equipped with critical thinking skills_. -America is Broken, So We Asked Some of its Greatest Minds How They Would Fix It, Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian