Republic

My social-media input is so divided right now. It’s hard to triage all of it, isn’t it? It’s hard.

I’m overwhelmed, and one set of people in my life is saying “IT’S BECAUSE THE WORLD IS ON FIRE AND WE’RE ALL GOING DOWN IN FASCIST FLAMES UNLESS WE TAKE STRONG ACTION RIGHT NOW!!!!” and the other set is saying “For GOD’S sake, this happens every four years, RELAX already!!” And I absolutely know which side I believe, and I am absolutely at a loss to explain it to the other side. I have voted in a number of elections, and sometimes my choice of candidate has won and sometimes my choice has lost, and I have always felt it does not deeply matter one way or the other, and yet this time I believe it deeply does.

It is different. It is hard to say why it’s different, to people who don’t think it is different. My mother has reminded me more than once how other people freaked out when Barack Obama was elected. How to explain the difference in type and cause of freak-out? How to explain why this isn’t exactly the same way someone else felt when Obama was elected, with the expectation of exactly the same “and everything was fine” results? I remember people saying society would fall apart if Obama won; how is that different from my fears now? How to explain the whole thing to someone in my Facebook newsfeed who says that protesting an assault on democracy is the same as making an assault on democracy, and that everyone needs to get over it / give him a chance? How to explain to someone that NO, it’s YOUR news that’s fake news—when they think MY news is fake news? How to explain that the two things are not equivalent, even though it feels like they are? How to explain it to people who think there is no problem here and that the new president hasn’t even done anything yet?

Well. I don’t know and neither do you, or else it would all be explained and everything would be fine. But in the meantime, I’m panicking and directionless. Thank you to those of you who sent me links to places giving direction, but for some reason I find those make me panic even more. It reminds me of when I heard that we can go right ahead and recycle that piece of paper, and we SHOULD, but in the meantime a business just dumped 10,000 pounds of paper in the trash: we like to say individuals make a difference, but for most of us that isn’t true. We get an electric car to reduce our carbon footprint, and a business adds to the air the exhaust of a hundred thousand gasoline engines every day. Certain individuals, certain organizations: those will make the impact here. The rest of us have to wait and see what they will choose to do, and add our individual pieces of paper to make our own proportionately tiny difference, in the hopes that all together our tiny inputs will add up to one impactful action—and in the meantime, those tiny inputs will make us feel better, by making us feel as if we’re helping. That’s basically what a republic is and does: we all do our tiny part, to give others the power to make big decisions for us.

Today I’m going to Target. I’m taking a Maeve Binchy book with me, and after I shop I’m going to go out to lunch and read my book. When I come home I’m going to write a letter to one of my senators, even though I don’t think it makes a difference, despite people saying it does. I’m going to fold laundry while listening to The 451 podcast. For the time being I am not going to research any more “Ways You Can Help!” organizations: I have set up the monthly payments to the ACLU and a couple others who have more impact than an individual, and I am going to hope that the people who are in charge of preventing the loss of our republic will do so.

55 thoughts on “Republic

  1. Mary

    You always have such a way of getting to the heart of the matter, so thank you for writing this. I feel the same way, girl.

  2. Susan

    I feel exactly the same way. I did feel hopeful from participating in the March, and I am planning to form a group of like-minded people so we can get together and come up with ideas and hold each other accountable. I also feel like there are SO MANY THINGS I’m scared about, and I need to pick ONE and focus on that. I haven’t decided yet what that will be but I hope it will help reduce the paralysis and the feeling that “Nothing I do can possibly help.”

    I’m also part of one of these “Power of 100” giving circle groups and it is so amazing. If I give $100 to an organization, that’s nice, and they’re grateful, but if 100 people each gives $100 to that same organization, BOOM! They have $10,000 and can do something really meaningful with it. We require that the groups we donate to keep the money in the community, and they come back and report to us what they’ve done with the money. Our group has spawned several others in our metro area, and we have received a very significant matching donation from a large corporation’s foundation that you will know the name of if I told you. Since we started in 2012, we have donated nearly $325,000 to local groups.

    1. Lobster

      I have a sanity check group that is really keeping me away from the edge. We just throw out our fears, and because of the diversity of the group (I know, I’m lucky), we all have different fears. No one gets to say anything resembling “you’re overreacting” or “It’s really not a big deal.” – no one wants to, though! All our fears are valid!

      The best part is that when one person says she’s worried about how this will affect X, there’s usually a person who says “Oh, I know someone who could give you more info on that” or “Hey, I just heard of a group that wants to address that issue – maybe you can check it out.”

      It relieves my heart a little to have someone not act like I’m a freak for being worried.

  3. Lobster

    I can empathize with your struggle, Swistle.

    One thing that is NOT helping is looking over, historically, how other horrible people came to power in the world and what happened when they gained that power. It is not helping to be woke to what is happening in other countries that may reflect this trend of ego-ecentric, reactionary nationalism and populism. Then I try to not think about it, and I feel guilty for putting my head in the sand.

    One thing that is helping me personally is actively deciding that I’m not going to hold any person responsible for this disaster. When I talk to someone, I try to remember they were simply standing up for what they believe, voting the way their heart led them… which is exactly what I did and am doing. I feel pride for the fact that they participated in our democratic process and I feel proud of doing my part as well. It hasn’t gotten rid of all the anger, but it’s kind of a way to not spew it all over everyone. It’s a band-aid.

    Another thing that’s helping me is to think about how my one little action or my words may not fix all this, but they can make a difference to one person. To the people in my life who are worried about all different things that they can’t control – race, religion, gender, sexuality, capabilities, homeland – I may make the difference. And that is inspiring and exciting to me.

    1. Kristin H

      I have had similar thoughts, remembering the story about the hundreds of starfish stranded on the beach. I might not be able to help *all* the starfish, but for the ones I can help, my efforts will make all the difference.

      1. Jenny

        I came here to say exactly this, about the starfish. I can help individuals, right where I am, using my privilege (which, comparatively, is significant.) I can start right now. It’s actually a Swistle principle — drops IN the bucket! If all the people who marched do just a few things in their own circles and communities, there will be an awful lot of starfish helped.

  4. Jesabes

    I’m pretty depressed, because every time he does something even crazier, people I know that support him (even for reasons unrelated to the action he took) dig in even further. It’s almost comical seeing how much work has to be done to justify something. When do the justifications run out? If anyone else had done this, you would be up in arms. If *I* did this, you’d be horrified! So why is it OK for him to?

    I’m worried there is no breaking point. No deal-breaker that could change anyone’s mind. Is this where we are? No one EVER changes their mind?

    I’m a lifelong Republican who changed my mind the second he was nominated. I thought it was an easy choice, so when I looked behind me and saw people I thought would come with me not coming…I guess that’s when it began.

    1. Elizabeth

      Jesabes – just wanted to say thank you for commenting and that I think your voice might be a particularly influential and important one in your circles….because of being a lifelong Republican who didn’t vote for the candidate. Maybe I’m wrong? But I just wanted to encourage you and thank you and comment on your (IMO) clear thinking!

    2. shin ae

      YES. Except for the lifelong Republican part. However, I planned (from the outset) most likely to vote Republican in this election until I saw the Republican nominee. In retrospect, I think I would have regretted voting Republican, but that doesn’t matter now, except as something to consider for next time.

      Anyway, I am AGHAST at the doubling-down, and the digging in, and the crazy mental gymnastics required–and executed–by people in order to justify this man’s philosophy and behavior. AGHAST. I don’t understand what’s in it for them. I see nothing.

      And yes, it’s impossible to have a conversation because there is no deal-breaker.

    3. Jessemy

      That describes my vote pretty well…I feel betrayed by my party. I voted in a primary for the first time to vote for a different candidate. Yet my stance on many issues is unchanged.

  5. Shawna

    I honestly believe that history will judge the American people harshly for voting him in (and won’t distinguish between individuals who voted for him or against him, because collectively he was voted in). This is actually the better-case scenario in my mind, because the alternative is that he will start the world down a path at the end of which there is such environmental and social destruction that there is no one left to do any judging, harsh or otherwise.

    I realize this is an extreme view, but I’ve worried about the precarious environmental balance the world hangs in since childhood (it’s probably a bit of paranoia, and a bit of access to too much terrifying, factual, science-based information being available if you look for it), and using your vote to place the economy of a relatively rich nation above the potential destruction that can be wrought by climate change/rising sea levels/destruction of habitat/mass extinctions seems utterly crazy to me, and I heard yesterday that all references to climate change have already been removed from all U.S. federal websites.

    Sorry if I’m freaking anyone out even more, but this seems to be the only really safe space to which I have access to admit to freaking out myself.

      1. Swistle Post author

        I gotta say, that did make me feel a little better. It has a flavor of “We will suffer, but it will be short-term suffering for long-term good.”

      2. sooboo

        I like to think of this period in history like the end of a horror movie. When you think the monster is dead and all the heroes are exhausted but happy, the monster rises up one last time and is defeated once and for all. This article states that I lot more eloquently than I just did. I’ve been thinking/ hoping this for awhile so it’s nice to hear others who are more knowledgeable than I am think it too . I read your post to my husband who is struggling to explain these things to his family who no longer wants us around unless we sit quietly why they watch Fox news and talk about how great everything is.

  6. Rebecca

    Yes. All of this. I applaud your Target and Maeve Binchy plan because while it may feel like burying your head in the sand, it is a vigilant form of self care that will allow you the energy to write that letter. I have watched a lot less news these days, made more careful selections about what garbage I will allow in my brain and my space and as a result, I feel like less of a tool and a patsy for the new administration. Every drop in the bucket matters, every call/letter/email matters. Collectively, this happened. Collectively, we will fix it. Right there in the trenches with you!

  7. Celeste

    It feels like another 9-11 to me, in that something terrible happened, and everyone is arguing about the why, and no one quite knows what to do. We all found small ways of going forward in the aftermath; families still had to be taken care, work still had to be done, and so on. Maybe it’s asking too much of the bad times to be the thing that makes us better. Maybe that’s only something we can assign much later, in retrospect.

  8. shin ae

    Swistle, today I joined the NAACP. I am so excited! I’m excited about the chance to connect with people local to me and have an in-person group to work with. I’m an introvert, so I’m also pretty nervous, but still excited.

    I hope you find your book very soothing. It’s important to spend time disconnected from the enormous mental work of processing what is happening.

  9. Tessie

    It’s been really hard to balance Doing Something and Drops IN the Bucket with self-care and avoiding unhealthy obsession/anxiety. Especially when I truly feel that some anxiety IS healthy, and where do you draw the line, and are there really people out there who will DIE SNUG IN THEIR BEDS, HIGH ON DENIAL, while the world is burning? Kinda seems like there are. I guess it’s just too hard to admit error in this case, since that means admitting that it’s not actually POSSIBLE to go 50 years back in time as a country.

    Anyway. Enjoy lunch and maybe get the large fries xx

    1. Slim

      I watched Southside with You (now on video! in Redbox!) while sorting through paperwork for taxes, because we pay income taxes.

      It was soothing-ish.

  10. Lisa Ann

    This is why I love reading your posts Swistle.

    Seriously, I have tried to have honest conversations, a truly open dialogue with the people in my life who think I’m overreacting, etc. etc. and all I get is “snowflake” “libtard” type of responses. And of course the “But Hillary…” answer. They might think this is normal but I don’t and I’m not going to keep quiet about it.

    Anyway, every positive action you make (whatever it is) makes a difference. It may be not feel like it at times but our voices will be heard.

  11. Elsk

    I wish I had an answer. Almost everyone on my feed is in my liberal bubble. When I do encounter a Trump supporter who is digging down, my plan is to peacefully engage and keep gently asking questions, in the hopes that they may (later, privately) ask themselves more questions. For example, when they say “What is the big deal? Calm down, people!” I might ask “Are you genuinely interested in why these people are afraid and angry?” And see what they say. If they say yes, that actually psychologically makes a difference in their heads — they have opened themselves up a tiny bit to hear the other side. I give them a small tidbit, that they might find the most understandable, such as worries about how he doesn’t seem very levelheaded and he might get us into a nuclear war. (I leave out any of the racist sexist etc etc stuff, since they have already shown themselves to be okay with that and/or not really believe it.) But anyway, I really do try to keep my own statements to a minimum and just ask them more questions, and saying things like “I’m genuinely curious”… because I am. My hope is also that it lowers their defenses and gives them the subtle cue that they are a thoughtful person to be reasoned with, again opening the door for them to do some questioning for themselves rather than digging in and doubling down.

    It’s sometimes hard work to engage in this way, but I don’t see any other way back from this degree of polarization.

  12. StephLove

    I wrote my senators and representative today, too. And I marched Saturday. It was very powerful being there with my kids as I fear sometimes (not always) that fixing whatever goes wrong in the next few years could be a multi-decade, multi-generational task.

  13. Laura W.

    There is so much to stay vigilant about, it’s becoming overwhelming. I have set up reoccurring monthly donations to watchdog groups in hopes that they can keep track of everything because I certainly can’t.

    Everything I read suggests contacting one’s representatives to sway their votes. While that’s fantastic advice, I live in Minneapolis and every single one of my representatives is a Democrat and some are extremely liberal. They’re voting the way I want.

    What I’ve decided to do instead is push back when I hear inaccurate, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, or any of the other -phobics information in day to day life. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone to do so but that makes it even more important. If I don’t do it, who will?

    1. Corina

      What you’re doing is wonderful! But you might consider calling/writing once in a while to thank your reps for voting your way. Times are going to be tough for them in the minority, and they might need some bucking up. I live in a super red state and my Congressman is a Tea Party crackpot, but he voted in a way I liked the other day (for completely the wrong reason, but whatever) and it felt really good to call and give him a verbal pat on the head instead of a smack upside it for once.

  14. Rachel

    I posted ONE thing about trump on facebook, one reasonable and nuanced thing, and my uncle came in and told me to “GIVE IT A REST” and my heart just shattered. My FIL is one of those who keeps doubling down in a comical way. I’m scared and my husband thinks I’m insane and I don’t know what to do!

    All that to say, we are here with you. Doing the best we can and just realizing we can’t redirect the ship of America on our own.

  15. Maggie

    This morning when I finally logged on to the internet and found out the global-gag rule had been reinstated I thought I was going to need to breathe into a paper bag. I’d finally managed to get a small grip on my serious anxiety about what the next few years hold and then this hit and now I feel panicked and out of control and filled with anxiety again. I really don’t have anything constructive to say, I guess I just needed to share that.

    1. Ess

      Maggie, I felt the same way when I read about the global gag order. I stood at my kitchen sink and cried. It’s awful. I marched in DC and it was so encouraging, but Trump’s never ending list of awful acts makes it hard to stay hopeful. Thankfully my kids are amazing free-players because I am a bit of a distracted mess.

  16. Britni

    Yes I feel exactly like this.
    And so many people I know say the exact same thing.
    I keep thinking *is* it possible the election was rigged? Or is it just that I only know ppl that didn’t vote for him??

  17. reagan

    I’m worried there is no breaking point. No deal-breaker that could change anyone’s mind. Is this where we are? No one EVER changes their mind?”
    .
    This is where I am at right now. I came home after work Friday and my husband (who was a Bernie Sanders supporter who moved to Trump after the primaries because CHANGE is what is important) proceeded to lecture me on how I shouldn’t be upset or depressed because:
    1) he hasn’t done anything yet;
    2) he can’t do that much because, like Obama was never able to close Quantanimo;
    3) we will be okay no matter what happens given our savings, retirement accounts, life expectancy, etc.
    .
    None of that helped and in fact just upset me more. Trump has done things already and, with the Republican Congress, he can do a lot more. And I am not just worried about us but what about my son, nieces, nephews and future generations.

  18. Erica

    I also highly recommend Pod Save America. Most of the time they strike the balance of genuinely aghast/pragmatically focused/knowing what they’re talking about/amusing that works for me.

  19. Teresa

    I found that I had to cut way back on the number of activists and groups I’m actively following on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a member of several FB groups related to the Women’s March, and I ended up setting them to not put notifications on my wall, so that I’m not overwhelmed with work to do and things to be mad about every time I log on. I visit those groups, still, when I’m looking for that kind of information, but it’s not in my face when I don’t have the energy to think about it but want to see photos of my niece and nephew and funny memes from friends. I’ve found that useful.

  20. Jessemy

    I, too, have felt that my social media outlets has been too divisive to enjoy…I have unfollowed people from both sides of the political spectrum, because any moral statements hack me off. Just generally.

    This may or may not soothe you, but I just read a book called The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It’s been reviewed by the NYT and WSJ positively. He’s a moral psychologist, and he tries to figure out what makes liberals and conseratives different from one another, and why each of these stances have served us as evolving humans. And I feel much more able to relate to everybody on my feed as a result.

    Another oddly soothing read: First Women, by Kate Anderson Brower, a gossipy, behinds-the-scenes book about all the first ladies, who sometimes have friendships with one another that cross party lines in a big way. (Michelle and Laura, Pat and Lady Bird).

  21. Ruby

    Before, things like voting and donating and signing petitions gave me a pleasant “I’m doing everything I can to make this country a better place!” feeling. Now, I still feel like I’m doing everything I can, but it comes with a sense of futility rather than confidence.

  22. rbelle

    I am in the frustrating position of feeling completely hopeless, doing stuff, and having it not make me feel any better. Like, I feel like I’ve been sold a bill of goods by all the self-improvement/pop-psychology books I’ve read throughout my adulthood, all of which have assured me that if I’m feeling anxious/upset about life/the world, then volunteering/taking action will help. And it does! For the actual time that I am doing it, I feel better. And then I walk away from the action and feel futile again. Even something uncontroversial, like volunteering at the local homeless shelter, makes me walk away thinking “How can we fix anything, people literally DO NOT HAVE places to live in this, the richest country in the world.” And so I put my little drops in the bucket and then I feel guilty because I am not able to do the one thing I feel like I should be doing, which is Speaking Out. Like, all my friends posted pictures of themselves marching Saturday, and I didn’t (even though our whole family, even the three-year-old, marched) because there was a possibility it would invite some sort of judgement and controversy into my social media space, and the thought makes my stomach just twist up completely. So along with feeling futile, I feel ashamed. And the irony is that not Speaking Out doesn’t seem to save me from angst, because I still have imaginary conversations in my head with the people I think might react poorly if I did speak out. Or I spend precious minutes of my life thinking about what I WISH I could say to the people posting things that gross me out on social media. But still I stay out of it and write my postcards and send my money and donate what little time I can.

    I have twisted family logistics into a pretzel so I can have a spa day with some friends on Wednesday, I’m just so tired.

    1. Jenny

      I’m sorry you’re feeling so sad and guilty. It sounds like you are doing great stuff and everything you can. You are enough and what you do is enough. No one can save the world by herself. We are in this together.

    2. Alex

      I just want to give you a virtual hug. I am familiar with the feelings of which you speak, and the imaginary conversations with people, too.

      I hope you enjoyed the hell out of your spa day yesterday. xo

  23. Grace

    I’m so sorry.

    This is unrelated, but I just HAD to tell you thank you for recommending _Horus and the Curse of Everlasting Regret_! I bought it for my son and had it stashed until he finally got it on New Years. We finished the other book we were reading and jumped in on Horus. All three of my boys loved it (so did I!!!!). We finished it yesterday afternoon and I’ve been recommending it to all my mom friends. Such a cute, fun book! Love.

    Today is National Peanut Butter Day. Celebrate! (We’ve gotta celebrate SOMEthing, after all.) (Except if you don’t feel like celebrating, that’s okay. Probably better than how I handle stress! ;))

  24. liz

    Thank you for this post.

    I’ve been having the most difficulty with one of my friends, who is on the Welcoming Church committee at my congregation, who has been openly mocking -MOCKING! – those of us who are afraid of what’s ahead for us. I’m ethnically Jewish. There are congregants who are gay and lesbian. Some are trans. Some are Middle Eastern, Black, Hispanic. Women of child-bearing age. Folks who have only just in the last few years gotten insurance for the first time. And he’s mocking us for fearing what will happen.

    1. Eli

      Liz, you should speak with the church leaders — that doesn’t sound very welcoming at all. The church leaders might be interested in speaking privately with him.

  25. Maureen

    I haven’t read the comments, because I need to get my thoughts out now. You said “what’s different?”. Here is the difference in my opinion-decency.

    Whatever your political leanings, Obama is a decent, caring person. He has never promoted hate, racism or misogyny. The Bush presidents-Sr. and Junior-I didn’t agree with their politics, but they seemed like decent men. Trump is not decent. No man who brags about how he would go into the locker room of young girls, because he had the power-is not a decent human being.

    I am trying to be less reactive to things, because my anxiety has been so high, it is affecting my health. I learned how to knit a couple weekends ago, and I find it very zen. I will admit to stress eating, but that also has to do with the fact our furnace broke, they can’t quite figure out the problem, and I live awfully close to the Arctic Circle! At least too close not to have heat and hot water!

    I will say-if one person tells me I am not a patriot because I don’t support this president, it will take everything I have not to punch them in the nose. I got that when I criticized George, Jr. Yet those same people felt fine about slagging off Obama at every opportunity. I used to be shocked that the news would call him Mr. Obama, rather than President Obama, I thought that was such a sign of disrespect.

    Personally, I am putting my money where my mouth is with donations. BUT-I do understand where the whole “WE MUST DO SOMETHING” could also be stressful. He was elected. Does it suck for me, and people who think like I do-YES! But, I can only control what is in my ability to do so, and I have to let go of the anxiety that goes with this. I’ll be dead within 4 years if I don’t.

  26. Mtbakergirl

    Unfollow! So much unfollowing!! They are there and when the world comes to its senses (please please please) we can actually re-engage. I need my energy for my family and the work that lies ahead and none of that is helping me. I salute those who have the ability to try and reason (I think it is terribly important) but for me with my personality it is too much heartbreak for too little return. Swistle, you are doing so much here- please know that you help keep me sane and help me fight too!

  27. SIL Anna

    It’s so nice to read this, when every news article I encounter these days leaves me feeling FURY and DESPAIR.

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