Monday, February 13, 2017

An Interlude- Dark Night Reactions and Actions

Time for another interlude post in the Dark Night of the Soul.  It has gotten darker for me.

We were sitting in a diner the other evening, the evening the circuit court upheld the stay in the immigration ban. Fox News was on the TV and, while the sound was off, the trailer and closed-captions weren’t. You could see in the faces where some of the news people were going. At the same time the trailer was telling of an Iranian official calling it the “blessed ban” because it proves that the United States hates Muslims.

“The judiciary will save us,” my wife said. The separation of powers that is a basic of our governmental life will hold Trump accountable.

“Unless there is a terror attack by someone from one of these countries before it is resolved,” was my pessimistic response. “Then it will all be the fault of these, as Trump calls them, ‘so-called’ judges.”

“Yes,” was all she could say.

I put my forehead in my hands and wondered if I could give up news for Lent this year?

I am tired. Sick and tired. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. This just can’t be happening.

Corinna Barrett Lain, a professor at University of Richmond School of Law, had an opinion column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last Monday. It started this way:

Let me guess — you are physically and emotionally exhausted. You aren’t sleeping well. You find it difficult to concentrate.

And you are stressed by a torrent of events: attacks on the press, the appointment of a man associated with neo-Nazis as chief strategist to the president (and now as a member of the National Security Council), the endorsement of torture, a ban on all refugees and citizens of select majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, the firing of the acting attorney general who refused to defend the ban, a Holocaust remembrance statement that omitted any reference to Jews, fights with our neighbors and closest allies, and most recently, denigration of a federal judge.

So. Many. Things. It’s enough to suck the lifeblood out of us — and that may be the point. (Link)
These are what have been called “shock events.” They are things that happen too fast for us to process them and cause us to become worn down. We can’t keep up with the seemingly endless series of “shock events” that make us forget the one that came before. It feels like being buried alive.

There are two types of “shock events” and both cause disruption and change. The first is the event that comes out of  nowhere, the “black swans” of history. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are two examples. They cause things to happen because they are so raw and unexpected. Wise (or cunning) politicians can use these type of shock events to get change to happen- quickly. The Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, whether actual or turned into more than it was, could be seen as one as well. This is where my concern about the next potential terrorist attack comes from. Under current settings, such an event could easily turn into a need to set up some form of martial law, extreme police measures or the like in order to protect national security. Fingers will be pointed- at Democrats, at liberals, at judges, at Muslims. It could be very devastating to American democracy.

Which leads to the other type of “shock events.” These are purposely done in order to keep people off-balance. That exhaustion Professor Lain spoke of comes easily from a string of events, any one of which is unsettling, which when taken together become overwhelming. Like a dark night without end.

I had been doing well until this week, until now when it all piled up again. Last week in the post on the Dark Night I talked about the series of conversations I was having with a supporter of Mr. Trump and his policies. I felt positive about the way we had both handled it.

We both were open to trying to move from stereotypes and talking points to at least a little more substance. For example:
Trump Supporter: Democrats didn’t win. They are mad that a Republican is in office.
Me: No. Much of what is happening is not because a Republican won. Many feel Trump is not qualified to be president. It’s not that Democrats lost- it is the nature of the person who won! We are afraid of what he says he will do- and what he is doing. This would not be happening this way if any other GOP candidate had won, except maybe Ted Cruz.
TS: A nod of agreement about Cruz and then of some type of understanding.
 Another discussion:
TS: What about these liberals sitting down in the middle of highways. They deserve to get run over. What they are doing is against the law.
Me: (Admittedly a little sarcastically) Yes, but so was dumping tea in Boston Harbor illegal.
TS: That’s different.
Me: No it’s not. By definition civil disobedience is illegal. If you do it you have to be willing to go to jail.
TS: Ok.
Me: But running the protestors over with a car is also illegal. (He had thought that was what the drivers should do.)
We spent time reviewing what for me is Civics 1- the separation of powers- co-equal branches of government. He didn’t know what I was talking about.
TS: The constitution gives the president the right to protect national security.
Me: Yes, but not if what he is doing is either illegal or unconstitutional.
TS: But the president is the one who decides that. Not the courts.
Me: But the courts decide if what is done is illegal or unconstitutional. That's the way our system works. We have three equal parts of the government. The president is not free to do whatever he wants. He can be challenged in court.
TS: That way the president can’t become a dictator. OK. (It was a statement, not a question!)
I was always honest about my own personal opinions of Mr. Trump and what he has been doing. I didn’t go into all the sordid details as a way of pounding my listener. I was not out to overwhelm him, I was out to listen to him and respond in helpful ways, not pushing him away. We were not debating. We were discussing the issues in real time and with honesty.

I expressed my concerns about Trump- and he responded with his. He said that what he wants most is for Obamacare to be fixed (not repealed!), that we as a country are safe, and that we regain some of our jobs that have been lost to other countries. We did not go into depth on the jobs issue, having had other events come up that sidetracked us.

I saw this as a good paradigm for what I could possibly do in my own one-on-one conversations with other Trump supporters. Unfortunately I don’t know many of those. Of the few I do know, only one couple has been open to these conversations before this. But maybe that’s good enough for now.

But as all that has gone on, we are still only three weeks, repeat only three weeks, into the Trump Presidency. We will not survive the continuing onslaught of shock events. We will be tempted to roll over and give up. Which is why I continue to write this series on the dark night.

What happens when I am not able to control the events that are causing this dark night? What am I to do to keep myself from gong crazy? What am I to do to prevent my physical and emotional energy from being sucked dry by events and situations like the past three weeks?

One obvious direction is one I have talked about many times before, and have lived for over 28 years- accepting my powerlessness and doing what I can do in my own way. Yes, but….

There is always that damned “yes, but…” In those two words I am taking back my control over things which I ultimately have no control over. Which is what I will try to get back to in the next Dark Night post. The causes of our Dark Night may be beyond our control, but if it is to have a meaning and hope, we must find the ways to keep moving forward.

But that’s next. For now let me return to Professor Lain:
How to fight back? The first step — and it is a critical one — is to recognize that the phenomenon is happening. That would explain why we have heard politicians sympathetic to Trump telling us to take a chill pill, “stay off the caffeine,” relax. We are starting to catch wind of what is going on here, and those perpetrating the chaos and invested in its success are threatened. They need us to stay distracted by the upheaval. They need us dazed, divided and confused.

The entire point of shock events is to prevent people from coming together, to prevent the democratic discourse from working.

So it is time to recognize that reality, and resist it — that’s step two. It is time for progressives to stop viewing conservatives as the people who voted us into this mess. And it is time for conservatives to stop viewing progressives as poor sports who are just mad because they lost the election.

Wake up, America. The real enemies are not one another. The enemy is the emerging autocracy of Donald Trump, and that should scare us all.
I respond to that. It was what I was trying to do in those four weeks of conversations with a Trump Supporter. I kept trying to stay focused on the fact that we are all in the same boat. We are all Americans and we need to see what is happening to all of us. When some Trump supporters get “buyer’s remorse,” when they realize they have been hoodwinked by his promises, when things (hopefully) become clear, we need to be together! It will not be helpful for an I told you so to come out of our lips. It will need to be something we have been unable to do in this whole divisive campaign now going on for a number of years; we need to say to each other, “I understand! Let’s work on this together."

One final comment from Professor Lain, her closing paragraph in her article:
 I know you are tired, that’s the very point. But even in our highly polarized polity, what unites us is still much greater than what divides us. We are in the twilight moment, shaken by shock events and fearful of the shadow they are casting. Our task now is to recognize that fact, and come together to avoid becoming unwitting victims of the dark.

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