Maiden Post: Day 101

When I was 12, my vision started to falter in the way that happens to kids that age. My stupid 12 year old brain figured it would eventually sort itself out, so rather than sucking it up, telling my mom, and going to see a damn optometrist, I spent the next two years straining to see the blackboard through rolled up sheets of paper (ad hoc telescope).

When I was 17, I got a speeding ticket that I didn’t want my parents to find out about, so, naturally, I ignored it, didn’t go to court, didn’t respond, figuring eventually it’d be forgotten…until one day my parents received a friendly letter in the mail, threatening me with contempt of court.

When I was 21, it became starkly clear that I lacked the time, interest and capacity to make it through a remedial foreign language class – a final requirement for my looming graduation.  I could have easily gone to Professoressa Ferrari, put in an extra hour or two, done the bare minimum to pass and been on my way; instead, I ignored it, all but stopped going to class, made vague plans to “study hard for the final”…until I got an email advising that graduation was very much in jeopardy.

A month ago, I woke up with an acute pain in my back.   I’m 34 now, so when the pain was worse on day two, I went to a masseuse, then a chiropractor. When, by day three, it had made another leap into new, unprecedented pain levels, I went to urgent care.  And when at 3 a.m. the next morning I found myself writhing in utter agony, shaking feebly, too weak to stand for more than a few seconds, I went to the damn emergency room.

In hindsight, that trip to the ER is a bit embarrassing. The Internet (and the chiropractor, and the urgent care folks) had all diagnosed this as an all-too-common, inexplicably  nasty back strain that would sort itself out in a week or two, and the ER doctor only confirmed that prognosis. But this was new territory, pain like I had never come close to experiencing before. I wasn’t about to take the risk that the pain just kept escalating (leaving me crippled, and my tiny wife responsible for moving me), or worse, that this pain-like-I’ve-never-experienced was something more permanent, more threatening, more sinister.

The Internet, the chiropractor, the doctors were all correct, and my back is largely better now.  I’m exercising, working, moving relatively freely, but I’m still going to physical therapy once a week (something 21-year-old me would have mocked) because, if at all possible, I have to prevent that shit from happening again. Because that’s what adults do. When the faintest whiff of a problem permeates the air, you identify the problem, diagnose its precise parameters, and do your absolute damnedest to fix it, because a small problem today can blossom into a full-blown disaster tomorrow.  You grow the fuck up, and you deal with it.

…..

I activated the domain “gtfup.org” way the hell back in July of 2016.  Back then, I was frustrated and angry at the surreal, daily stupidity of our presidential election, and wanted desperately to vent. I had vague notions of an elevated, better, more honest discourse (with a dose of cheekiness and cynicism, hence the blog’s name), but struggled mightily to launch that discourse – discarding dozens of “maiden posts” – for three reasons: (i) I didn’t want the blog to be just about politics, but the stakes of the election made that all but impossible; (ii) the daily Trump shitshow, the hourly outrages, rendered my draft posts obsolete almost immediately; and most importantly, (iii) as the outrages mounted, as Trump made an ass of himself, day after day, I fell into a false sense security. I convinced myself that America had this, that we would roundly reject this man and all his cartoonish malevolence.  I told myself, with no basis other than hope, that I could pump the brakes until this insanity had passed, and once President Clinton was sworn in, I would start the lofty dialogue I envisioned.

This is not to say I wasn’t nervous, even fearful. I yelled at friends and neighbors who complained about the “lack of good choices,” gave more money than I’d like to admit to Team HRC, and volunteered and canvassed dutifully and cheerfully right through Election Day.  But like a stupid-as-shit 21-year-old, I failed to adequately diagnose the problem, and trusted that the problem would work itself out, that the adults (to borrow from Louis C.K.) would win the day.  I was far from alone in this regard: President Trump owes his election in no small part to the assumption by so many – media outlets who trafficked in ludicrous false equivalencies, otherwise conscientious Republican leaders who stayed dutifully silent, the goddamn director of the FBI – that reason would prevail, that we’d have President Hillary to kick around for the next four years, and that the Trump madness would be a quirky footnote in our history.

There are plenty of failings to go around, plenty of inflection points that brought us to the moral, political and existential crisis that we find ourselves in today.  But very broadly we – collectively, every single one of us, the United States of America – failed to adequately diagnosis the problem; we failed to be adults and instead engaged in the same kind of wishful thinking that left me, at 21, begging a dubious dean to waive my foreign language requirement three days before graduation.  We failed, in a moment of looming catastrophe for our nation, to grow the fuck up.

…..

We are 101 days into the Trump presidency, with, God willing, 1361 days to go.  The haplessness and ineptitude of President Trump to date, along with the early successes of both the Resistance and our fragile Constitution in beating back some of his worst instincts, have been, respectively, both encouraging and inspiring.

But for all the hope we might draw from the ways in which we have managed to limit the damage of President Trump, the President himself continues to demonstrate that there is no limit to the dark depths he would sink to if we give him – or if he takes, using the immense power at his disposal – any latitude to pursue his raging, narcissistic, cable-news-id to its natural ends.

For every successful rebuke, there have been a hundred horrifying erosions of basic norms and American principles: President Trump is waging war on the press and the courts, he is courting dangerous nationalist impulses by aggressively attacking immigrants and racial minority groups, he is discussing war, even nuclear war, like he’s contemplating where to have dinner on a Friday night.  The list is so long and unfathomable, it becomes impossible to keep track of the outrages.  I fear we are losing the ability to accurately diagnose the broader strokes of this unprecedented assault on our nation, to call this vulgar, destructive, catastrophic spade a fucking spade.

…..

For almost 250 years, the United States was the beacon of democracy for the entire world.  In the past two weeks alone, President Trump has: (i) just yesterday, invited the brutal and unhinged dictator of the Philippines to the White House; (ii) implicitly praised the lunatic, isolationist North Korean dictator; (iii) cast his lot, and by implication America’s, with the nationalist, fascist candidate for the French Presidency; and (iv) been the only western leader to call and “congratulate” Turkey’s president Erdogan on the unfree, unfair election in which he seized dictatorial powers.  Meanwhile, Russian diplomats, journalists and dissenters are winding up dead on a staggeringly frequent basis, gay men in Russian-controlled Chechnya are being tortured, killed and disappeared, and President Trump has still not seen fit to offer a word of real, meaningful criticism against President Putin. Instead, he is rallying his voters to the notion that Russia is our “ally,” while berating and pushing away our historic allies, the other great democracies of the world.

There has certainly been swift condemnation, in many circles, of the Duterte White House invite, the congratulatory phone call to Erdogan, and to many of the other outrages described above.  But we are developing an unsettling tendency to respectfully lodge our complaints with each individual outrage, then move on to the next one.  We seem to be lacking the capacity to see the forest through the trees, to acknowledge the obvious sum total of President Trump’s actions, and call it for what it is: an out and out subversion of 250 years of American democratic values, and a dereliction of America’s unique leadership position in the world.

The United States has unequivocally, since its inception, been the world’s essential defender against dictators and authoritarianism, its beacon of democracy; we say this easily, it is rote, memory, engrained in our sense of national identity.  Looking objectively at just the last few weeks of the Trump presidency – and there are so many other examples of President Trump expressing outright disdain for democracy – that fundamental fact of our longstanding national identity is, just as unequivocally, no longer true.  Indeed, a fair, honest, objective reading of the totality of the first 100 days of this presidency is that we have elected a man who is eager to align himself with brutal dictators, and who, if given the chance, would absolutely seize the same dictatorial powers for himself.

Anyone who pretends otherwise, who spouts platitudes about how America can “weather this storm,” who tells fairy tales about our boy President being “humbled” by the awesome responsibility of the presidency, or John McCain serving as an “essential check,” is not adequately diagnosing the depths of our collective national calamity.  Even from active members of the Resistance, brave and wise people from the left and the right who are aghast at how far we have fallen, there is an understandable urge to ignore this big picture-reality, to treat every fleeting moment of normalcy as a sign that, perhaps, this will all sort itself out.

I’ve fallen victim to this as much as anyone, and so I offer this far-too-long maiden post as a rebuke and rejoinder to myself as much as anyone else: respectfully, and with utmost sincerity, we need to grow the fuck up.  We have an immense problem on our hands, and the first step in addressing that problem is understanding exactly how grave it is.

The writer Simon Maloy commented, a day after the election, that it is “impossible to overstate how colossal a fuckup this is.”  I take a sick comfort in this phrasing sometimes, when I can’t wrap my head around the daily deluge of madness.  I assign blame to the SOB’s most responsible for President Trump, and take pleasure in imagining a glorious moment when the realization sets in of just “how colossal a fuckup this is.”  But I have the luxury of spite, of seeking comfort in gallows humor.  There are people in this country living in a constant state of fear because of our colossal fuckup, and that fuckup will ultimately, quite literally, cost many people – in this country and around the world – their lives.  We fucked up, badly, and we are not guaranteed a happy ending.  So let’s grow the fuck up and start dealing with it.

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