If the midterms were a test of character, we failed it.
Although voters turned up en masse at polling stations, we as a nation did a half-hearted job. Is that the best we could do amidst voter suppression and gerrymandering? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we should pat ourselves on the back either just yet. We barely got a pass, not an A+.
I wasn’t optimistic about the outcome of the midterms, I had a deep sense of foreboding, the same hunch I had when Trump ran for president. Only things have gotten immeasurably worse in the last two years. Our civil liberties are being eroded piecemeal. Brett Kavanaugh is safely ensconced in the Supreme Court. The army is putting up barbed wire on the southern border. Immigration rules are getting tightened. Citizens from certain countries are banned from entering the U.S.
And despite all of the above, the Senate remains under Republican control.
Then again, is our collective failure to nip authoritarianism in the bud down to not knowing what we’re dealing with?
If something has never happened before, it doesn’t preclude it from happening now.
This is the point in the story where I must tell you that I am a French immigrant to the U.S. and explain that I also come from immigrants. Where I come from, the evils of fascism are drilled into us at school so we may never forget. Many people my age have relatives who fought or perished at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. Some of us are also descended from people who fled to France from elsewhere.
(Yes to all in my case, only no one perished. Instead, my grandpa spent the war as a POW in forced labor camps. He was moved often, too. His time in captivity was a grand tour of the worst of human nature. This horror was transmitted to his eldest son — my father — who, to this day, can recite my grandpa’s entire WWII itinerary. Let’s just say that never again/nie wieder is something that runs through our veins. I never could commit the itinerary to memory myself but I went to university to study German instead. Same idea.)
This is relevant because I’m still aghast America is the place my history books chose to come back to life. When I started talking about this, people told me I was being paranoid. It gives me no pleasure to have seen it coming when I wanted nothing more than to be wrong. I still rage at American exceptionalism and the folks who continue to delude themselves with this mythology of greatness. To me, acting like you’re better than anyone else means that you believe yourself to be infallible.
Alas, there’s ample evidence to the contrary, and much as I’d like to offer some words of hope, hope is useless without action. We owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest otherwise we don’t stand a chance of getting out of this mess.
Admitting we could have pushed harder in the midterms is the first step, eating a generous slice of humble pie is the second.
So where do we go from here, how do we keep ourselves safe and make it through the next two years?
Safety is what concerns me most as a great many of us are under threat and vulnerable. If you’re not a well-off cis het white dude insulated by wealth, you need to worry. There isn’t a single person I know I have the luxury of not worrying about. Not one, and I must include myself and my husband, too.
I’m luckier than most as I have one trick up my sleeve, and there are increasing chances I will use it because safety is everything. As is health, and America has been keeping me sick. (I’ve been too cash-strapped to afford therapy for major depressive disorder despite having insurance. This means I lost five years of my life after being completely incapacitated.)
This trick is my other passport and my language skills. Chances are we’ll be on our way out come 2020, because why have an unpleasant life here when you could have a semi-decent, healthier life elsewhere? The irony of course is that most of us immigrants come to the U.S. hoping for improved circumstances.
Although the American dream is as dead as a dodo, it’s one enduring marketing campaign. To say that a new life in America has cost me dearly would be an understatement. Immigration wasn’t cheap but I’ve also paid for it with my mental health and my livelihood over five long years.
But for now and as long as I am here, I need to remind myself that I chose to live in this country, that adversity happens, and that I still became an American by choice regardless. Therefore I am duty-bound to act accordingly, continuing to raise awareness and using what little privilege I have to help those who don’t have any.
To me, being an American means standing together with others, that is to day solidarity although I’m aware this isn’t a universal definition.
And yet, does thinking about immigration again make me a hypocrite? When you come from people who were forced to leave their country of origin, you always have an eye on the door. This survival instinct is encoded in your DNA, some behaviors are passed on from one generation to the next.
If it doesn’t make sense to you, consider this: My grandpa experienced extreme malnutrition in forced labor camps. As a result, his dinner table was always groaning with food, so terrified was he of ever lacking anything. He also grew most of this food in enormous quantities, enough to feed him and my gran, plus their five kids and their descendants, and some neighbors. He was a portly man, and my father became his carbon copy later in life. Dad’s favorite hobbies are stockpiling food and eating, and you could live in his condo for several months without ever needing to go out to shop.
On the surface, it looks irrational but when you consider context, it is much less so.
Holding our current administration accountable is pointless if we don’t hold ourselves individually accountable too.
It’s also crucial we do this with the beleaguered media. While deeply unpopular with the current administration, it is one of the pillars of democracy.
I tend to carp about it often because it’s my professional background, but also because the U.S. media cannot help itself from cashing in on the country’s misery. It continues to give a platform to white supremacists and their ilk because controversy and clickbait are lucrative.
And Americans keep lapping it up because this infotainment trough is all they know. It’s quite telling that even the New Yorker had planned to invite Bannon to one of their shindigs and only disinvited him when people pushed back. Because not even respectable highbrow outlets are above making a tidy profit if the opportunity presents itself. It quite simply is the American way.
Hiding behind false equivalence and arguing fascism is an idea to be debated doesn’t serve anyone other than those lining their pockets with the proceeds of outrage. In turn, by supporting enablers, we’re providing those who want to smother American democracy with the means to do it.
There’s always room for improvement — we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve always done and expect a different outcome.
However, we can take responsibility for effecting change in every possible way, no matter how small. Eventually, all those actions come together to form a momentum and things begin to shift.
This is how the Democrats were able to reclaim Congress and elevate women and minority candidates to office. While it is a heartening and non-negligible achievement, we can’t coast on that and wallow in complacency as it is not good enough.
We started the job, we need to finish it.