Monday, November 21, 2016

A Stranger in My Own Town

Two weeks ago, the 2016 election ended with a loud "BANG" that certain people loved and others felt as keenly as an explosion of an oxygen tank on a space ship.

My side lost. My candidate was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom I believed, and still believe, to be the best qualified to run the country in a manner that I expect - one with dignity, grace, and compassion. While it is hardly the first time my candidate didn’t win, it is the first time I've been completely appalled by the dangerous ideas and mannerisms of the victor.

I do not expect much dignity from the winner, Donald Trump. He has no title to put before his name aside from that of "mister." I managed to call George W. Bush "President Bush" out of respect for the office, but I will have a very hard time swallowing the words "President Trump." (I know, get over it.)

Some have called this a race between "elites" and rural America. The elites apparently live on the coast (and have college degrees). But this is dishonest, because we are all Americans, regardless of where we live. Rural and white working-class Americans need to take responsibility for themselves and now for their vote. What I experience here in Appalachian Virginia is no less real than what another person experiences in the ghettoes of San Francisco. The fact that I know more about the country than some of my neighbors is my choice, just as their lack of knowledge about the rest of the world is theirs. Rural America needs to travel more, see more of the country itself. They need to see the diversity that is this nation, and not just gripe because more of it is showing up on television.

If I learned anything from this election, it is that we all need to better understand one another and ourselves. We need to understand that there is no us and them - there is just us. And we have no excuses.

Many of my friends and acquaintances supported Trump. I don't think they understood the shock I felt with this election. They do not understand that their vote informed me that they care more about hatred and division than they do about the rights and welfare of human beings. That change is not welcome. That empathy is just a word.

In these days since the election, I have tried to figure out how to write something about our new America that would not also offend the people who voted for Mr. Trump. I did not stick my head in a bubble during the election - I watched him campaign and I watched the debates. I read the 2016 Republican Party Platform (did you?) and the 2016 Democrat Party Platform.

What I saw led me to find Trump grossly offensive, scary, undignified, un-American, greedy, arrogant, pompous, asinine, egotistic, and infantile (among other things). From what I have read, to write such things gives offense to those who voted for him, because apparently to think that of their choice also means they think I think they have those traits. I don't think that. But did they not watch the same things I did on TV?

My county went over 70% for the Republican, as it always has, and I know many people who voted for this man. I do not understand why they did - we have a high median income of $63,000, we're mostly white and relatively affluent, so it's not because they want their jobs back in the coal mines - but I do not think that all of them are the things I said above. Some of them are, of course. But generally speaking, my neighbors are nice people who mostly stick to themselves, attend their church, spend time with their friends, and bake a pie when somebody dies. They are not bad people. Maybe they voted against Clinton because they believed her to be "Crooked Hillary," as Trump so childishly (and skillfully) named her. I gave up calling people names when I was in elementary school, so that was yet another strike against their candidate as far as I was concerned. I wanted a grown-up to be president, not the bully who lived on the other side of the tracks in the golden mansion on the hill.

I still think of my neighbors as my neighbors. I always have. But I am no longer sure what it is they think of me. When I am told to get over it and move on, I am hearing that my feelings do not matter. When I am told we must all join together, I have to wonder where that mantra has been during the last eight years of President Obama's administration. When I am told to give Mr. Trump a chance - which I will, as I have no choice - I hear that person saying that all of the things Mr. Trump said and did (and is still doing) are things they applaud - that they can overlook misogyny, racism, sexism, homophobia - maybe because that is easier than looking and listening to what the man they have elected really says.

Mr. Trump ran a campaign based on fear. He approved of violence. I was horrified when he said he could shoot someone and not lose a vote. Apparently, he was right. He boasted about grabbing women because he could. He told people at his rallies that if they hurt someone, he would pay their legal fees. He offered a blatant and offensive description of a 9-month "abortion" (what we normally call a caesarean section) and people believed that this happens (it doesn't). He divided and hated, and offered no respect for women, veterans, tradition, the law, our history, or the office he will hold in January. 

It felt like he was playing some kind of game. But running for president is not the same as being on a reality show. This is not TV. This is real life. This man wants to create a country where fear is the chief emotion. That's not what I want for my life, or anyone else's. 

When one person told me she voted for Mr. Trump because "evangelicals forgive," I had to wonder about the selectiveness of that forgiveness. I remembered all the hatred that Secretary of State Clinton endured, along with congressional inquiries and investigations, all of which turned up absolutely nothing. Chanting "lock her up" and calling her "Killary" doesn't seem very forgiving to me. Those insinuations and that muck they threw at her stuck, and, apparently was more unforgiveable than the nauseating lines that fell from Mr. Trump's mouth. I am glad for you if you are ok with what is happening to our nation, but I don't see how you can call it Christian.

My neighbors are not bad people. I believe they voted with the best of intentions. They are hoping he will get "stuff" done, even if they don't know what that stuff is. I believe they think that the worst of Mr. Trump does not represent them. But still, my pie-baking neighbors supported him, for whatever reason. And with that support, these well-intentioned Americans have given power to hate. The KKK held a victory parade, and they helped make that parade happen. So those who voted for Mr. Trump now have a responsibility, not only to me, but to themselves, to hold him to a higher standard. If his rhetoric does not reflect the people they think they are, then my neighbors must tell Mr. Trump that they disagree with his statements on women. They must speak up so that people are treated honorably and decently, regardless of who they are. I hope my neighbors prove that they are who they say they are, and demand that he stop his dangerous rhetoric. I hope they tell him they are not OK with hate-filled speech and fear-mongering.

I, for one, am not ok. And I am not simply disappointed that my candidate lost. Had my candidate lost to a worthy opponent - Jeb Bush, say - I would be unhappy, but I wouldn't be horrified. I would not be feeling so . . . less than. And if I, a privileged white woman, feel like this, I can only begin to imagine what more marginalized people are feeling. Nothing good, I suppose.

I have never really fit in here, in this land of my forefathers. It hurts to have such deep ties to a place where I do not belong. It bothers me that the soil I walk upon was planted and tilled by my many-great grandparents, that my roots go back to the American Revolution, and I feel like I am not welcome on my own turf. This turf is more mine than most, really, aside from those First Nation Native Americans that we so unkindly drove out.

Now I am afraid. I fear this Republican president, and the things the Republican Party now stands for. This political party has been waging a war against women for decades. With a majority in the House and Senate, and their demagogue president rapidly placing white supremacists in his transition team and handing out cabinet posts like awards for good behavior for panting followers, I think we are in for a very rough ride.

The Republican Platform keeps changing - Trump said he would keep our "entitlements" intact but Paul Ryan has other ideas - so it is hard to know what will happen. The copy I have of the Republican Platform is dated November 9, 2016. I printed it out the day after the election. Aside from a lot of rambling about the terrible things the Republicans think President Barrack Obama has done, a few issues stand out. (1) Repeal the 16 Amendment of the Constitution, which establishes the federal income tax; (2) change labor laws and support of "right to work" laws; (3) removal of the minimum wage; (4) appoint Supreme Court justices who would reverse "activist decisions" (what those are); (5) not recognize international agreements; (6) giving fetuses the same rights as a person; (7) repeal the Fairness Doctrine (already removed from the language of the FCC in 2011 - they need to catch up); (8) oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide; (9) oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods; (10) elimating the EPA Waters of the United States rules; (11) eliminate the EPA regulations on the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act; (12) convey all federally controlled public lands to the states; (13) complete the Keystone Pipeline and all others; (14) not act on climate change concerns; (15) remove species from the Endangered Species Act so oil and gas production can move forward; (16) halt funding to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change; (17) change Social Security (current retirees and those close to retirement can be assured of their benefits) (you're out of luck if you're born after 1960, is what I'm hearing); (18) building a wall along the southern border and protecting all ports of entry (nobody mentioned a wall along Canada, but perhaps that is coming); (19) no funding for "sanctuary cities," (not defined); (20) impeachment of the head of the IRS; (21) repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits political speech by nonprofits (including churches); (22) reduce public relations departments of all federal agencies; (23) remove federal regulations from the EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, and Dodd-Frank laws; (24) reinstate Glass-Steagall; (25) unequivocal support for Israel; (26) participation in the United Nations contingent upon sovereign American leadership, and many other things. 

I haven't read the updated document, but this is what was there for all to see before the vote. Additionally, I heard Mr. Trump say in various forums that he would create an enforcement process to remove all undocumented immigrants (about 11 million people); ban the entry of immigrants, specifically Muslims; implement surveillance programs targeting certain religious and ethnic groups; restrict a woman’s right to abortion services (and put women who have abortions in jail); reauthorize water boarding; and change libel laws in order to restrict freedom of expression.

Nothing different has come to my attention, and these unlawful, unconstitutional, and un-American proposals appear to still be on Mr. Trump's golden table. Not all of the Republican platform is bad - reinstating Glass-Steagall is a good idea. The rest, though, allows corporations to bulldoze through wherever they want and pay you whatever they want. I am not sure how any of this platform is going to help anyone's economic reality, except the guy who owns the bulldozer company, maybe, but I guess we will find out.

To be sure, I do not want to find out. This is a nightmare for me. I suffer from PTSD for numerous reasons, many of them having to do with my treatment as a woman at the hands of dastardly men in the workplace, and I have found Trump to be a trigger for emotional and mental health issues. He makes me feel like I have been kicked in the stomach, because he comes across to me as a bully who would just as soon slap me down and stomp on me as treat me like a human being. I will have a difficult time dealing with someone in power who leaves me with that impression every time he opens his mouth. And honestly, I will have a difficult time dealing with my neighbors who laud the actions of someone who has ridiculed people with disabilities and vowed to put certain people on watch or registration lists. How can people applaud anyone who thinks that some people are more worthy than others, unless they think that, too? How can they support someone whose main goal in life is to yell "You're fired" and make money off the backs of every one he comes into contact with? How is this the person they have selected as leader of this country? It will be hard for me to see that they are not accessories to an abuser and bully, no matter how many pies they bake.

I did want to see history made. I wanted our country to finally move forward with women's issues, instead of remaining stalled where we have for most of my adult life. I wanted a female president. I cried when I cast my ballot for her; it was a historic moment in my life and in the lives of millions of other women. I freely admit that I was excited to have a woman in the White House. But I also wanted a president who was kind, compassionate, and thoughtful. Clinton did not run the campaign she needed to run. I watched multiple "live feed" events of town-hall type meetings where she met with people, talking to them and answering their questions with thoughtful responses. She had a policy plan for everything. I knew what she wanted to do about everything and I had no trouble finding an answer on the DNC website if I had a question. The Republic Platform was hellacious reading and Trump had no plan, except that it would be a good plan - trust him.

But Clinton never showed that beautiful, compassionate side to the nation as whole, and the media (which is right wing, and has been for two decades, and don't argue with me, I'm a damn journalist and I know what I'm talking about - the folks who yell the loudest have named it "liberal" simply because good journalism deals with facts, not fantasy) gave Trump loads of free publicity. The evening news would show Trump at a rally, his hands waving while he spouted off something guaranteed to bring him coverage, and then the news reporter would say, "and Clinton said thus and so" at a rally wherever. She was almost always the throw-away remark, the effort to be fair tossed in, but her words, language, and message were seldom carried across.

Maybe she should have bought TV time in the 7 p.m. hours, when they usually have informercials on Saturday nights. In any event, she did not connect to the loudest and most vocal segment of the population - though SHE WON THE POPULAR VOTE. I find solace in that - I am not alone.

The person my neighbors have elected as leader devalues, dehumanizes, and deems others as less than worthy of safety, civil liberties, or citizenship. He makes fun of people, for God's sake. What kind of leader makes fun of others? What kind of man does that?

I am all about inclusion, tolerance, and equality. Or at least I thought I was, and I have always tried to live my life like that. If you want to live your life a certain way, that's your business, not mine. Go to church if you want to. So long as you aren't forcing your beliefs on me, I have no quarrel with you. That is why I don't know what to say or think about the people who surround me, in this land that is no longer my home but is the place where I live. I want to think and believe that these people see me as equal. I want to believe that they really don't want to force me to be something I am not. That I am not "less than" because I am female, because I have a college degree, because I somehow have become, apparently, part of "the elite" that some criticize. That they tolerate me, too.

Now I am not so sure of any of that. Now, actually, I feel like my neighbors don't care for me at all. With their vote, they implicitly acknowledge that they see me as less - because I am female, because I am well-educated, because I could not have children, because I don't attend their church. I have been re-traumatized by this election, by the coarse language of our newly elected leader, his objectification of women, his disdain for those who are different. How could a country that once vilified Howard Dean because he made some kind of weird yell into a microphone condone the actions of this man? Why didn't his display against the disabled - that one action alone - not disqualify him?

Are we really that two-faced?

The day after the election, I stayed off Facebook, but I still saw the gloating. I heard about the KKK marches, the swastikas, the "not my president" marches in major cities. I don't believe in violence of any kind from any side, so there I was, caught, because I supported the marches but not any violence. It seems, though, we cannot have gatherings of people anymore without violence following. So I stayed home, stayed off social media, stayed quiet, and in pain. Deep, emotional, raw, physical, cuttingly horrendous pain.

Nothing in the last two weeks has made this any better. The transition seems to be moving in the direction of a White Supremacist's dream - do that many people in my county secretly want to belong to the KKK? Trump has not made any apologies, nor will he. He will move forward in a direction that I think ultimately will dismay even his supporters, those who still have a modicum of decorum about them, anyway. He is going to "shake things up." Does anybody know exactly how he plans to do that? Because other than turning the United States into a glittering white-faced pile of racist and misogynistic goo, I don't know what he hopes to achieve. Apparently he thinks he will tweet us all into submission.

I am saddened, but not surprised, by this outcome. I have known for a long time that people are unhappy. Working families have been ignored by Washington, D.C. for 30 years. A friend of mine wrote a book, Factory Man, which foretold this election's outcome. The book showed how people lost jobs, how they now work longer hours for less wages, how the good jobs go to other countries. They know that chief executives make 300 times what they do and that more than half of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. Corporations have sucked the life out of many rural towns, leaving stores closed and families bereft because the kids have to go elsewhere to work. Mr. Trump offered change, but unknown change - especially one wrapped around a flag of fear and despair - scares me more than the status quo would have.

The election of an eugenics-loving white supremacist gave hope to hate. I am sorry that people who disagree with science and men who believe women want to stay home, barefoot and pregnant, feel marginalized. But that kind of emotional deliberation doesn't belong in the 21st century. Those are the voices of the 19th and early 20th century, and they are 100 years behind.

As I try to edge back into the world, I keep seeing videos of people yelling at minorities. Misogynistic jerks have appeared out of nowhere, their voices emboldened by the election of someone who thinks grabbing a woman without her permission is perfectly fine. So all of these angry young white men think that now they can molest my niece, my young cousins - maybe even an old limping lady like me. I hear that I am supposed to "get over it" and accept it, as if I never knew what was going on around me. I've had my eyes open all my life, and I have a general idea, probably more than most, how people live. As a journalist, I have been in many homes. I know people are hurting, but I don't think taking away social lifelines is the way to go about securing their health and happiness. If religious groups were so good at helping people, the government would never have had to step in in the first place.

I didn't realize, though, that my neighbors would be willing to burn the country to the ground in order to take away my personal civil liberties, and that of other people. I never thought they would elect an unqualified man who has skin as thin as spiders' webs, a man who dehumanizes women and considers them his personal toys.

What am I to do?

First, I have to remember I am not alone. Even in my little red county, I am not alone. Somewhere out here, about 8,000 people agree with me. Just because I don't know who they are doesn't mean they aren't there. And millions more, all over this country, and billions of others around the globe, think the same way. Even many Republicans are not fans of their new leader.

Then, I write stuff like what I'm writing now. It's the only way I know to fight back. I may fear subjecting my beat-up soul to the spit and hatred of people in parking lots, but I'm not exactly helpless. And when my kindly neighbors tell me to calm down, I shall have to remind them that from day one, the Republican Party has obstructed everything the Democrats and President Obama attempted to do. They rioted in the streets when Mr. Obama was elected, just like the liberals are doing now. They didn't calm down. They dug down, and they fought dirty. All Obama wanted to do was help people and give some folks their civil rights. Now? Now I am afraid of losing rights. There is a big difference there - the Republicans had only to fear that people would gain something they didn't want them to have. Now the Democrats have to fear the loss of the things we already have.

What else can I do? Write checks. I live in a white bubble, and while we're not in the top 10 percent of wealth or anything, we will likely be okay, even with the loss of our Social Security and Medicare (we'll just die younger, I suppose, than we might have otherwise). I am not physically able to go march on Washington, but I can support groups that will do the heavy lifting for me.

I should also look into programs that encourage voting. When 47 percent of registered voters do not vote, something is wrong. Basically that means 1/4 of the people elected this foul-mouthed man as our president. Those are statistics that need to change. Is there still a League of Women Voters out there?

Maybe I can mentor a younger woman, or some other woman who feels alone here. And I will support women as much as I can, those who have started businesses here, perhaps. I can buy from women-owned businesses online. I can avoid companies that have low glass ceilings. Because ultimately, in this country, money talks.

I can actively try to make the world a better place, whether that's learning something new about climate change, working to understand what the hell just happened, or speaking up for people who can't speak up for themselves. And if Mr. Trump proposes something that I can support - infrastructure rebuilding, perhaps - then I will support it. However, I don't know how to do all of that yet. But I will do my best to figure it out.

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