In which I blow up my own neutrality
I have tried, very hard, to keep this page non-political, at least in the capital-P US electoral politics sense. I know it’s a cliche by now, but I really do still have friends (and family!) on both sides, and I don’t ever want anyone to not be able to read my work.
This morning, I read the news, and then the Heather Cox Richardson recap of the news, again, one more time before the election, and I can’t do that anymore.
So thank you, Aunt Wanda, for the grits, and the hugs, and the insight. I hope you’ll talk to me again after the election, one way or the other.
Don’t tell Gramma.
I want to start by saying that I get it, I really do.
I grew up in rural Ohio, one of the flyoverest of the flyover states. I was poor, and the eldest daughter of a liberal family whose mother’s pride and freedom and intense brokenness led to my siblings and I growing up on foodstamps with a pedophile stepfather. I resented her for years.
And I’ve worked hard, and in a lot of industries, to get where I am today. I’m lucky. I’ve been lucky, but it’s easy not to see that, to just see the ways that I worked hard and other people didn’t and so why can’t they just work harder, do what I did?
It’s easy to look at people who aren’t doing as well and say “they’re lazy.” It’s easy to look at people who are doing better and say “they worked hard.”
But the truth isn’t easy.
The truth is: right now the United States is run by a lot of rich people and people who want to be rich, and they mostly don't care what happens to you or me or anyone so they can get there.
And I know a lot, a LOT of people who’ve worked hard all their lives wanted Donald Trump for president because they felt like the country was heading in the wrong direction, an immoral, fiscally irresponsible, unreasonable direction, and they wanted someone who would make life hard for the people (federal politicians) who put us there. President Trump was a weapon for people who felt marginalized and left out of culture and politics to hit the government with a stick.
Hell, I didn’t vote for him last time, and part of me still kinda hoped that was true. Tariffs? Economic protections? Clean out the halls of Congress?
But he played them. He played us. Donald Trump is the biggest wannabe rich, wannabe famous, wannabe powerful guy of them all. He never had the skills to govern, just the drive to get ahead and the cruelty and creepy connections to make it happen.
Which is lots of people, right? Lots of politics on all levels is about what the government and the people it serves can do for politicians.
But Donald Trump is also sick (pretty sure he's got dementia, he talks like my demented Gramma, and I have been listening since the beginning, it's progressing), and he's greedy, and he's not only not interested in the nitty-gritty or the touchy-feely parts of governing, these days he's looking pretty incapable of governing overall. And he is still at above 40% approval, because he's a master at telling people what they want to hear, and he tells them he's doing what they sent him there to do.
He has the best healthcare in the world, and so he got over Covid in a week after treatments you and I can’t get that would cost a million dollars if we could get them, and he’s having rallies with hundreds of people every day that are spreading a virus he says isn’t a problem.
I am having trouble this weekend. Everything is coming to a head, after a whole summer of things coming to a head, after a whole decade of things coming to a head. We’re in a pimple on top of a pimple, a roiling boil, cubed.
I have been reading the news like 1) there’s something new to see there and 2) like they’re going to outlaw it. Only one of those things is true. Which one is anybody’s guess.
And I’ve been starting and putting down this article for months; it keeps getting longer, but no more coherent.
It’s sitting in the way of other things I would like to write, though, so I will push on.
You may read on if you like. Apologies in advance for the TL:DR.
Donald Trump is a monster, and he is losing this election.
We are all seeing the end result of a system where one side, the bigger side, is kind. There are a great number of people in this country, the majority of people in this country, who want nothing more than a fair shot and the ability to make their way.
The problem here is that the other side is monsters.
These are people who, for whatever reason, got the message very early that the only thing that mattered in life was what you could grab. That you were better than other people, yes, but more importantly you were only as much better than other people as you could prove you were.
That there was an elite, and that you were the elite, and that to be at the top of the elite you had to do unto other people.
That the proof of who was on top and who wasn’t was how you treated other people, and that the best and default way to do this was to treat them badly.
You may recognize this argument. The headline is something I saw in Shakesville years ago, when I still read Shakesville, long before it was over, even long before I stopped reading it.
The Atlantic had a similar article earlier this month.
Not to mention, the idea that some people are just cruel, that they want to treat others badly, that they take power because something in them is broken and use it to hit us with is something that’s been fed to us since we were born.
And some of us taste that, and find it bitter, as we are meant to. We have softer hearts, gentler thoughts, and we don’t want to hurt people, and so we turn away from the exercise of great power. If all politicians are crooked, people who do not want to be crooked will not be politicians. If power is corrupt, the honorable will not seek it.
And people who want power will buy in.
They will do the terrible things, writ large or writ small, that get them power. They will commit to doing the things that make them powerful enough. They will live lives that make them powerful enough.
Enough for what? you ask
Enough for anything.
Enough for everything.
Enough to be safe.
I think (and I have no evidence of this except the evidence of a vulnerable heart) that all these people, every one of them, each sick, terrible, unjust, incomprehensible one of them, just wants to feel powerful enough for safety.
The problem? To get that kind of power in this broken society you must do terrible things. You must see terrible acts performed on people, and you must perform them yourself. The more powerful you want to be, the worse you have to be — to climb the ladder is to climb on the heads and arms and bones of those below you. If you are successful and wish to climb higher, you must then do the same to your fellows.
I may be missing something: this may not be true for every rich, powerful, famous person. It is damn sure true for a lot of them.
The rich are frightened. They’ve lived lives to protect their tender hearts by surrounding them with spikes and acid traps. They’ve devoured everything around their fortress to try to keep out the danger caused by the other high-society people doing the same, and worse, the teeming masses of poor. They’ve lived lives of being terrified of the poor and of punishing the poor for that fear, and then of taking whatever they can to shore themselves up against this horde of devouring poor who will take all they have and eat it, like cartoon locusts, leaving our rich protagonists wearing barrels to hide their nakedness.
And our president, Donald J. Trump, has lived such a life. He is a sucking void that wants to eat the sky.
He spent most of his time in the halls of economic and social power — finance, real estate, and the glitterati of reality television fame — rather than politics, but the way he and his family have acted since he got into office and onto all of our radar only confirms that it’s the same thing.
All these people who stand up in front of us and say they’re terrible, say they’re mean, but it’s only because they have to protect us from the other terrible mean people that want to hurt us? Say that the other side is worse?
They’re not interested in protecting us. They’re only protecting themselves.
Remember, the vast majority of the people in this country and on this planet are kind at heart. It is possible that many people who are powerful are truly kind, although I am not always smart enough to tell which ones.
When you are kind, it can be very hard to tell who is cruel, until they unmask themselves.
Once that happens, it can be hard to believe that you ever saw them as kind, but remember that you were fooled because you are kind.
I do know that our current president is not kind. He tells you himself that he is not kind. He has no interest in being kind.
He says he will keep you safe. He says his opponent will NOT keep you safe.
He has been president for 4 years now.
How safe do you feel?