Throughout the election, I started several blogs and posted several long Facebook rants, but never managed to get an actual blog post up. I know only three people are reading this, but I still take it seriously, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say to the world. In the course of the longest election in human history, I was never able to figure out exactly what part of the chaos I wanted to address or what I wanted to say about it. But I’ve been talking and writing with many people since we all fell into an alternative dimension on Tuesday night. I’ve had so many realizations, so many things I want to share. The path that I want to take is becoming so clear to me. Now that the election is over, it’s time for my fight to begin.
I think I need to start with a little bit of background on me. The following italicized paragraphs are excerpted and updated from something I wrote on September 24, 2003, when I was 25.
The first time I ran across the word ‘nihilistic’ was in Cat’s Cradle. I was 17 years old and instantly intrigued by the word. Surely only fools were nihilistic, so how interesting that there should be a word for it.
Despite abandoning childhood Christianity some years before encountering nihilism, at 17 I had managed to cobble together an arrangement of various faiths. Faith in the fundamental goodness of humanity, faith in the inevitability of progress, faith in the pursuit of justice. No nihilist was I. And I had one faith that superseded and underpinned all the rest. I had replaced God with democracy and Christianity with patriotism. I believed so deeply in the complete righteousness of the goals of the United States of America, I could not make it through a rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner without getting a little weepy. For me, rule by the people – what I thought we had – was the Answer that would save us all. I thought I was privileged enough to live in the first country in the history of mankind to make democracy truly work for everyone. America was a shining example to the rest of the world, and though imperfect, built on an incredible foundation of ever expanding-equality.
Ah, to be young. At 25, I detailed the personal experience of working on political campaign that I felt had so been such a powerful justification for disillusionment of my lofty belief system. But at 38, I see that I simply took the news that the world is complex and imperfect very poorly. I ended the entry:
I haven’t said the Pledge of Allegiance since that day. I didn’t believe in the war, but didn’t care enough to make it to more than one protest rally. I didn’t vote in the last election, probably won’t vote in the next. I welcome the fall of this failed experiment with open arms. The only thing that makes me sad is I know I wasn’t always this way, that I did at one time really care. Now I am the embodiment of apathy. I’m not even angry anymore. Each injustice is met with only a shrug. They never found the weapons of mass destruction? Oh well, we knew that was bullshit anyway. What’s on TV?
I had tapped out of the national discussion, and not much changed after 2003. For a while I was extremely informed about local politics because it was a necessary part of my job at the time. But I had lost even that level of interest by 2007. I kept my head down and focused on my own life.
By early 2008, I was knee-deep in preparing to enter law school. I had missed the memo that Barack Obama was different and I was supposed to be excited about him. I was incapable of believing anyone could be different. I voted for him in 2008, not because I had a particular affinity for him, but because if he won, I wanted to be able to say I had voted for the first black President. (And living in California, it kinda doesn’t ever matter who I vote for in presidential elections anyway. That is a rant for a different time.)
Something else was on the ballot that year. Prop 8. The people of one of the most liberal states in the nation outlawed gay marriage, and I was disgusted. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ is the goddamned soundtrack of my life. No one wins. We never get better. Humans are rotten to the core. Nothing. Ever. Fucking. Changes. So why bother? I am nihilist, hear me roar.
And if I was looking for evidence that nothing gets better, man did Obama’s first term provide it. Hope my ass. During that time I took and passed the bar, got a job, and started my life. I didn’t vote in 2012, because again, I live in California, and who really cares if it’s Romney or Obama anyway? Half of one, six dozen of the other.
Then something started to shift. The people I graduated law school with finally started getting jobs as the economy improved. I saw a President who was finally talking about our gun problem in frank terms. And on June 26, 2015, in Obergerfell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court officially said that institutional homophobia was illegal, and all people have the same right to love. At the exact same time, the Affordable Care Act was upheld, taking us a step closer to the truth that healthcare is a fundamental right. All of this together made me wonder, are we finally actually valuing human life in this country? And then people started talking about this senator from Vermont who was saying some pretty crazy, radical things.
I had been hearing about Bernie Sanders starting sometime in early 2014. A Facebook friend I’d gone to law school with would post memes with him saying some nonsense like people should have free college or Medicare for all or $15 an hour minimum wage. While I agreed with every word, I thought it was nonsense because no way this country would get behind it. How naïve of her to even want that. To think that anything gets better or anything changes or life is anything but scratching survival out of the dirt for most of mankind.
So it’s mid-2015, and this Sanders guy says he’s running for president. And he says we should call him Bernie. Like he’s my friend or I have any reason to trust him. This dude is just a distraction, and as much as I like every word that comes out of his mouth, I know he won’t win, and his existence is somehow going to hurt Clinton’s election, sticking us with another Bush. (We were still months away from realizing how desperately we’d all wish we had the option of voting for another Bush.) Distrustful at first, a friend convinces me Sanders will pull the conversation left, something that is desperately needed. Every minute he is in the race is a minute more that we’re talking about ideas no one has had the courage to talk about for years.
Over the next few months, as I read everything I could get my hands on, I let Bernie into my heart more and more. At first I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew it was just around the corner. An old video of him saying something awful. A few women he had affairs with. A time he was accused to misusing public funds. Something was coming. It had to be. And then it didn’t ever come. I started calling him Bernie, like he was my friend, and I did something I had sworn I would never do – I donated my money to a political candidate. Repeatedly.
The best part of the Bernie revolution was looking around and suddenly seeing that I wasn’t alone. Other people believed like me. Lots of other people. We filled stadiums. Uncompromising progressives grasping at real change that seemed more within our reach than ever before. Bernie had brought me back into the church of democracy, and our congregation was large.
I believed in America and Americans again for the first time in over a decade.
While Bernie’s primary loss was painful, my faith remained strong. After June, my battle cry was ‘For Bernie’ as I fired off letters to representatives I’d never heard of before then. This year was not without its tragedies, but I forced them to strengthen my resolve rather than discourage me. But nothing could have prepared me for the truth I was forced to face this week.
As my husband said, this election is like a cancer diagnoses. It fucking sucks, but a lot of people get cancer. When you’re told you have cancer, you know it might kill you. But you don’t have the option of becoming paralyzed with fear and sadness, and pretending you don’t really have cancer doesn’t make it go away. When you’re told you have cancer, you have to immediately talk treatment, because every day counts. Well America, we have cancer. And the cancer isn’t Trump himself, but a set of circumstances that have been building for 30 years. Trump is just the pain in our side that sent us to the doctor for tests.
When my dad got cancer in 2005, his first response was anger. And yeah, I’m angry. I am angry at every Democrat who loved Bernie but voted Hillary “because she can win,” all the while ignoring polls that told us MONTHS AGO no, she couldn’t. I am angry at the Democratic National Committee, for rigging the primary election and ignoring those same polls and the incredible movement Bernie was building in favor of cronyism. I’m angry at the Democrats for the last 30 years, who let places like Flint, Michigan crumble while they abandoned the working poor. They moved so far center they essentially became moderate Republicans, leaving huge numbers of Americans with no one to turn to but “an outsider,” whatever the fuck that means or how the hell it applies to a lifelong privileged billionaire who has never bought a gallon of milk or pumped his own gas
And yes, I’m angry at the Clintons. I’m angry at Bill Clinton for NAFTA, which I’m old enough to remember was wildly unpopular even at its inception. And I’m angry at him for being so sexually inappropriate and dishonest while he was in office, it lowered our standards of decency to the point we find ourselves today. And I’m angry at Hillary Clinton, who lost Wisconsin to Bernie and then didn’t even bother to visit during the general. Every ounce of goodwill I had cobbled together for her over the last 4 months evaporated the instant CNN dropped that little factoid as I fell into the hell dimension I now find myself in. Because oh my god, the hubris. The arrogance. What a perfect example of how exactly right the Trump voters are. You don’t care, do you? For them, it really is worth the risk. In fact, you gave them no choice.
I want to tap out again. I was right all along. Things don’t get better. Nothing changes. As Cohen said, old black Joe still pickin’ cotton.
But here’s what’s stopping me. It’s one of the last ads the Bernie’s presidential campaign put out. The focus is on LGBT rights, but it invokes all the times in the last 40 years Bernie has stood alone on the right side of history. Forty lonely, unrelenting years of screaming into the void. And only in the last two years, people started answering back. Millions of tiny voices, whispering ‘Me too Bernie,’ bouncing off each other, and creating a thunderous roar. Us too Bernie. Us too Senator Warren. One of the interviewees says ‘Bernie, you’re no longer walking alone,’ as the camera cuts to rainbow of people joining hands in a field. It’s cheesy as hell, but all good political ads are. (They have 90 seconds to reach into your soul. It’s no time for subtlety.) That ad reminds me that I have to be the change before I see the change. I have to be strong like Bernie. I have to be strong for Bernie.
I reached out to younger friend today. A millennial, I was afraid he was going to give up the way I had in 2003. He was instrumental in introducing me to Bernie, and I wanted to remind him of his obligation to fight for what Bernie stands for. Turns out, he was going to do the reminding. He said, “You know, I think this outcome is probably good in a way because it provides motivation. Had Clinton won, it would’ve been like ‘meh, ok,’ and the country probably would’ve made some progressive choices while continuing down a corporatist path. But now we can’t be complacent.” And it reminded that all of the worst things that have ever happened in my life, including my dad dying of cancer, ultimately forced me to take an action that lead to all the best things happening.
So I’m not tapping out. I’m doubling down. And Bernie Sanders will remain my battle cry. Once more into the breach dear friends.