The Responsibility that Knows No End

More than 40 years ago, I joined millions of young people and marched in opposition to the Viet Nam War. We marched after four students were killed on the campus of Kent State University. We marched in solidarity for those ex-inmates on trial after the Attica Prison uprising. We marched with our women friends in support of economic equality for all people and a woman’s right to maintain control of her own body. We marched and sat-in and chanted because we knew no other way to express our outrage and dismay over the injustices we saw everywhere.

Today, I joined hundreds of thousands of men and women of all sorts, and marched throughout Manhattan, to express our outrage and dismay over the blackening cloud that is rolling over our country, tearing the very seams of the things I take most pride in as an American. What began as a women’s march gained gale force, and galvanized so many of us to vent our frustrations and our fears and march together.

If evidence of the difference between New Yorkers and much of the rest of the country was ever needed, it was available in spades today. I saw no Trump supporters along the route that shut down most of mid-town Manhattan. What I did see, along with a dazzling array of shades of pink, were some incredibly clever, funny and often unrepeatable deprecations of our new president. We were joined by a common disbelief and anger that this spray-tan cartoon character New Yorker somehow managed to get himself elected to the most important, powerful job in the world. Sure, he had help from the Russians (from whom I spent a childhood cowering under my grade school desk, in the event they would drop the big one in Times Square). But the guy won, and at least for the moment, we’re stuck with him.

I have tried very hard, Lord knows, to find redeeming qualities in the man. If he went a night without whipping off a crack-fueled Twitter screed, I’d hope that he was settling into a more presidential, unifying mode. But he couldn’t even let a day go by without reminding us that his cynical, dsytopian view of America was not just the product of his cranky mood, but really the way he feels. It seems that the man has actually started believing his own bullshit.

I have a friend who’s a psychologist, and he treats very successful, educated New Yorkers. He reports that his patients are suffering from a newfound source of depression, as they consider the future. It’s not the economy or their jobs or their families that’s causing them angst, but rather waking up to our miasmic political new order, and realizing it wasn’t just a bad, bad dream.

How else does one view our leader, a man who criticized a war hero tortured as a prison of war? How do we warm to a man that mocked the parents of another war hero who gave his life in service to our country? Who mocked the physical disabilities of a news reporter? Who insulted a woman for her “bleeding” all over? A man who feels neither shame nor embarrassment for knowing so little about things that are so important?

I accept that there are at least two sides to any political question. I know there’s a lot about which I may be wrong. While I did not support nor generally agree with many recent Republican candidates, I recognized their sincere desire to serve the people and make the world a better place. I could accept and get used to them over time. But our new president trades in divisiveness. He does not speak of a world where all people can share their common humanity. Rather, it’s a harangue of “us” vs. “them”—and the them are rapists, murderers, foreigners.

I generally don’t discuss politics on my social media, like Facebook. But yesterday, as I watched the inauguration concert on TV, I posted a comment—half kiddingly—that I needed a good Air BnB hook-up in Canada, because I didn’t like what I was seeing at home.

A friend who I’ve known for a while, someone who in many ways is progressive and open-minded and evolved, felt so insulted by what I posted on my own Face Book page, that he wrote, “Richard, just move to Canada.. we don't need this negativity around our soil!” I was stunned that a friend would make such a suggestion. He was banishing me from my own country! How much anger must he be feeling to say that to a friend?

I don’t blame him, though, any more than I blamed the National Guardsmen who shot those college kids at Kent State. They were put in an impossible situation where there were no right answers. So I forgive my friend as well.

But I do blame the opportunist deal-maker who spews whatever’s momentarily expedient to whatever crowd he’s working. “I will clean the Washington swamp of all Goldman Sachs bankers and know-nothing generals,” he actually promised. Until he named Goldman Sachs bankers and generals to run the government. Repeal Obamacare! But maybe there’s a lot worth saving, he apparently has come to understand. Keep America free from foreigners! My not-so-distant ancestors were foreigners until they came to America, seeking a better life for their children.

So today we marched. And tomorrow we’ll write our Congressmen and Senators. And men and women and white folks and black folks and every other color folks will stand ready to act as patriots and defend all of the things that has made America the light of the world.

The New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote something last November that has remained with me and seems to be the only sane thing to do in a world that’s gone mad.

“No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along,” he wrote. “For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.”

Forty years later, we have our work cut out for us.

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