This year, I lost my grandfather. I reckoned with the possibility that my thousand-page novel is a failure that could push me toward surrendering my vocation for a more useful line of work. And in Trump, I have watched the equivalent of a maniac locking himself in my centuries-old family home, and using my great-great-grandmother’s cello to smash everything in the house. I have never felt so ineffective in my life.
If you’re like me, you’re tired. Even just perceived ineffectiveness is exhausting. And honestly, I don’t even know if I’ll stay awake until midnight. But I also know that those who oppose us—both personally and politically—want us to be tired. They want us to perceive our ineffectiveness. And as far as Trump is concerned, I deeply believe he breaks some things in that house, just because it harms us to do so.
So, in pondering all this, I’ve begun to treat it as a kind of depression. People call depression the noonday demon, and I suppose this is because depression can possess. Or at the very least, it can dispossess us of our best sense of self. And in this case, I think our best sense resides in our identity as Americans. That is, we are people who live in a functional democracy where the will of the majority matters. We are educated folk who live in a reality where facts matter. We build our entire justice system on the basis of reason and proof. But suddenly we are at the hands of a government who has abandoned those things, and we’re left wondering where the justice will come from now. We have a president and a Congress who, say in passing a wildly unpopular tax law, have asserted time and again that the majority doesn’t matter. More than that, the facts don’t matter. And all that seems to matter is strength and deceit.
But I’m here to tell you that this is the lie. Despite what they tell us, we are effective. We have sustained an investigation that may well lead to impeachment. We have stopped a bigoted sexual criminal from holding power in Alabama. We continue to punch holes through Trump’s travel ban. We have built no wall. We have seen our states implement laws that address climate change, even when Trump will not. We’ve seen our cities designate themselves as immigration sanctuaries. We’ve seen businesses—from Cards Against Humanity to 84 Lumber—plant their flag against xenophobia. We’ve donated more to the ACLU than ever before. On television, we devote hours and hours to truth telling. We publish whole magazines that criticize Trump—and I’m talking about TIME, sure, but also Business Insider and the Economist. By our talking, by our writing, and by our comedy, we provoke Trump to lie—which is to say we provoke him to squirm—and that means, dearies, that we are effective. Don’t listen to those who tell you otherwise. That’s how they take hold.
Keep writing; you never know who’s reading. I say this both to you and to myself. Once, a little Russian bot showed up one of my posts. Another time, a Trumpite threatened me physical harm. Both times, I whooped with vindication. If nothing else—if nothing else ever—someone acknowledged the fact of my own resistance. Keep reading; the bad news pelts us to the point where it’s easy to turtle up, but the truth is in the details—which means that justice is in the details—and anyway, our opponents eschew details in favor of the propagandist’s slogan, and we cannot let them control the conversation. Keep reading scripture. Please. It doesn’t matter if you believe it– because our opponents do. It matters to them more than fact. Their interpretation of it is more self-serving than it is comprehensive—and this means that if you argue it with any ability at all, you can maybe change minds. Keep marching. There’s an impeachment demonstration on Jan. 20. Keep active. One of the advantages of our facing such widespread threats, is that we don’t have to look hard to find ways to be of use. Work in a soup kitchen, or a phone bank, or a legal aid group. Speak up at work. Write—again, write. Especially if you live in a conservative area, write letters to the editor. Use what you’re good at. Grab something and pull. You’ll keep from feeling ineffective this way. You’ll warm yourself with your own light. And that means you won’t get as tired while you fight.
The grandfather I lost: He was an American history teacher. He was, among other things, a corpsman on a medical ship during WWII. When he wrote his master’s thesis, he was such an advocate for African American rights that his readers thought he was black himself. One of the last things he gave me was a check—of $100—to “go help the Indians” at Standing Rock. The man fought for his country. And I believe that to honor him—and those millions like him—we have to fight too, in 2017 and 2018, and probably right on up until our grandkids remember what we did. They will remember what we did. So keep doing.
I admit that despite all this, there’s a part of me that would risk basic human ingratitude to say, “Begone, 2017, and take your stink with you.” And maybe, for reasons both shared and personal, you’d say the same. We’d probably also agree that a new month of a new year won’t so much change anything. Broken things won’t reassemble—and Trump won’t turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, no matter how much we hope. But I like the idea of renewal just the same: Something that rolls over in the night—something as smooth and cool and whole as the moon. Tonight, for as late as I stay up, I’ll remember you, my friends. I’ll give you the kiss of hope and peace. You and I are still here. And those of us who aren’t still urge us—now more than ever—to carry the fight.
(Originally posted December 31, 2017)