Ordinary things


Windshield

Refrigerator collage

This morning when I turned on NPR, they were discussing the experts named to President-Elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, including Massachusetts’ own Atul Gawande (excellent choice). There was a story about vaccine trials and word that stock futures were up in response to Biden’s win. And then almost as an afterthought, mention was made to President Trump and how he still hasn’t conceded the election, his Twitter tantrums now pushed well below the fold. Go into the corner and pout, Donny: the grown-ups have work to do.

I won’t miss the news’ daily fixation on Trump’s Twitter feed: he’ll still post his grievances online in ALL CAPS, but nobody except his diehard fans will have to follow him. When the sitting President tweets, it’s front-page news, but when a lame-duck (and soon-to-be-former) President tweets, it’s page two, three, or even four material. How quickly Trump has become almost-irrelevant: still possessing more power than he deserves, for sure, but destined to be a historical footnote as a one-term President.

There are many pressing problems in the world–so many issues that demand complex problem-solving. For the past four years, worrying about the President and his latest abuse of power was at the top of the list. Now that the Resistance is no longer focused on the Bully-in-Chief, there are other, more important problems for us to tackle: climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality. The past four years of heightened political activism have been a training ground for an ongoing fight.

In the meantime, the news cycle, which for so long was focused almost entirely on All Trump, All the Time, has begun to move on. It’s about time.

Glass ceiling smashers

When news broke this morning that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the state of Pennsylvania and thus the White House, it was almost anticlimactic: another notification on my phone, but this one with the magic number of 270+ electoral college votes.

“We should go somewhere to celebrate,” I told J, “but there is nowhere to go.” Instead, J took down the Joe Biden flag we’d been flying by our front door and carried it with us as we took our daily walk around our neighborhood, talking to neighbors, waving to strangers, and cheering as folks in passing cars honked and waved.

I’m still settling into the news that Trump will be gone in January: it takes a while to wake up from a four-year nightmare, and my inner realist knows there is much more work to be done. But last night, J and I were comforted as we watched the brief address Biden gave in Delaware, urging patience as ballots continued to be counted and expressing confidence that he and Harris would win.

As Biden expressed sorrow at the more than 220,000+ Americans who have died of COVID-19 and explained that he and Harris are already planning how to tackle the pandemic on day one, I felt a sense of relief that finally we will have someone in the White House who is empathetic, competent, and clear-eyed about science.

“It’s nice to have a President again,” J said after Biden finished speaking, and I couldn’t agree more.

Walkway to class

I remember teaching in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I went to bed believing Gore had won, I awoke to news that the race was too close to call, and for weeks thereafter I taught under the Cloud of Unknowing, waiting for the other coup to drop.

In those days I was an adjunct instructor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. The adjunct in the basement office next to mine was a political science professor who has since earned tenure and moved onto greener pastures. (I, on the other hand, have simply moved on.) For weeks after the election, I overheard Professor Poli Sci talking on the phone with CNN and other news outlets, explaining again and again the intricacies of the electoral college and how it was possible for the loser of the popular vote to nevertheless win the White House.

Ever since 2000, I don’t believe preliminary election projections: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. And ever since 2016, I haven’t believed pre-election polls, either. For all the outspoken Trump and Biden supporters who wear their politics on their sleeves, there are the uncounted unknowns who don’t answer the phone when pollsters call or simply fib when asked directly about their vote.

Whereas in 2016 I felt crushed by a defeat I secretly feared but hadn’t emotionally prepared myself for, last night came as no surprise. Yes, I would have liked for early results to deliver a clear mandate against Donald Trump (or at least the state of Florida or Ohio). But this year I knew two things: Trump would win states with a history of voter suppression, and the result would be decided by a handful of swing states like Pennsylvania that are deeply divided between vocal Trump supporters, enthusiastic Biden supporters, and the untold enigmas who might vote either way.

Twenty years later, the lesson of 2000 still holds: it ain’t over until the race is officially called, the loser actually concedes, and all the votes are counted. In the meantime we wait, hope, and wonder what in the heck 2020 has in store for us next.

Make America America again

It’s the night before the 2020 presidential election, and I’m feeling oddly calm, all things considered. The news and my social media feed alike are full of anxiety-inducing news: rising COVID numbers! The threat of election day unrest and voter intimidation! The possibility of a contested election! Trump might win, Trump might lose: we might not know for weeks or months, and even if Trump loses, he might not ever leave!

My current sense of calm isn’t confidence; it’s more like fatigue. After four years of following every Tweet and headline, I’m resigned to whatever happens tomorrow and the days after.

I’ve already voted, and I’ve done everything I could these past four years to stay engaged, pester my elected officials, rally the troops, and get out the vote. Now, on Election Eve, it’s all over but the waiting. I know who I want to win, and I know what’s at stake if my preferred candidate loses. But right now, on Election Eve, everything comes down to the results in a handful of swing states. I wish that weren’t the way things worked, but I didn’t make the rules.

On Election Night 2016, J and I were so hopeful Hillary Clinton would win, we chilled a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This year, we don’t have any champagne, and we aren’t expecting a clear outcome on Election Night. I hope that Trump loses–the polls suggest he will–but this time around, I won’t be surprised if the polls are wrong. Whoever wins the election, and whatever mayhem might happen afterward, the work of citizenship will continue. For now, I’m resting up for whatever comes next, not knowing exactly what that will be.

November graffiti

Now that it’s late November, it gets dark before 5:00 pm. When I took the trash out just after 4:00 this afternoon, our mail carrier was hurrying through the end of her route. “I’m in a race to finish before the moon comes out,” she explained, “and I’m losing.”

Every November feels like a race against darkness. Today was bright and brisk after days of drizzle, and it was easy to feel energized as I worked my way through my daytime to-do list. But as soon as darkness falls, so do my energy levels. It seems unnatural to work late when the sun insists on retiring early. After sunset, my body wants to nest and settle like a bird returned to its roost.

And so I sit here typing with the pitch-black world pressed against my window. Roxy is curled into a snoring ball on the bed, and J is upstairs in his attic office, working. I have 15 minutes to post these thoughts before tackling my evening to-do list, and after those tasks are done, I’ll curl up on the couch with a book and blanket, ready to hibernate until the sun shows up again tomorrow.

Autumn oak

I’ve already mentioned that November is my favorite month, and here’s another reason why: November light glows like no other. This year, the end of October was gray and rainy, and my mood was as dismal as the days. But so far, November has been brisk and bright, the waning days gleaming golden.

Golden glow

I’ve lived in New England for more than 25 years now–just over half my life–and that is long enough for me to know this: November light is precious because it is both short and short-lived. The nights are noticeably longer now: the afternoon class that used to be bathed with setting sunlight now adjourns in darkness, and the days will continue to shrink. The beaten-bronze glow of stubborn oak trees–the last to leaf in spring, and the last to drop in autumn–will soon fade and fall. Come December, the landscape will be drab and the days dim.

But for now, every moment of November light is precious. When you know a thing is dying, you cherish every moment you share.

We protest school segregation

The President has said something racist, again. This comes as no surprise, as the President regularly uses racist rhetoric to rile up his base, who either share his bigoted views or simply aren’t troubled by them. To me, these two options are equally bad. If you rush to defend or choose to ignore racism, you are empowering it: either way, you are complicit.

Police brutality must stop now

The fact that our President is racist is not news; people who were paying attention in 2016 knew this, but plenty of folks still voted for him. But what is new is the way the past two and a half years have revealed people’s true values. I’m willing to give voters the benefit of the doubt if they voted for Trump with a vague hope that the solemnity of his office would tame or temper him. But as the President’s Twitter tantrums have continued, his policies have gotten increasingly cruel, and his cozying up to dictators and autocrats continues unabated, I haven’t learned anything new about Trump himself. This leopard hasn’t changed his spots, and what we’ve long seen is what we continue to get.

What has been revelatory about the past two and a half years is the behavior of Trump’s supporters and enablers. If you still turn a blind eye toward what Trump does–if you continue to say nothing or merely offer excuses–this tells me everything I, your neighbors, and your children need to know about your character. As much as you claim that you yourself are not racist, your failure to condemn abhorrent behavior says more about your priorities than any of your arguments.

I might be next

History has its eyes on us, and so do our companions and contemporaries. When I was a young and impressionable child, an impassioned priest showed my religion class footage from Nazi concentration camps, imploring us to learn from the past so we would never repeat it. As I watched the grim and grainy images, I wondered with childlike innocence how ordinary Germans could have stood by and watched while genocide happened in their midst. Now, decades later, I have my answer.

Genocide doesn’t start with death camps; it starts with divsion and objectification, with slogans and conformity, and with repeated exhortations to support your country right or wrong. Genocide starts with a moral muddying of waters and with the suggestion that some folks and families don’t matter as much as yours do. Genocide starts with good, otherwise decent folk deciding to stand by, shut up, and do nothing as norms and morals are violated, the act of minding one’s own business being weaponized as a tool of the state.

Black and white together

Plenty of folks who voted for Trump in 2016 insist they aren’t themselves racists; instead, they argue, they voted for economic reasons, or for the sake of Supreme Court picks, or because they disliked Hillary Clinton. But now that we see the kind of behavior the President is engaged in–the kind of behavior he talked about and that some voters chose to ignore, defend, or quietly agree with–we now know how low Trump’s supporters and enablers are willing to crawl. I haven’t learned anything new about the leopard, but I am continually heartbroken by the hyenas who continue to hang around him.

When I studied Spanish in high school, I learned a saying that seems particularly apt these days: “dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.” Tell me who you walk with, and I will tell you who you are. If you tell me you voted for Trump in 2016, I can be kind and assume you were duped. But if you tell me you still support him, I must assume you either support his abhorrent behavior or (worse yet) simply don’t care. Two and half years after Trump was elected, ignorance is no longer an excuse. If you continue to lie down with dogs, you must enjoy waking up with fleas.

Today’s photos show protest signs on the Green Street parking garage in Central Square, Cambridge: part of Representative Ayanna Pressley’s Congressional district.

Frederick Douglass bio and Postcards to Voters

Today is the 4th of July. After reading outside on the patio for a short while this morning, I’ve spent the heat of the day inside our air-conditioned bedroom, trying to keep the dogs cool and ushering them outside for short, closely supervised bathroom and exercise breaks. So much for the Dog Days of summer.

Frederick Douglass

I’m currently reading David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a weighty brick of a book I checked out and returned to the library several times before making time to read. Yesterday, I read the chapter in Blight’s book that discusses Douglass’s famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” which seems more relevant than ever this year.

Great Hall

Blight accurately interprets the speech as a classic American jeremiad: a speech intended to provoke and spur listeners to action and repentance. In it, Douglass argues that Independence Day means nothing to slaves who lack the freedom it celebrates:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Chairs

This year, I find myself wondering what the Fourth of July means to migrant children detained in squalid holding pens, citizens in gerrymandered districts denied the full power of their vote, or homeless and suicidal veterans fighting PTSD while our draft-dodging President entertains himself with military parades.

Eagle, clock, and portraits

Today I celebrated the Fourth of July by doing two things that I consider to be my civic duty. First, I spent some time writing Postcards to Voters. Voting is an important way to preserve freedom, and encouraging Florida voters to enroll in Vote-By-Mail is one way to get-out-the-vote one person (and one postcard) at a time.

Light fixtures

Second, I spent some time with the Mueller Report, which I’ve committed to read in 10-page daily installments over the course of the summer. In today’s installment, I read Robert Mueller’s indictment for Russian social media meddling, which the Washington Post edition includes in an appendix of supplemental materials. It feels important to understand what the Russians did in 2016 and how easy it was to mislead voters with fake news, sham social media profiles, and even in-person rallies organized from afar and designed to energize some voters while discouraging turnout among others. It’s easy for nefarious agents to mislead gullible constituents; being savvy and thinking critically are also part of our civic duties.

Overhead

July 4th is when we celebrate America’s birthday, but every day it is our job as citizens to defend democracy by doing the work of engaged citizens. This means educating yourself: read books and understand history. Vote and encourage others to do so, too. Pay attention to the news and hold your elected officials accountable. These are the gifts any one of us can give Uncle Sam on his birthday or any other day.

Dog walk shadows

After more than a quarter century living in New England, I’ve realized some inexorable truths. The day after a snowstorm is almost always sunny, and the most bitterly cold days often have the clearest, bluest skies.

Dog walk shadows

This morning when I walked Toivo, it was seventeen degrees: a temperature that felt brutally cold at the time, but I’ve lived in New England long enough to know there will be days when temperatures in the double-digits will feel warm. But today felt colder than usual, so I wore my longest, fluffiest down coat, and the dog and I kept moving.

It was bright and brisk, and I didn’t wear a ballcap or sunglasses: I just squinted into the glare, knowing that light more than warmth is the thing I crave in midwinter. Even the most bitterly cold days are bearable if the sun is beaming from a turquoise-blue sky; the winter days that crush your soul aren’t the cold ones but the gray ones.

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