Welcome to “What’s Next?”

Rationally, I know the stacks of boxes inhabiting my living room have books in them, but right now they seem to contain the wonder of continuing time. I guess I’m still moving. I guess life is still… going on. I know so many people who are more afraid now. I know I’m more afraid now, in ways I never expected to be afraid.

I never thought the patriarchal imperative was done with us, but I hoped as hard as I could that we had the momentum to truly make a dent. The thing is, even with this result, I still believe we did. More first-time voters cast their ballots for Clinton than for Trump. The problem is not that she lost. The problem is that he won. The problem is he exploited ideological and cognitive dissonances and convinced people to think, despite all the evidence in front of them, despite huge holes in his plans and a critical mass failure of basic human decency, that he could somehow “save” their country. A country that’s been doing increasingly well and is (…was…) on track to do better.

He, well. He lied. He lied so much, and so graphically, and with such bludgeoning precision. I turn now to our own Cassandra, Aaron Sorkin, writing over twenty years ago:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.
The American President

Or you call her “crooked.” Apparently “crooked” also works. Weirdly enough, this is exactly what just happened. Except the President’s girlfriend was also the President’s wife, and the nominee for President. Do you think Aaron gets tired of being right all the time? (P.S., Aaron, you didn’t think to specify “white middle age, middle class, middle income voters.” The 2016 electorate fixed that for you.)

I am, for myself, convinced that Donald Trump believes the hateful things he says, and that he knows what he’s doing when he uses racist and misogynistic rhetoric.

With that being said, it’s pretty clear by now that Trump wants to win more than anything. He doesn’t want to govern. He wants to lead, in the sense that he thinks leaders are always understood to be right, have all the best toys, and get salutes and cheers when they walk into a room. His personal vision for America most likely contains nothing more than being the president of it. He’ll probably go down in history as the Great Delegator, simply because he doesn’t have the attention span or the desire to do any actual work. All he’s wanted this entire time was to put his name on a country. That’s where the danger comes in. It’s easy to get close to men like Donald Trump, to wield tremendous economic and social power through them. I’m afraid of the people who decide to do that. I’m afraid of why they might decide to do that, and what their vision is.

I believe in progress and humanity. Cynically. Grimly. I can make trouble. I can reflect the world. There’s some defiant comfort in knowing I’m a queer Jewish woman who has a rudimentary grasp of statistics and can write a coherent sentence. It means I can be a threat. For now I’m still safer, practically speaking, than so many people put in jeopardy by this horrifying development. So for me, for anyone with more privilege, it is even more important that we work for others and support the work that is already going on.

As Jews, we’re supposed to engage in acts of justice, of lovingkindness, to do the work in whatever way we can of repairing the world. “Repairing the world” as instruction contains the understanding that the world is broken. But in a compassionate way, without inviting complete despair. We’re only ever working with pieces of the whole that might have been.  You know, throughout history, we have always been there. The artists. The queers. The challengers. The accusers. The ones who say “This isn’t good enough, let’s do something else.” His election, that is supposed to (and can in no way) bring “change,” is a frantic reaffirmation of a status quo built on false foundations that so many people have worked to dismantle for decades, for hundreds of years.

That work is not erased. It is still going on. Trump isn’t going to stop it. He isn’t even going to slow it down. He is just going to make its necessity more obvious to this country and the world.

Something else Aaron Sorkin wrote has been getting a lot of airtime in the last, so help us all, less than twenty-four hours.

“What’s next?”

It’s a familiar refrain if you watch The West Wing. Those two words are a magic spell to bridge the widest gaps between what you think of as reality, and what’s really going on. They are used by the President to indicate he’s done with a subject, and that it’s time to move on. The phrase is sacred to the show. It is used, most significantly, by a man after fourteen hours of intensive surgery to repair gunshot wounds to his chest. He whispers them twice, too faintly to be heard the first time. He was shot by a white nationalist as part of a plot to kill a young black man for dating the white President’s daughter.

The greatest threats to this country have always come from within.

I think, in context, we’re supposed to admire him for not wanting to linger in the pain of the event. And we’re not yet through our fourteen hours of surgery.

But I think it’s important to remember, as I keep asking what’s next with every possible inflection, that this election season did not create these problems. Decades of the erosion of voting laws, gerrymandering, and stoking social resentment while aggressively pandering to corporations whether or not they kept their jobs in the US created this situation. This election season revealed how deep and violent racial antipathy runs to those of us who grew up privileged enough to still feel a thread of surprise along with our rising dread last night. But we were so close to Hillary Rodham Clinton being our next president. We were so close.

We will have to be our better angels. We will have to turn it back. But we were never free from that obligation in the first place. It just seemed as if the path would be easier for a while, maybe, and now it’s definitely going to be so much harder.

I am afraid of what the next few years are going to bring. But we’re closer than we were this morning to an America in which Donald Trump isn’t the president.

Surviving is resistance. Holding your joy and your love and yes, your despair and your anger as well, that is resistance.

If you are tired now, it is all right. If you can’t think about fighting for a day, or a week, or if this is too much on top of the rest of your life, it is all right. Be as safe and as well as you can. Make the plans you have to. I am here if you need help. I won’t leave you behind in my writing or in my heart. I’m only one person, but no one of us is alone.

This is what’s next.

Some further reading:

A twitter thread. Long, but basically required reading at this point.

President Shepherd’s final speech from The American President.

The CNN exit polling information.

Roxane Gay’s 2am oped for the Times. 

SJ Rozan, a mystery author, on where we go from here.

Dear Queer America, by Noah Michelson.

A message from the principal of a Jewish day school on how to talk to children about this. As an adult, I found it comforting.

A poem, “Rend the Heavens,” that I always find inspiring even though I am not religious that way.


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