by Charles M. Blow · September 11, 2017
Chitara Smith in Phoenix on Aug. 22, protesting a rally held for President Trump. Reilly Kneedler for The New York Times
You could stay in hell for a little while if you knew that you were going to get out.
My mother always told me that when I was going through something tough and dispiriting. It was her way of saying that trouble doesn’t last forever, that even in your darkest place, hold fast to the hope and the light, that though today you are in the valley, tomorrow you shall scale the peak.
Well, Mama, this is hell. Indeed, Donald Trump’s America is the Ninth Circle.
And while I know that a president is limited to two terms, and I highly doubt that Trump could be re-elected to a second term and think that Robert Mueller’s investigation may curtail the first, I am still struggling to maintain optimism and perseverance.
I don’t think that this is even a matter of fatigue, but rather of the capacity of rage and the length of mourning. Hopelessness is a very human response when the feeling of persecution intersects with the feeling of powerlessness.
Sure, the vast majority of America that doesn’t agree with Trump isn’t completely powerless. People across the country are registering to not only vote but also to run for office. They are pressuring their legislators. They are linking arms in solidarity and raising their voices in protest. They are saying that this administration and this man are abominations and they will not sit silently by, thereby giving passive approval or grudging acceptance.
I see these people. I applaud these people. I try my best to encourage these people. But I also know that the power of the resistance is limited, and the best way to achieve real change and a real reversal of the damage that’s been done won’t come until the polls open in the next round of elections. The real change will come when those who felt compelled to stand on principle and not participate in an election in which they felt they were being forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils” realize the staggering magnitude of the gap between those “two evils.”
By the way, the lesser-of-two-evils argument is poppycock. The choice people faced in November was the difference between dim light and absolute darkness. There really was no comparison. The false parity was a media concoction and a Russian propaganda weapon.
Also, people have to stop thinking that because they see some corruption in the system, they can live outside that system by not participating in it in any way, including electorally. No, every minute of every day you are in the system; the safety or menace you feel is the system. The streets you drive on are part of the system. The deductions from your paycheck are part of the system. By not voting you don’t buck the system, but succumb to it; you don’t show your strength, but expose your weakness.
Furthermore, we have to deal with racialized voter disenfranchisement. Many people didn’t vote because they couldn’t. The systematic conservative attack, state by state, on voting access is a national scandal that receives far less attention than it deserves.
But I have faith that more Americans will overcome the barriers to participation that have been erected to nullify their votes.
I have faith that America is learning a lesson about the folly of throwing a monkey wrench into the machine in an attempt to break it.
I have faith that America has learned that elections have consequences and that the power of the presidency in the hands of a pariah is an awesomely dangerous thing.
I have faith that America has learned that there are not easy remedies to decisions made behind a curtain and in a fit of pique.
But I will not know if that faith is well placed until I know the results of the next election.
Until then, it is hard to witness successive hurricanes wreak havoc on Americans and realize that the science behind recognizing the global warming that contributes to more extreme weather events is not believed by America’s ruling party.
It is hard to witness a president so obsessed with the obliteration of the legacy of his predecessor that he is attempting to undo that legacy with every stroke of his pen.
It is hard to witness a bully attack traditionally marginalized communities, one after the other.
It is hard to witness a family of corruption besmirching the presidency, the country and America’s standing in the world.
It is hard to witness the dismantling of basic norms, the dismissal of propriety and the devaluation of truth and honesty.
It is like being injured and having the offender repeatedly pound the wound before it can properly heal.
Like many Americans, I try my best to do the small affirming things in my family and in my community that express my love and reaffirm my values. I spend a bit more time in museums and give a bit more space for the activities that celebrate the creative imagination and that express the long tumultuous span of the human condition. I try to nourish my soul so that it will survive, because I know that the fight is not finished.
We are in hell. We have to remember that one day we will get out.