Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I recognized the feeling last night at bedtime, following the nomination of another extreme right-wing candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States, and this morning I woke with the same feeling: despair. We now have on our hands yet another battle that is almost sure to be lost by those of us who care about such things and which may, in the coming weeks, cost Democrats still more of the waning power to which they cling.

It's no use trying to pretend that the feeling is not there. I learned long ago that if you try to repress painful feelings they just show up in some other, potentially still more harmful form. Despair is the bleakest of feelings. It comes along, uninvited, when all hope is suctioned up into the void of everything we once believed immutable--including, now, the persistence of democracy in America. I struggle with this feeling, because I am adamant that I must not surrender to it; but it's a feeling that I find overwhelming at this moment, in view of the social and political maelstrom that embroils not only our country but, seemingly, the world--or at least that part of it we once presumed to call Western civilization.

We are governed by fear and anger. On the right, the success of the American right-wing in empowering itself over the past five decades has led to a kind of triumphalism that recognizes no bounds, no responsibility to others than the obscenely affluent who have engineered their rise with money. They currently wield power with unrestrained ruthlessness, drunk with the freedom they have gained to do literally anything they please, no matter the wishes of the majority of their fellow citizens or the damage to their country and the world. Their power derives from the fear and anger they have managed to generate amongst the very people who have been dispossessed by their success, paradoxically those who are most vulnerable to their policies of inordinate cynicism and greed.

On the left, we too are governed by fear and anger. Everything we value and hold dear has been trampled by the triumphalist right. We feel powerless even in the vote we cast, because we cast it knowing that the entire political system has been bought and sold, that the gerrymandering by (mostly) right-wing ideologues has assured the continuing cycle of election and reelection of often extreme right wing candidates, and that the legislative process itself has been gobbled up by the pervasive influence of lobbyists. We watch in dismay as those who represent our interests and priorities lose battle after battle because they, too, are powerless to halt the ruthless progress of what disguises (and sells) itself as "conservatism" but is in truth nothing more than an oligarchy that drives, more and more, toward fascism.

We are in fear and anger because we watch impotently as self-evident truth and scientific fact are trashed, in plain view, with impunity. We watch in impotent rage as victory after victory is snatched by tactics of unmitigated bullying and greed. We watch in fear for everything we stand to lose in this onslaught on our sense of decency and fairness, and our most basic human rights. (I think, here, of the assault on women's reproductive freedom; of the treatment of so many of our fellow human beings seeking asylum from the threat of slavery, torture, or death; and indeed, of our own citizens of color).

This is my problem: I watch as the surfeit of fear and anger lures me ever closer to despair. The endless battle and its endless disappointments wear me down and wear me out. My greatest desire, on waking in the morning, is to throw up my hands and abjure responsibility for what I see happening all around me. The last thing I want is to be sitting here, typing these words into my laptop. I have lived for long enough, I tell myself, to have earned some respite from the fray.

I suspect there are many as close to despair as I am. I spoke yesterday to a once-active friend who has packed it all in. He sounded happy, relieved by his decision to remove himself from all political action, turn off the television, ignore the news, drop out of the social network. I have heard the same from others, who find it all too much, too deeply disturbing to their psychological and psychic well-being. Some have already abandoned ship. Others cling despondently to the railings.

It's hard to argue with the ones who opt out of this mess, especially when I'm so powerfully tempted to do the same. The feeling of despair keeps coming back, and any reasonable assessment of our situation only reinforces it.

And yet, and yet... to give in to the despair we justly feel is not the answer. The hope is in the long view. I hear people say that "America is better than this," and I want to believe this to be true because statistics show that a majority of Americans agree with me on every issue of importance. The thing to do is to acknowledge the feeling, because to continually be in conflict with it is a waste of energy. No amount of struggle will remove it. Acknowledge it, then, and still, despite--no, because of--this dreadful feeling, get on with the work that I alone can do: I write these words, I post them, I invite people to read and perhaps to share them. And urge everyone who happens upon them to get on with the work that they alone can do.

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