Sunday, December 18, 2016

Existential

Had a lovely brunch today with some old friends, including my erstwhile Mexican housemate V, who became a mother just a few weeks ago.

V's husband was surprised that we spent nearly three hours without ever discussing the president-elect. Me too. But talking about him is precisely what fuels the Trompe. And yet, how can one not? All bets for the future are off, and history of the most dramatic deadly sort seems about to come rushing in. I've started each class since the election by writing NO BUSINESS AS USUAL on the board, but even that has started to seem an acquiescence, a normalization. What to do? How to be?

For a while now people have been describing DDT as an "existential threat." That's a way of saying that he is qualitatively, not just quantitatively, different from any crooked leader we've had before, that his brazen disdain for the principles and processes of our democracy represents an unprecedented danger to it. That he will knock out years of progress in becoming a more perfect union. He's the free rider problem pur. It's existential for democrats (not just Democrats) because the ways we understand citizenship - upholding the principles and processes, most impressively in ensuring "smooth transitions" between regimes - seems to play into his hands. And yet what else can we do? Join him in trashing the common good? He loves our distress, feeds on chaos and acts of desperation.

I was sleepless last night at the breath-taking bad faith of his claimed mandate, and his using it to assemble a cabinet of hired assassins. Even had his win been as big as he claims (should there be any doubt that it wasn't, see the Times article from which this diagram is taken),
he wouldn't be entitled to take a wrecking ball to the whole system. As though it didn't matter who people actually voted for, or would have had they been able. As though it's not about being for, by and of the whole people. (I know, it's not just him; as demonstrated most conspicuously in North Carolina, the Republican party has been playing foul for years, content and confirmed as a minority ruling party.)

The phrase that came to me, a refrain, a plaint, a plea, was this: "It's not yours." America's not yours to play with, not yours to squander, not yours to upend.

This grew to encompass more than the shameless claim of a mandate in this election. To him and those happy to join his administration of thugs: it's not yours. The achievements of past governments (for instance in working out an international order, citizen protections and environmental responsibility) aren't yours to mock, mangle and monetize.

It kept growing. To those who supported him hoping he would restore a white America: it's not yours. America's never been white - though those who profited from the expropriation of land, the genocide, and formal and informal enslavement of peoples, were. Whitewashing that history is the surest guarantee of further injustice.

And more, thinking of those who will die because of feckless resistance to climate science, not only human but other-than-human: it's not yours. This land (and this planet) belong to all its denizens, we late-arriving balance-destroying last of all.

And finally, thinking again of the impunity of the wealthy, the dismal feeling that DT and his cronies and fellow travelers will get away with it: it's not yours. Nothing can be yours or mine, not in the exploitative winner-take-all way you understand. As the anarchist Proudhon said, all property is theft! Or as Pope Francis reminds us Christians are supposed to believe, everything is but a trust given us by God for the common good - a good not restricted to the powerful, the "smart," even the human.

It adds up to an existential crisis for me not just because of the tawdry timeliness of our trickster tyrant but because, of course, I'm addressed by many of these it's not yours accusations too. Prosperous and privileged enough not to be losing sleep every night over the widening horror, I have a special responsibility to live out the decency our leader-to-be lacks.

If the desperate, the duped and the cunning think responsibility for and to the common good is for losers, then lose I must. And I must learn from this how many others have lost so much more and for so much longer. And I must do what I can to restore and rebuild the trust and truthfulness, the fair play and generosity and humility, the celebration of our unprecedented plurality without which our ideals are meaningless.

Perhaps by the time V's daughter is old enough to make sense of things, we'll be on our way to living more fully, more consciously, more responsibly and joyfully into it's ours.

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