After work tonight, Rhumba and I went downtown to buy a load of cat food and toilet paper — two things our household needs a lot of. And scones. What’s life without scones?
Rhumba paid the man, I packed the bags. A roar of voices blasted in from the street. So I stuck my head out the door where a near-endless stream of healthy young college kids dash by, screaming in the twilight. Couldn’t understand a word they said.
“What are they doing?” I asked the world at large.
“They’re protesting Trump,” the world said, if the world is a gangly bearded guy in a Panama hat.
Good clean fun; I went back inside. Reminded me of the Gulf War, when the students nearly stormed the police station. At the last second they remembered: the Santa Cruz Police Department had nothing to do with war in the Mideast. And they backed off.
But these kids weren’t backing off.
“Third time they’ve been by tonight,” the cashier said.
“Well, at least it’s not like the Gulf War.” He looked at me funny. I don’t always bother to explain myself.
Yeah, it’s been quite the day. Really didn’t see the Trump presidency coming. Oh, at one point I worried about the possibility. I thought Clinton was a lousy choice, a political insider’s choice.
But the great mass of pollsters and media men and wise old politicians and Ivy League experts insisted that Clinton was ahead. I started to believe them. I think maybe the experts believed themselves, too.
And yet, they were wrong. If I may be crude, they didn’t know shit. They’ve been shown out as a bunch of hacks in nice clothing: made to look stupid by a candidate so loathsome that his supporters, many of them, wouldn’t admit that they were going to vote for him.
But they did. Hard to poll people like that. And if you don’t take their problems seriously, it’s hard to get their support, too.
The ways of the world make me tremble with rage, but somehow today was just another day: had been since last night, when Rhumba gave me the word just before bedtime. I’d been doing yoga all evening with the Lords of Savashana, my yoga group. Probably the calmest way to spend election night.
We went out to breakfast this morning; we do a lot of that lately. It costs, but Rhumba’s recovering slowly from the infections that put her in hospital for a couple of months. And we’re both back to work, but we take it easy on ourselves in the morning. Worth the money.
And, once in the breakfast restaurant, Betty the co-owner melted down all over our french toast. “I just can’t, I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I can’t, I can’t even guess what the next four years will be like.”
I told her, “I’ve been angry about politics for 20 years. I’ve always thought everything was crap. To me, this is just another day.
“People are upset about life in general, and it was time for a populist. The Democrats didn’t let the good populist run, so the angry white men voted for the bad one. And here we are.”
She didn’t look happy. “I can’t disagree with a thing you say, but it’s been a really bad year. My mother died, a friend of ours went to prison, and now this.”
Yes. It’s been a bad year. Half an hour earlier Rhumba and I were at home inspecting her slowly-healing legs, trying to figure out our strategy for the day. Wash them now? Later? Could that rash become infected? Apply an anti-fungal, or let it wait? Little dash of triple-antibiotic over on that red spot?
That’s how we’ve spent every morning and evening for four months now. I’m tired. And frankly I just can’t get the outrage up. What’s going to happen, will happen. And there’s always hope.
Because things move in arcs: your life, history, and particularly politics. Eight years ago on Election Day Rhumba and I were sitting in this very restaurant, yes, having breakfast while Betty’s husband Archie poured coffee from behind the counter and asked us, “Are you feeling gro-oo-ovy this morning?”
“Archie,” I said, “nothing’s been groooovy since 1969.”
“Then it’s the Age of Aquarius again, the Age of Obama,” Archie said, obviously stoked.
“Yeah, right,” I answered.
“Don’t be so cynical.” He grinned at me.
“You have no idea how cynical I can be,” I said, “so I’m not going to say anything.”
And I didn’t. Obama’s “hope and change” was supposed to be a new arc, a new story in American politics, one of honest men of differing opinion working together for the good of all. It was a nice fantasy; but it stalled early and tumbled back to earth with the election of Donald Trump. And here we were in that same restaurant, eight years later almost to the day, surveying the wreckage with Archie’s wife.
But there are bigger arcs; there was the arc of the New Deal, 40 years of increasing equality. It was replace by the arc of small government, of low taxes for the rich, of hidden racism, of rising inequality. Nixon conceived it, Reagan sold it. And no Democratic president for the last 30 years has strayed too far from it. Obama included. Certainly not Clinton. And America continued to deteriorate.
Which left people open for a huckster like Trump, who co-opted all the outrage. Who will, eventually, make worse the lives of most people who voted for him.
So where’s the hope? I can only tell you this: there are activists in the field right now, making plans. The Occupy movement birthed them, the Bernie Sanders campaign matured them, and Trump will challenge them. As President Trump and his allies try to free the rich to run riot, these people are ready to fight them.
I get a box of email from them every day and do you know what’s scary? They’ve stopped asking for money. They just want me. They want help to field a brand new congress, to raise a new generation of leaders to start new movements which challenge the old arc and start a new one: a free and equal society, this time for keeps.
I think they have a chance. Because you can rail at Trump voters, but I really do believe that all a great many of them wanted, was for someone real to come to them with a hand out and say, “I want to help you.” And mean it.
It’s a simple thing. But it’s been awhile.