I’ve been struggling since the election, and now since inauguration, with two questions: First, why does this feel worse than it’s ever felt before? Second, how can I stop feeling this way?
Why does this feel so awful?
Well… it is true that everyone I know is in terrible pain about this election and now the actions of our 45th president. And it is true, judging from opinion polls, that the 40 to 45 percent of the people who support the president support him just as strongly today as they did two weeks ago ― despite the travel ban, despite the DeVos nomination, despite the multiple threats issued to our allies. (Many of us fear they support him not despite these things but because of them).
I can live within a framework of such a profound difference of worldview ― I’ve lived through it before. This time, however, it is different. Every comment I see made by those of us terrified by our new president and what he means for the country is met by an equal and opposite comment from those enthralled by the current White House occupant. Those equal and opposite responses take joy in the pain of those on the left. Our national dialogue could now be summed up by Lisa Simpson saying, “I am desperately unhappy,” and Nelson Muntz pointing and laughing.
A marriage unraveling…
Our country, at least politically, has been undergoing a trial separation for nearly 20 years. I would root it in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. My thoughtful conservative friends would tell me I’m wrong and the root is the Robert Bork nomination hearings. Both sides would describe the beginning of the separation in basically the same way: this was the point when I realized the other side was in it just to win and had thrown all propriety, all history, all common bond out the window. This is when I realized the other side considered me the enemy.
For at least two decades (three if you want to begin with Bork), we have fought each other pretty intensely, thought ill of each other, said nasty things about each other in public and in private, and (likely most importantly) we’ve spent less and less time together. If you were a progressive liberal and you could, you likely moved to the nearest urban area. Maybe you even packed your bags and made your way to California (there are a lot more of you here than when I first got here 20 years ago). If you were a conservative, you tended to congregate with other conservatives, either in suburbs, exurbs, rural areas, or the few conservative cities (generally in the South and Southwest).
We chose different neighborhoods, different careers, different friends. The division between us became regional, local, and increasingly racial and gendered.
But we all agreed on one thing: we loved the kid. We have maintained some bond of contact because we love this country. We each have our own way of showing it ― you conservatives (I’ll pretend any of you are actually reading this) talk often of its beauty and its liberty, that it is a shining city on a hill and the land of opportunity. We, in contrast, talk of its inexorable march toward justice and its magnificent history of taking those who rise up and demand their freedom and, eventually, embracing them and making them part of the national character.
It’s when the kid doesn’t live up to our expectations that we have our fiercest fights.
You think the kid is weak, ineffectual, a baby killer, overly tolerant of the wrong element, riddled with crime and racial divisions that only get worse. You think its factories are falling apart, its competitive edge gone. And you think that’s because we’ve been overly permissive parents.
We think the kid is sometimes an entitled bully; that it uses its power unwisely; that it picks on the weakest here and abroad and that it should instead use its power to protect them and help them up. We think the kid has an incredible capacity for charity and kindness and equality, but you’ve filled its head with suspicion and superstition and, yes, racism and misogyny.
Underlying this disagreement, though ― in almost everyone I know ― has been a belief that eventually we would reconcile. Eventually, our mutual love of the kid would bring us back together. Rushing into each other’s arms, we’d embrace and remember that we love our country, love each other, that we are one people, that the music would swell, and we’d live happily ever after. Like the end of La La Land, for 20 years we’ve dreamed of a world where it all works out.
”When in the course of human events…”
Why am I so sad? Why is everyone I know so sad? Because we still loved you, you jerks. We still wanted to share this country with you, in all of its abundance and glory. We still wanted to do great things together with you ― to send men and women to Mars, to power our industry through renewable energy, to make peace in the Middle East. We have believed that as a nation, we were on a path ― a long, inevitable arc bending toward justice ― and that we were walking down that path with you. And 2016 has killed that ember of hope for many of us. We now see and understand that this trial separation is not a trial for you. It never was. You hate us and you don’t want to be with us anymore. More importantly, you will do anything you can to have the kid and keep the kid all to yourselves. And that realization is painful.
This realization ― one we weren’t ready for after Florida in 2000 and one that was delayed by our unity after 9/11 ― requires mourning and processing. Sure, it may even require some crying. But if you think that’s the end of the story, wow, have you misunderstood our mutual history.
By electing Donald J. Trump, you have asked us for a divorce. Really, you’ve demanded it. Why do I say that?
You told us you cared about religious liberty. And then you elected a guy who has pledged to stomp on the religious liberty of our friends and neighbors.
You told us you cared about free markets and integrity. And then you elected a guy who has undisclosed business ties to God-knows-whom and is clearly using the power of his office to alter the free market. He’s literally tanked stock prices of companies with tweets! This is so counter to everything you ever said you wanted, we can’t quite wrap our heads around it.
You told us you were humiliated by Bill Clinton getting a blow job in the White House and that it demeaned our country. Then you elected a guy who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” and who was accused of rape by his ex-wife. We can’t comprehend this.
You told us you cared about the military and its traditions and that we were awful parents because we didn’t care enough. And then you elected a guy who disparaged prisoners of war (a group so hallowed in this country, there’s a special flag) and who regularly said our military is a disaster.
You told us that you are suspicious of the imperial presidency and executive actions unchecked by congress. This was the unforgivable sin of that Obama guy we loved so much. And then you elected a guy who is wreaking havoc with executive actions that are poorly constructed and poorly communicated. In response to the chaos of his travel ban order, his approval ratings haven’t budged among conservatives.
You told us that it was all about states rights and municipalities’ ability to make their own decisions. You’ve been telling us that since you guys were Democrats (under Jefferson) and we were Federalists (under Adams) ; the federal authority is too great and the states must have autonomy, you said! And then you elected a guy who declares he might send the national guard into one of our great metropolises, threatens to defund states that don’t support his immigration policies, and declares he will pull federal funding from a university because it didn’t allow some alt-right pipsqueak to speak (it did, but that’s not the topic for this conversation).
You spent years venerating Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviets the evil empire and particularly had a big problem with the KGB and what it did to its people. He also spoke quite a lot about tearing down walls and not building them. And then you elect a guy who can do nothing but praise the former KGB agent heading Russia, who says he’s going to build a wall, and who appears to have deep and shady connections into Russia. Or maybe he doesn’t! But you seem unconcerned with even the possibility.
You elected him, and now that he’s acting this way, you’re still supporting him! We expected ― truly, deep down, no lie ― that once he began to behave like the bullying emperor we suspected he would be, the sort you always accused Obama of being, you would begin to pull your support. We so wanted to believe it. But his approval rating is 89% among Republicans. You like how he’s acting. And from this we can only conclude…
You hate us now more than you love the kid.
You hate us now more than you love your own beliefs and values.
You hate us so much that you would side with Russia, you would abandon your principles, you would do anything to defeat us and watch us roil.
We can only conclude that it is precisely our unhappiness with the president that makes you happy. And if that is the case, you don’t dream of ever working with us. You don’t dream of ever reconciling. You dream of defeating us. You dream of humiliating us.
What do we do now?
In any divorce, you have a set of choices. One of them, of course, is to fake your own death and run away to another country. That is not an option I believe we should contemplate.
Generally, people have amicable divorces or contested divorces. When amicable, they seek counsel that mediates disputes and looks for “win-win” solutions. When contested, they seek leg-breaking lawyers who will do everything to maximize the outcome for their client, including seeking sole custody.
It is not an option for us to go our separate ways completely because we share the kid. Thus, our previous hopes for reconciliation. Lately, I think we have hoped that a “win-win,” mediated, shared custody approach was possible if we were to end this marriage. What is clear now is that for years the Republicans have been making use of the kind of leg-breaking, stop-at-nothing attorneys we have been loathe to employ. They’ve been kicking our asses in court while we kept hoping we could work this out.
So now… a custody battle
The election of 2016 could have been a fluke. A goof. An accident. No one thought he would win. It could have even brought us together. If the #NeverTrump movement on your side (I’m going to go back to pretending any Republicans are reading this) had taken blossom and you bounced this clown upon his inauguration, I can promise you, we would have come running into your arms. It would have been a great moment of reconciliation. You cannot (apparently) imagine how much we would have loved the Republican party if it ejected this unfit yahoo. A new era of compromise would have been possible. We could have worked with Pence and Ryan.
Instead, you have revealed that you would rather win than care for the kid we both love. So now is when it turns really ugly.
You think we’re snowflakes? You think we’re just going to give up and let you take the country away? That’s incredible.
There are some numbskulls on the left talking about secession. As Sam Houston of Texas said on the matter in the 1860s, “The federal Constitution, the federal Government, and its starry flag are glorious heritages bequeathed to the South and all sections of our common country by the valor and patriotism of Washington, and all the brave revolutionary soldiers, who fought for and won American independence.” This is our country and our government and there is not a chance in hell we’re going to let you have it by leaving ― even if that were legally possible (which it isn’t, numbskulls).
We’re the ones who have marched for this country. We’re the ones who have taken blows to the head, been killed, hit with water hoses and blasted with water cannons, fought and bled to protect this country from the likes of its current president. If you think we’re snowflakes, you better prepare for the blizzard coming your way.
When you see us out in the streets, that’s not a bunch of liberals crying. Those aren’t melting snowflakes who need a hug and a safe space. That’s the inevitable march of some people who loved you and are now very, very pissed off.
We’re going to organize every last living voter in every neighborhood in this country. We’re taking you to the ballot box.
We’re going to be out in the streets opposing every last thing you do from now until we can unwind the coil you have around this country’s throat. We will confront you with the truth about what you’re doing to this country and we will not relent.
We’re going to hire the nastiest, toughest, smartest, leg-breakin’est lawyers in the country. We’re taking you to court.
To my countrymen and women with broken hearts...
This is a terribly sad time for us. And now we have to let go of one kind of hope and take hold of another.
Let us recognize, there are two groups who gave this lecherous villain and his malevolent brood the keys to the White House:
First, there is a group of our countrymen who hate us. They are the rank and file of the Republican Party, and they want to destroy us. They will not rest until they take every lever of power away from us, annihilating any compromise in the government. They can show this isn’t true at any time through their actions and have failed to do so over and over.
Second, there is a group of our fellow citizens who are scared, hurt, and angry. They feel abandoned by the government ― both Democrat and Republican ― and they’ve made common cause with these thugs because they hope it will bring them jobs and safety.
It’s time that we put aside reconciliation with the former and fight them tooth and nail on behalf of ourselves and the latter.
The Republicans who have given themselves over to hatred will laugh at us. They will mock us. And eventually, they will lose. It will start two years from now at mid-terms, then four years, then six.
We could have had a divorce with shared custody. Not anymore. We’re taking the kid.
They have undone our desire to share this country with them. They have dismantled our liberal desire to be reasonable and see their side of things. They have done it by endangering our children and our future. They have done it by putting their anger at us ahead of their professed love of country, and that is the one thing we can never forgive.
(This piece originally appeared on Medium.)