Promises to myself if Trump wins

As part of my preparations for Trump’s likely electoral victory in a few weeks, I am making some promises to myself about how I will ride through the shock, doing my best to survive it. I share these should you want to adapt them for your own benefit.

(This follows plans laid out in an earlier post, but I wrote that before I decided to start assuming the worst in this regard. A revisit seemed in order.)

  • I promise to stay calm. I have started this already by dialing down my caffeine intake; I last week swore off my usual breakfast espressos after realizing that, as of recently, they make me feel paralyzed with hopelessness for hours. (Drip coffee is okay.)

    As the weeks go on, I will do whatever else I need to do in order to stay calm enough to adhere to the rest of these promises.

  • I will accept my feeling sad and scared. Corollary: I will accept my friends and family feeling sad and scared, too.

    I felt a raised baseline level of anger throughout the George W. Bush years, and many of my friends and colleagues did too. We lived with it. I expect that the tone of a Donald J. Trump presidency to primarily engender anxious fear rather than frustrated anger. We will have to live with it.

  • Internal resistance: I will not give in to despair or nihilism. Giving up represents by far the easiest path to take, a constant temptation. Not giving up will take work. Some days it will take more work than other days. I promise to put in the effort.

    Corollary: If my friends and family start teetering towards the edge, I will help pull them back. I need them.

  • External resistance: I will seek out movements keeping American good alive. America under Trump will be a kleptocracy at best, and at worst a super-villain committing atrocities on a scale unique to human history. I expect something in between: years of inept, purely reactionary leadership, whose neglect of law and policy at every level causes suffering and injustice at home and abroad.

    I know that many, many Americans will not simply accept this state of affairs. I will look not only to my friends, but also to American political leaders, journalists, and other public figures who will openly take a stand against their country embracing evil. I accept that life might become very dangerous for the most visible of these leaders, and I will support them and add my voice to theirs as much as I can.

  • I will keep doing what I love. I realize this might become difficult, especially if various government services that I and people close to me depend upon start to diminish or fail under the Trump administration’s abuses. I suppose I’ll do my best to adapt, if I need to. But I take definition from what I love doing, and I cannot let myself lose that.

I saw “Live Justice”

Last weekend, almost exactly a year after seeing John Hodgman perform his “Vacationland” stand-up show in Boston, my partner and I revisited the same theater to see “Live Justice”, a touring, on-stage edition of Judge John Hodgman. I have written plenty in the past about my years-long admiration for this podcast, and everything transferred to a live experience fantastically well. The show featured a handful of format adjustments to turn it from an ordinary episode (as the podcast’s producers do indeed record it) into an evening of entertainment, including musical interludes by Juliana Hatfield and a “Swift Justice” segment of rapid-fire hearings in between the two full-length feature cases.

I’d written last year that as much as I enjoyed Hodgman delivering scripted comic monologues, I missed the oddly intimate spontaneity of his judicial persona as he helped real-life people navigate through various of life’s lesser disputes. I don’t feel in the least bad or pandered to that I got exactly what I wanted a year later. We had a great time.

A couple of observations particular to the live experience:

The context of a thousand ticket-holding people watching the cases in person, rather than a scattered and time-shifted podcast audience hearing a Skype conversation among a few people, made the atmosphere feel just a bit more fraught than I would have expected. I fidgeted a little during at least a couple of moments.

The evening’s first featured case involved a disagreement within a young husband-and-wife couple over her enormous shoe collection. The topic cozied with certain stereotypes all by itself, and the addition of hundreds of entertainment-hungry eyes in the same room threatened to shift the show’s normally light-hearted framing of “internet justice” into something more sinister. Hodgman seemed aware of this — though I don’t know if he prepared for it or realized it on the fly — and to my eye steered the case away from becoming overcharged.

(I fully admit I might not have noticed had he not admitted his discomfort with the case once it ended. He asked Juliana Hatfield, while she set up her gear, whether she enjoyed watching — in so many words — a bunch of men discussing the size of a woman’s shoe collection while she sat under hot stage lights. Despite his misgivings, I think he stuck the landing perfectly.)

Of the four litigants involved in the two featured cases, two were people of color. I thought that pretty great, especially since I’d pigeonhole Judge John Hodgman as a very “white” entertainment, if I had to. (The cases are screened and vetted well ahead of time, so props as appropriate to the show’s producers.)

On that note, having correctly and respectfully guessed one litigant’s intercultural heritage based on the nature of evidence submitted (her enjoyment of a comfort-food specific to India), the judge later made a rare misstep by beginning a case-wrapping monologue with “You come from a land where…” Her deadpanned “I’m from Lowell” brought the house down. Hodgman accepted this moment gracefully, dropped that particular subject, and moved on.

Aging advice: Learn to say “What?” selectively

Probably due to plain old aging, my hearing — or, perhaps, my hearing comprehension specifically — has become poorer in recent years. I find this most noticeable in conversation, as I fail to understand utterances made in my direction with increasing frequency.

I’ve tried to describe what it sounds like from my end, but as with many subjective experiences I find it strangely not possible. The closest I’ve managed: it’s a bit like the first and last consonants of words drop out of reach, even though at the same time I know I heard them. No, that doesn’t make a great deal of objective sense.

I have at least noticed it much more likely to happen with unexpected communication, particularly if I don’t happen to face the speaker at that moment. As such, I’ve learned to simply adjust my facing when when I ask for a statement to be repeated, and that helps. But here is another adjustment I have made: I’ve learned to ask for repeats less often.

For a while, I would aggressively say “What?” all the time, and got to point where I started aggravating myself with how much like a cranky old man I sounded because I didn’t want to let a single statement go past my person without my full comprehension. But over time, and perhaps informed by my embrace of a philosophy to not read every single social-media update I can, I eased into a less completionist stance.

If it seems from context that a given utterance does not require immediate attention for processing and then response, then I’ll make an educated guess as to its broad content based on what I could make out, and what I know of the speaker and the situation we presently find ourselves in. If my guess seems to call for a response, I’ll make a stab at it. I will otherwise let it go.

I don’t claim to be perfect at this, and certainly I hit false positives now and again. But such mistakes make their presence known in short order, and then I need only turn to face the speaker and apologetically ask them to repeat the question. So far, I find the need to do this every so often far more pleasant than earhorning “Eh?” countless times daily.

Be prepared for a Trump victory

I don’t title this post “Prepare for a Trump victory” because even though I prefer using the active voice, I realized with mild interest that a statement beginning “Prepare for” implies inevitability, where “Be prepared for” dials it down to conceivable possibility. At the time of my writing this, that latter describes the situation my country — and therefore the world — faces regarding the likelihood of Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election.

I want to do everything I can to survive this if it happens, and I want everyone I care about to survive it too. As such, I advise you to not only not assume a Clinton victory, but to make active preparations for experiencing the shock of Trump’s election, and then adjusting to the new reality of life afterwards.

I rather expect the interval between Trump’s election and inauguration to feel like sitting trapped on a malfunctioning jetliner as it slopes its way downward into terrain — except worse in a way, the horror lasting not for minutes but for weeks. I feel certain my own sympathetic nervous system would scream for escape the whole time, heedless of the lack of anything to escape from, nowhere else to go.

So: I have started settling myself on the assumption that a Trump election will happen. If incorrect, I will bask, briefly, in the sweetest relief. Otherwise, steeling myself ahead of time will — I hope — let me avoid profoundly damaging myself by stretching over entire months the bodily systemic shock of a flight-or-fight reaction meant to last only moments.

History, I expect, would look on Trump’s inauguration as an impact event. Chaos would follow at national and global scales, starting with the election and rising to a crescendo in January. I fully expect markets worldwide to spontaneously crater at least as much as they did in 2008, and remain there. Racist violence may erupt across America and elsewhere as white nationalists, feeling both empowered and protected, hear the call to swell in numbers and take to the streets, seeking catharsis.

I would anticipate Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, to engage in an orgy of arson, using the opportunity of a diminished Supreme Court and a nihilist executive to reverse all the accomplishments of Trump’s hated predecessor. Obamacare, the Paris climate agreement, anything else they can get their hands on: gone. That they’d have nothing to replace them with wouldn’t matter. They wouldn’t care about improving the country, not even pleasing their constituents or PACs. They would focus solely on blotting out Obama’s legacy with the same fervor that victors in the ancient world would gouge out the depicted faces of fallen rulers from royal bas-reliefs.

All this horror, all the suffering, confusion, and death it may cause, would prove a short-term seismic shift leading to a new, permanent reality for all Americans that I won’t try predicting or describing. From that point, a lot would depend on what kind of president Trump chooses to be. Perhaps he will try to actively govern, attempting to spitball his way through global leadership the way he did while campaigning. I find it more likely he’d grow irritated and bored and throw the wheel to Vice-President Pence within months, whether through a formal resignation or willingly turning himself into a figurehead.

Either way, life will continue, and so must we. I know it sounds really hard from this side of the curtain. I feel very scared and nervous about it. Already in this experiment, I feel the tug to give in to hopelessness, to just stop and sink into inertia. But we have to stay together in creativity and resistance, if we don’t all want to tumble down into darkness, and I believe that preparedness for disaster — together — has to play a role in that. And that needs to start today.

A eulogy

Text I read at my mother’s funeral:

I had originally planned on reading the obituary I’d written for the newspapers, but changed my mind, since it copied a great deal of text from the obituary I wrote for my father three years ago. This was because I have never known a couple who approached life with such a totality of partnership in all things as my parents.

My father happened to leave first, so for him I wrote the things that I read here three years ago: how he dedicated his latter decades to property management, and left beautiful homes up and down the east coast as his mark. I realized now I should have written the plural “they” and not “he”, a mistake I corrected when I had to lightly edit the article last week for his wife’s sake.

Dorothy defined herself so much as half of the person that she and Richard made that, towards the end of her life, when nurses and old-folks homes asked me about her hobbies and interests, all I could say was: I don’t know — talking? When she did have to act as an individual, she retreated easily behind a veneer of storytelling. As I grew up I came to realize that most of her stories were baloney, so much that I really have no accurate notion about her own past and probably never will.

But that was never important. She always used her talent for storytelling out of love: either to help boost the confidence of a loved one, or to cement friendships, or to make new friends entirely.

Were you her child, and had trouble with a bully at school, she might confide in you that she’d spoken to the superintendent about it, and he agreed in secret that the other kid was a little jerk. Or, if you felt doubt about your wardrobe, she’d let you know that she just saw a TV news report about how bright green slacks for boys are super-fashionable right now, and that the other kids, aware of this, surely stared at you out of silent admiration.

Were you a stranger, she would ask where you were from, and — wouldn’t you know it! Her college roommate was from the very same place, can you believe that? And she’d carry on an easy conversation about it, letting you fill in the details yourself because you loved this strange lady even if you didn’t realize it yet and you really wanted her to like you too.

And everyone she did ensorcel in this way would know her husband too, because they were never apart, at least not during my own lifetime. Far more often than “Richard” or “Dorothy” would their friends call them “Dick-and-dottie”, the four-syllable name of a single person.

We had to say goodbye to this person three years ago, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Dorothy alone lost something far too profound to continue as anyone knew her. There really never was a Dorothy alone, after all.

For the rest of my own days, while I will time and again flash on an earthy joke my dad told, or have reason to recall one of my mother’s beautiful and winding absurdities, I know I will remember my parents less as two individuals than as a single partnership, a model of love for one another and for all the world around them that I can only aspire to.

I read: Ruins

Graphic novel by Peter Kuper, discovered by my partner at Newport Public Library. A swift and pleasant read, with a thin story but a lush depiction of finding oneself falling in love with an initially foreign culture, ever deeper, by layers.

In this case, the main characters are an American couple, a man and a woman, visiting Oaxaca, Mexico, and its surrounding countryside (which includes the titular remains of pre-Colombian cities). She seeks to recapture something she feels she left behind during a youthful visit; he, recently laid off and feeling rootless, passively joins her. But while the woman’s search ostensibly drives the plot, I found the man’s story more interesting.

When they first arrive, he can’t speak the language (as she can), feels nervous about traveling anywhere, and is even scared of the feral dog that hangs around their rented house. Bit by bit, though, while his wife busies herself with her quest (a story Kuper renders in parallel), the man — without necessarily intending it — begins a months-long process of personal assimilation. He befriends Anglophonic immigrants, who start to tell him more about the area, making it suddenly less than completely alien to him. This leads to his asking their live-in housekeeper to teach him rudimentary Spanish, and this leads in turn to his getting to know the neighborhood’s life-long inhabitants. Months after his arrival, he drives like a native, has become politically active, and otherwise starts throwing down roots in the last place he expected to.

I think the author meant the woman’s story to seem at least as compelling, but I found it rather one-note, serving mainly to background the man’s transformation. But the book is short, and I enjoyed how it applied a breezily colorful art style to its take of personal-scale political and artistic awakenings in the faraway land next door. The afterword suggests that the book, while fictional in its particulars, springs from the American author’s own experiences learning to love Oaxaca, so it stands to reason that these would translate into its strongest elements. I liked it.