While watching today’s inauguration, I got pulled in two classic directions: Flight or fight.
The “flight” in me just wanted to hole up in my apartment with a lot of books and TV streaming services and hope that a steady diet of tomato soup and grilled cheese — the best comfort food of them all — is enough to sustain me the next two-and-a-half years before the 2020 election process begins.
That might have been the kind of person I was during Former (sigh) President Obama’s administration, but that’s because he stood for the things I believed in: Racial, gender and LGBT equality; marriage rights; universal access to health care; a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions; environmental mindfulness; intelligent gun laws; and many others.
Obama wasn’t perfect — see his drone warfare policies, lack of law enforcement and judiciary reform, and lukewarm effort to recover the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram — but his overall performance was a welcome improvement after the American Idiot Dubblya Bush era. So in between finishing my education and getting a job in a recovering economy (thanks, Obama!), I pretty much stayed to myself. And I likely would have continued doing that, had the Electoral College reflected the 2 million-plus more people who voted for Hillary Clinton.
But that’s not what happened, and instead today we saw Donald J. Trump take the Oval Office with his hand placed on what I’m convinced was a copy of Art of the Deal wrapped in a Bible book jacket.
As much as I struggle to joke about the incoming administration—and it really is a struggle, considering the threats it poses to the progress we’ve made in the last eight years — I will never say Trump isn’t my president. Some might say it in a steadfast spirit of rebellion, and I applaud their attitudes. But for others, including myself, it’s a form of denial, which turns into an excuse akin to “Don’t blame me because I didn’t vote for him:” We didn’t ask for the havoc he’s wreaking, so it’s not our responsibility to fight against it.
And that’s how Trump will win — for real. He’ll make us complacent through our stubbornness. He’ll scare us into “flight” mode.
For people like me — privileged white people with good jobs and nice homes who want the same for others, regardless of race, gender or sexuality — it’s time to turn on our “fight” function. That’s why I choose to heed what Obama said in his Chicago farewell address: “It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.”
So I direct this to those who applaud our new president’s ignorance, cheer his self-grandeur and idolize his bullying tactics; as well as to those who found it wrong, but not wrong enough to vote against it.
You’ve woken up the sleeping activists in the room.
Until now, you were able to ignore change-seekers who have sung at the top of their lungs for equal treatment, respect and opportunity, while people like me nodded their heads and broadcasted the tune without lending their own verse or joining the refrain. While people like me complained bitterly about the lack of diversity in Hollywood as they paid $15 to see a group of white men in superhero costumes do battle on the silver screen. While people like me curled up with a Toni Morrison book while a Black Lives Matter protest passed outside our windows. While people like me stocked up on reusable shopping bags but rarely took them to the store. While people like me followed Laverne Cox on Instagram but didn’t say a word against a transphobic joke told in the Walmart checkout line.
But thanks to you, those people like me (myself included) are standing up with the rest of the choir. And if we’re smart, we’ll listen to those who have been standing up all along. We’ll not stand in front of those who have been marginalized, asking for their praise, but stand with them and behind them, seeking their leadership.
So cloud our Twitter mentions and call us names on Facebook. Fill our inboxes with emails that we’ll gleefully share as a sign that we’re being heard. While you kick back behind a keyboard with the same complacency we had during Obama’s administration — confident that President Trump will do all he promised you — we’ll be marching in the streets and clogging our representatives’ voicemails with demands that our government approaches its job with compassion toward the planet and everyone who lives there.
And what we can’t do with our voices, we’ll do with our wallets. Guess what people like me are going to do with the money we save through all those promised tax cuts (if they actually happen)? We’ll donate to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood. We’ll subscribe to newspapers that dig deeper than 140 characters into our president’s policies. We’ll sponsor sanctuary city efforts. We’ll contribute to colleges that investigate campus rape, regardless of who’s being accused. Remember there are a lot more of us than of you. Two million more, in fact.
You want “soft sensuality?” We’re bringing burning passion.
You enjoy the taste of “liberal tears?” I recommend trying our new flavor, liberal sweat.
You want to call us “snowflakes?” As smarter people have already said, enough snow creates an avalanche.
You don’t want politics mixing with entertainment? Then don’t make entertainment out of our politics.
You want an end to “political correctness?” We’re correcting our politicians so they don’t make the same mistakes in 2020 as they did in 2016.
You want to Make America Great Again? Congratulations: You’ll get your wish because you just woke up enough people to make it that way.
Toward the end of his speech, Trump promised that no American would be ignored. We’re going to hold you to that promise, Mr. President. You might have won the election, but you haven’t won our support.
Addendum, Jan. 24:
Three days after the inauguration, I saw English rocker Frank Turner perform at the House of Blues in Chicago. He played a song he had written a few weeks earlier, called “The Sand in the Gears.” It puts the exact sentiment of my blog post to music, and I found myself affirmed in what he sang. Here’s a crisp recording of him playing it at the Fillmore: