The Day After Election Day 2016

I just succumbed to a Facebook posting temptation.  You know what I mean — you read a post that really bothers you and type a reply and then, instead of hesitating and deleting it, you hit post.

This was a rant from a former student denouncing people who had the nerve to compare the way they feel today to the way they felt on 9/11.  I know it’s a personal topic for her; she’s married to a police officer and, like many on Staten Island, knew people who were lost that day.  She said that anyone who invoked 9/11 — as if it belongs to only some of us — should be ashamed.  And that if you couldn’t live with a Trump presidency, well there were options.

But you see, I was one of those people she was complaining about.  Last night, as the results were coming in, I posted, “I’m having flashbacks, seriously, to the way I felt on 9/11 in NYC. I feel like my country is under attack.”

I added the “seriously,” because I understood how it sounded, and I wanted friends to know I wasn’t being hyperbolic.  Even before I saw her take-down of my feelings, I’ve been aware that today feels like only two other days in my life.

One was 9/11/2001, when I was in Manhattan and the towers were struck and our country was attacked.  I was afraid, terrified for my family and my country, and desperate to get off Manhattan.  And acutely aware that, no matter what else happened, history’s course had changed and nothing would be the same.

The other was on 10/22/2001, six weeks after the attack, just as we were nervously adapting to the new normal that was security checks, national guard deployment, acrid smoke and the eternal burning downtown.  On that day, I got a phone call at work from a man who identified himself as a police officer and told me my mother was in Staten Island University Hospital. When I got there, I learned that she had been hit by a school bus as she was crossing the street.  With massive head injuries and a heart that kept failing, she died a few hours later.  We, her children and grandchild waited, worried, a few yards away, but never saw her alive again. The world, once again, changed entirely that day.

The point is, I know what it feels like when everything changes.

I don’t make these comparisons lightly.  I am a student of history, and I see no good coming from electing a president whose character, temper, and experience alone should disqualify him from the office, and whose positions and statements on fundamental democratic institutions like the press, the courts, treaties and the Constitution, should worry us all.  I have never really believed in American exceptionalism, although it’s certainly attractive to think that we’re a nation specially blessed by God and somehow exempt from history.  But the reality is, as I think I’ve taught, that we’re subject to the same kinds of weaknesses, interests and institutional degradation that affects all nations.  Except for our belief that “it can’t happen here.”

Well, it’s happening.  Because it wasn’t simply that a monstrous candidate was chosen by less than a majority of the voters (with a big chunk not voting at all), but we also saw an end to divided government.  The House, the Senate, the Presidency and, soon, the Supreme Court will all be in control of the party that has terrified half the nation.  Oh, and so are most of the states.  That means there’s no institutional checks on power (remember checks and balances?). Want to “free up” the libel laws to prevent the press from criticizing people in government?  That law might just pass.  And be upheld on appeal.  What if this president, known for a disturbing tendency to go after enemies, no matter how insignificant (remember Alicia Machado?), decides to use the power of the FBI, the IRS and other agencies of government to punish his political enemies.  Who’s going to stop him?

Maybe those are far-fetched worries.  And the fact is that my life is not likely to change drastically.  Yes, there might be changes to Social Security and Medicare that impact me, but I am of a race and class that can probably weather a few years of setbacks and bad government.  And I’m old enough that degradation that results from relaxation of environmental protections won’t degrade the air and water I depend on for the next twenty or so years of my life.

With all this in mind, I responded to the former student’s post.  I told her I thought it was a mistake to take people to task for their feelings; that you kinda had to take those on faith.  And I admitted I was one of the ones who said that, and that I stood by it, and I politely explained why.  And, of course, the very first person who replied was not as polite.  His profile picture was of Trump leaning out of the window of a limousine with a semi-automatic handgun in hand.  I imagine it was photoshopped.

Others agreed, saying that you couldn’t compare a presidential election with an incident in which people suffered and died, and where people were still dying years later.  That’s said from a position of privilege and safety, from someone who is pretty confident that the election isn’t going to be personal for them.  The truth, though, is that presidential elections ARE matters of life and death for some people.  Members of the military; civilians who will be gunned down in mass shootings because we don’t know how to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues; children born here whose families will be broken up because their parents are undocumented; people who can’t afford decent health care.  The election is personal to them, and I stand with them.

I regretted having engaged.  I’m in the advocacy/hearts & minds business and I know that there’s no point trying to reach those who will not hear.  Focus your efforts on the ones who are receptive to your message, who will benefit from support and skills.  Tend your garden, not the weeds.

So, having done one thing I don’t usually do — enter the fray where there’s no one listening — I did something else I never do.  I unfriended her, not wanting to read the vitriol that, despite the president-elect’s call for unity, was certain to pour forth.

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7 Responses

  1. I wanted to call you for your wisdom and am glad to see you reached out to us, your wordpress fans, who so love your courageous mind and heart. Thank you Maureen, and let’s double down on changing the world for the better, and protecting and using our precious rights- to speak and write, to sing and dance, to protest, to love one another, to overcome every obstacle to freedom.

  2. I suspect I know who you’re talking about. I had to unfriend her over a #BLM disagreement when it took a “that’s how those liberals think” turn. She wasn’t going to hear me, and she wasn’t going to hear you too. Honestly, my life has been more peaceful since then. I have no regrets.

    • I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with her, but who wants to tangle with the friends? I agree, peace is good. How are your boys taking it?

      • This *has* to be the same person; when I responded to her rebuttal, she brought in her friends to tell me how wrong I was. One went so far as to review my FB friends list and accuse me of being racist because I didn’t have enough black friends. Then she called in her husband who devolved the conversation to “why are you arguing with liberals.” That was the end of it for me.
        Alex didn’t understand the whole thing, but that may because I couldn’t stop crying when I told him the person he voted for didn’t get elected. He doesn’t like losing at Bingo so his not understanding may be a good thing. 😉 Ryan was devastated and between that and an ovedue term paper, I don’t expect him to be back to his old self for a while. As for me, I’m joining the local Democratic committee because I can’t sit back and hope this resolves itself, and I will not quietly join in unity with an administration that doesn’t share my values.

  3. You have been a mentor to me since Junior year of high school. Back in the early 90s I hesitated in publishing a school newspaper column that criticized, albeit very lightheartedly and in good humor, the school. You only had to say a few words and look me in the eye to make me realize that voicing my thoughts on paper was the right decision. Putting our thoughts out there for public viewing always involves some risk that we will offend others, or that others will fail to see the nuance in our words. But I read that post last night, and I am glad you expressed yourself as you did. You had the courage to say what you felt, and it helps others do the same. I have never been an overly political person, but I feel that changing by the hour in the aftermath of this outcome. You had the courage to say what you felt, and it helps others do the same. Keep speaking. Keep posting. I speak for many who look to you at in moments like this. We need you, Ms. Costello.

  4. Maureen – you did the right thing in disengaging from the “conversation”. You are certainly not alone in expressing your feelings as compared to how we all felt on 9/11. I received a similar message from Brendan on Tuesday. Take care.

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