What are we called to do?

In 1994, I was at Trump Tower in New York City, with my roommate from the summer Shakespeare “camp” I had been at for 10 weeks in the Catskills. We were spending a few days in the City before going our separate ways, and Harry Connick, Jr. was signing his new CD at the record store. We dutifully got in line with hundreds of other people and waited to meet him.

The namesake of the building walked past us with a number of sycophants in suits and ties surrounding him like desperate puppies, hoping he would choose them from among the litter. He’s quite tall, and they were markedly shorter than he was. I can see them kind of raising their hands as if needing permission to speak, their attempts to be recognized like bidders at a Sotheby’s auction.

I remember, too, all these years later, pressing myself up against the wall, attempting to make myself invisible. It’s not that I consciously thought he was trolling the crowd (although I’m sure he was, given his predilection for women), but he had an aura around him that sent out a kind of series of cancerous tentacles that might discover you were weak, were making eye contact, were not on your guard. Once ensnared, there was no escape. From what, I didn’t know. But I can still readily recall the kind of black hole he created in his wake.

I dutifully dismissed the sham campaign this man ran in 2016. I confidently said over and over again, including up to and on the afternoon of the election, that there was no way this atrocity was going to win. But then results started to come in. And I could feel those same tentacles reaching out, spreading across the nation, looking for the weak and those who weren’t on their guard.

I’ll always have regret that I went to bed early that night, fearful of what I would wake up to but wanting one more night of imagining and relishing a different outcome, one I had been so sure of until hours earlier, because in my deep sleep, I missed about 10 texts from Quinn. I woke up to a series of more and more despondent notes from him, and I knew before getting to the final text what the outcome was. I will always regret that I wasn’t there for my child, whose first election experience was this atrocity of our democracy. I don’t know what I would have said that might have helped, but I will always be disappointed in myself that he had to go through that night without me.

And I felt sick the morning after. I have never stopped feeling sick. And I don’t actually know if I ever will not feel sick over what this man opened up in our country. Over what he exposed us to be. Over what he invited to the table of our democracy.

We have a woman vice President-elect. We have a Democrat-elect administration going back to the White House in January. Joe Biden has succeeded in beating the single worst example of an American, and quite frankly, a person, I can conceive of: someone with not only no integrity but no compassion, no piqued interest in others, no heart to lift others up or to walk beside anyone who doesn’t feed his utterly all-consuming, rotting ego.

For God’s sake–I am celebrating that we have again someone who speaks in complete sentences and never once inserts himself in that gloating, preening third-person, reality-whore fashion that we have been subjected to for four years.

I watched the acceptance speeches last night, along with millions of other people across the planet. Truth be told, I could hardly muster up much emotion. These last four years have instilled in me, and so many of us, a trauma that runs phenomenally deep. It’s not that a Republican “won” four years ago. I have never voted for, and likely never will, any Republican in the 20+ years I have been able to vote, but I have never been filled with the kind of rage and utter disgust that this man brings out of me. I have never despaired for the state of our democracy like I have in these years. I have never despised those who support the other side like I have in these years.

I watched Kamala Harris speak, and I had to remind myself over and over again that I was listening to the first woman-elect Vice President; the first woman of African and South Asian descent; the first woman of Immigrant parents; the first woman. And I realized that what was missing for me, what these four years has crushed, was my pride and joy in seeing this incredible moment in history. My optimism has been stolen over and over again by the reality of who so many of my fellow Americans apparently really are at their core.

When Barack Obama was elected, I was filled with hope and certainty that we were turning a sharp corner towards justice, towards intellect, goodness and equality. Eight years later, that hope was dashed upon the rocks of our collective shoreline. And people can condescendingly “instruct” me all they want about the deeper flaws of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the potential corruptness of her win and the fact that she had to pay the ultimate price for her husband’s political and personal indiscretions until they drop dead–because quite frankly, the fewer of those people we have, the better.

And that might be the most insidious thing that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave has done to this country. He inserted a kind of vitriol into our lives; he very nearly normalized outright hatred for our fellow citizens. He made mockery and bullying acceptable, even admirable, qualities. He lifted up those who abused the least, the lost and the lonely even as they were falling down.

This is the only blog post I have written or ever will write about this man. He has been a cancer on our country that I truly believe we will be recovering from for the rest of my life and beyond. But for me, he is no longer. I will wipe him from my memory and my day to day. And I will work to find the hope and certainty that we are, again, turning a sharp corner towards justice, towards intellect, goodness and equality. And I will hope to find it in me to forgive those who voted not once but twice for hatred, greed and small-mindedness. I owe myself that much.

And I will never again try to make myself invisible if I sense those cancerous tentacles reaching out, desperate to ensnare some unsuspecting person. I will find a blade and sever it from the source because that is what this election has called all of us to do.

Photo credit: Evards Black Tentacles