On election night, as the hours moved into double digits and it became clear that we were headed for a Trump presidency (Trump presidency, Trump presidency... I keep having to repeat it to believe it), I made a snarky comment on Facebook that lit majors were all going to begin quoting W.B. Yeats's "The Second Coming." It was a shitty thing to say to grieving people, especially since I, too, was a grieving lit major who immediately thought of the poem once the electoral numbers shifted. For those not lucky enough to have spent their formative years wallowing in words, here's the poem in its entirety. Read it. Even better, read it aloud.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Holy shit, right? (And Merry Christmas!) On election night, in my rage and fear and confusion, this is the line that repeated in my head as I methodically flipped from station to station looking for a map with miraculously more blue numbers than red.
But now it is a different line that I paraphrase repeatedly as I begin to look reality and the present in its face. With a conscious nod to Joan Didion, I keep thinking "Slouching towards Bethlehem, slouching toward Bethlehem," and not in reference to a rough beast. No, I am repeating these words about myself.
And that's just the shit that stood out to me 2 days ago as I began drafting. He's done more since. He's busy, and he moves fast.
The hits just keep coming, and quickly. This rough beast isn't slouching toward Washington. He is racing, like the loosed tidal wave of blood in the first stanza. With the swiftness of innocence's drowning. With the passionate intensity of the falcon fleeing its falconer.
No, it is I who is slouching. Mine are the slow thighs. Mine is the rock-bound lurch toward action.
I’m not proud of this. And it’s true. I’m seeking through acknowledgement to move past it. I’m seeking through public confession to help others feeling the same moribund lethargy to move forward with me.
If you’re overwhelmed like I’m overwhelmed. If you’ve been slow to move like I’ve been slow to move. If you require motivation and direction like I’ve required them, then here, this is for us. It is a partial, but handy, list of actions to take to begin putting back together what has fallen apart.
Seek to Understand
1. Subscribe to and read reputable news sources.
That's right, I said subscribe. Pay for that shit. Fund the excellent journalism that will keep a critical eye on the president-elect, his people, and their decisions. This means reading newspapers that report based on evidence, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and, for me, The Seattle Times. Additionally, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Economist are excellent news magazines with great reputations for rigor and accuracy.
Part of understanding is helping others understand, too. Thus, don't share nonsense. I write this out of a sense of responsibility, not a sense of smugness, for I, too, have shared nonsense, been called on it, and apologized for being a momentary idiot. It's OK. Just 'fess up to your nonsense-sharing, learn the truth, apologize, and strive to do better.
Let's not be this lady. Let's encourage this lady to examine her sources, question them, and form an educated understanding based on facts and evidence.
Did you see the quick work the correspondent just did checking the claims made by her interviewees? That's the work we should all be doing. (It's also the reason by Fox News wasn't included in my list of reputable media sources above.)
1. Try your hardest to communicate compassionately and well with people you disagree with.
No, we don't want to be the woman in the above clip parroting nonsense on national television. But neither do we want to be the correspondent slapping her hand to her head in an act smacking dually of warranted frustration and public shaming.
Yes, it feels good to vent some anger through snark. (Believe me, as one blessed with both congenital sarcasm AND a gift for rage, I know how thrilling and relieving such expressions are.) And, no, it does nothing for bringing our divided nation together, winning hearts and minds, or disposing ears toward listening. Mockery divides. Listening, communicating, and informing unite.
We're supposed to go high. Shaming misinformed, ill-educated, possibly hoodwinked people for being misinformed, ill-educated, and hoodwinked is not going high. Teaching, talking, communicating, and listening is. It's hard to do when we're all (and I mean all - conservatives included) stewing in the trauma of the divided race, election, and nation. We can do hard things. It's worth doing this hard thing.
2. Work on your communication skills to raise the game.
I read the book Nonviolent Communication years ago when I was teaching. It's a good one. I've long since returned the copy I read to the library. It's time to buy one for repeated reference. Because I'm not giving up on talking to people who disagree with me, and neither should you. I'm not (mostly) going to slide into the easy release of mockery and sarcasm, and neither should you. We have work to do with people across the aisle, across the nation, across cultures and beliefs and misbeliefs. It's going to take more than clever disparagement to do that.
No time to read this book before you sit around the Christmas tree with relatives who you both love and know to be in stark disagreement with your core beliefs? Have a listen to this episode of the excellent podcast Note To Self about dealing with racist comments. The podcast is specifically about dealing with racist comments within your Facebook feed, but the LARA technique it outlines is great for turning most heated topics into productive conversations.
Like I said, this work isn't easy. But it's worth it.
This can feel scary. I know. When I first called my senators' offices to beg them to oppose Bannon's appointment, I completely flubbed my lines and basically wound up speaking like Frankenstein to the woman on the phone: "Bannon! Anti-Semite! MisogynistracistBAD! NO, NO, NO! ARRRRRRRRRGH!"
The woman on the phone laughed when I apologized for nervously flubbing my lines, took my name and zipcode, promised to pass along my message, and kindly wished me a good day.
See? You don't have to be particularly articulate, because the person who answers the phone is basically just going to verify that you're an actual constituent of the lawmaker you're calling, scribble the gist of your message, and get on with their day. You're just calling a person—a human being not unlike yourself—a person who, whether or not they agree with the words you're saying, is obligated to pass the general meaning of those words along to their boss. Easy.
Want a script to read from instead? They're all over the place. The Bustle has a handy article linking to a bunch of them. What's important here are not your exact words or your feelings of nervousness in calling. What is important is pressuring your elected officials into representing your values, needs, and beliefs as they do the job you elected them to do.
2. Donate, donate, donate.
When you call your representatives, you are being a good foot soldier. That is important. When you donate to the organizations who will be doing the lion's share of higher-level opposition, you are funding the generals. That, too, is vital.
It's going to be a long four years. We all have a lot of work to do, and no one more so than those working for the above organizations or organizations like them. Let's all chip in where and when we can.
It feels like adult critical thinking is at an all-time low, perhaps not just because we've been seduced into the bad habit of sharing nonsense among the echo chamber of our Facebook feeds. Let's brush up on our close reading and careful evaluation skills, shall we?
A good friend of mine keeps a copy of An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments in her powder room (which, frankly, is where most bad arguments belong, yes?). It is a clear, simple, comprehensive, and funny guide to logical fallacies with silly pictures. What could be better? I fully intend to buy myself a copy to keep myself sharp, and I also intend to gift it to friends and family. We could all use more critical thinking smarts, political friends and political foes alike.
It's time to wake up. It's time to lumber into action and gain momentum and speed with each successive step. Join me. Help me. Guide me. Add ideas and action plans to the comments, please. If we must first slouch, let us slouch together so that we may rise and quicken, grow and work together, too.