It is day 10, and the wheels are about to come off this bus.
We have collectively been reminded what history has long taught us: that fascism and corruption creeps in the shadows for a long time, tip-toeing along, but when it’s ready for its big day, boy does it move fast. It’s like a leak in your pipes — maybe you see it, maybe you don’t. And if you let it go long enough, next thing you know, the whole ceiling is coming down, moist with rot. Or, perhaps a better metaphor: it’s like cancer. Ignore the little warning signs for too long and then?
We are now witnessing an aggressive cancer.
In the last week, we’ve seen a heinous display from Comrade Dumpkov and the Secret Real President, Commandant Gin Blossom. It started off weird and embarrassing, with the administration trying to convince us that optical illusions and variations in the time-space continuum clearly prove that the small inauguration crowd was actually the YUGEST CROWD SIZE EVER. And it ended with a proposed wall and an enacted ban, both designed to keep people out, to wall us up, to isolate us. Children were separated from parents. Citizens were prevented — are still prevented — from coming here. We shut the doors on refugees from countries where they’re trying to escape nightmares — sometimes, nightmares we have helped to foment, by the way, so essentially it’s like burning down your house and then locking our door because we don’t want you in ours. Refugees are vetted. Refugees want to come here because this is — or is supposed to be — a great country. They want to be a part of it. And we’re closing the door on them, on children, on families, on Iraqi translators, on anyone who wants to have a hand in the American Experiment. And, for a bonus round, now we’ve got an Executive Branch who doesn’t want to heed the Judicial Branch. We’ve got institutional knowledge taken off the table and replaced with Commandant Gin Blossom. We’ve got white supremacists writing policy while experts are sidelined and ignored.
This is it. This is the moment. This is our test.
The American Experiment is short-circuiting on the table in front of us. And make no mistake: this is still an experiment. Never before has it been so clear that this democracy of ours is still in its testing phase. We have long treated it like it is a patriotic bulwark, a massive redwood whose presence in the forest is justification enough, whose pillar-like strength is eternal, inimitable, irreplaceable. But now we see: even the biggest tree can have rot in the roots. Even the biggest tree can be damaged by madmen with axes. Even the biggest tree is fragile and needs to be protected if we are to see it stand tall and remain as king of the forest.
This is our test.
For our Democratic politicians, it’s a test to see if you can become what you have not traditionally been: obstructors, warriors, defenders. You have, sometimes to your credit, been the adults in the room. You have been a party of compromise. You have had a big tent with a lot of ideas. But now, though the tent must remain big — bigger than ever — it has become clear that compromise is just a kind of acquiescence. Compromise is appeasement. You don’t convince the monster to leave your village alone by feeding it just a few children. We don’t want Cool Obama. We want Luther, the Anger Translator. We’re mad, and we want you to be mad right along with us. People aren’t protesting for nothing. They’re a giant human Bat Signal, a crowdsourced cry for someone to come and give our voice a vote. The test for Democratic politicians is, will you stand up, stand tall, and stand together? Will you treat this presidency as woefully illegitimate — not merely illegitimate because of the popular vote loss, but also because we have seen evidence of tampering from an enemy government, and because we have seen the structures of command and the architecture of democracy already undergo a grave dismantling. The administration we elected are not builders. They are termites. The test can be, will the Democrats obstruct? Will you say no to everything? Because you have to. You do not negotiate with a cancer.
For our Republican politicians, it’s a test to see where your loyalties truly lie. Are they with a man who barely represents the party, or are they with the nation? Stop scrambling for table scraps, trying to figure out what you can get out of this deal — the ship is sinking, so don’t take time to rob it, take time to try to keep it afloat. Now is not the time to curry favor. Now is the time to have a spine, to put a little steel in your blood. This is no conservative administration. If this were happening to any other country you’d call them a danger, a potential foe. You don’t conserve by making the rich richer but by draining our wallets in order to build some asinine wall. You don’t conserve by selling off our national parks or saying fuck you to endangered species. This administration is overreaching already in its size and power — what happened to your idea of smaller government? The test is, how long will you ignore this overreach? How long will you bow and stoop and scrape, spineless as a slime mold, while this administration steps over you and worse, steps over us, the American public? The test for you is: will you only follow orders? On what side of history will you be? History has shown us what may come, so be wary.
For our press, it’s a test to see if you will pick up the mantle that has been placed upon your shoulders already: you have been called the opposition party, and so it is time to own that with pride, with rancor, with two ink-stained middle fingers thrust up, up, up in a vigorous defense of truth. Up until now, I assume you thought it possible that this was business as usual, that maybe you could cajole access out of this administration, but make no mistake: you are their enemy. This isn’t the usual state of affairs. You can’t just do puff pieces. You can’t give credence to a divergence from facts as it’s all oh ha ha agree to disagree. If given a magical lever to open trapdoors beneath your feet so you could plunge into gator-infested waters, Comrade would not hesitate to pull it. He rails at you daily. He calls you fake news — a moniker earned specifically when you tell the truth. Do your jobs, because if he could take them away, he would.
For the companies of this country, the test is, do you believe only in unfettered profit? Are you in this for the short game or the long? Because the long game means keeping this country around. Money is not neutral. You spend it in one direction or another. The test is, will you stand for what’s happening? Speak up. Speak out. Give to causes. The long game is about keeping this country around — so invest in the hearts and minds of those on the side of good. Do right by us, and we will do right by you. But give into craven tactics or profit-grabs and we’ll boot your ass to the curb and know you were complicit.
For those who were or are Trump supporters, who voted for him, the test is to see how long you feel like this is really working. This bull is bucking hard. Still got a grip on its sweat-slick hide? Do you still feel like this is really where you want to be? Happy he’s made it more costly for some homeowners to actually own homes? Happy he’s going to pluck your wallet to build an impossible wall? Pleased that millions will end up without healthcare — which will only cost all of the rest of us more even as people die? For those who have experienced or expressed regret, good. The test now is, what will you do about it? Will you stand up? The rope is slipping through all our hands, and goddamnit, we need you to close your fists and grab it before it’s gone. For those who have no regret, who see no problem here — the test is one you are failing. Because this is above partisanship. This is beyond two parties. This is somewhere else, some interstitial place beyond the stars and stripes, beyond the America we imagine in our heads. As the old saying goes, if you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention. And a corollary to that: if you’re not angry at these monsters, then you might be a monster, too.
For the rest of us, well.
For us, the test is not only how we survive, but how we help others to do the same.
The test sometimes is small: finding a calm state, managing to sleep at night. Eating, breathing, taking some time, drinking some water, trying not to drink the whole fucking liquor cabinet or eat every gallon of ice cream in the surrounding dozen zipcodes.
The test sometimes is bigger: protesting, donating to the ACLU or the IRC or CAIR, making your calls, keeping your head on straight for the values that this nation purports to possess. It’s about not being drowned by the noise and the despair and finding some optimism. And optimism is there, some hope is present, if you reach hard through the darkness. The ACLU on average gets ~$4 million in donations per year; this weekend alone, they received $24 million through 350,000+ people (a number that easily eclipses the inauguration attendance). Protests too have been epic, because people are showing up. They’re standing tall, arm in arm, and making it clear that such malevolence does not have our complicity. This weekend there came a moment when I thought, I am ashamed to be an American. But then I thought back to the Women’s March, and I think to all the people I know who are active and engaged, and then I realized: I’m not ashamed to be an American. I’m proud of Americans. I’m ashamed of my government. I’m ashamed of this administration, not of the nation it leads. Ten days in and the president is the most unpopular president in history. It proves that you are not alone. We are not alone. And if we make it out of this — if we can stop this bubbling septic shit-stew from boiling over — then we will have been delivered a timely and necessary reminder that our democracy is not shallow, but deep. That it is not simple, but complex. That even in its pillar-like presence, democracy is vulnerable and demands vigilance and the foreknowledge that axes and rot can still bring down this beautiful tree.
This is it.
This is our test.
And I don’t know what happens if we fail, so study up. Gird your loins. Get clear. We cannot pass it alone, and we’re going to have to hold each other — more to the point, we’re going to have to hold our politicians, our press, our institutions — accountable. It’s bad, but it’s not dire. Not yet. But the checks are unchecked, the balances are imbalanced. Vote. Protest. Support. Obstruct. Demand better. Do better.
And be good to one another.