While almost everyone I know is gnashing their teeth, looking for something to break, or searching for something constructive to do, the Trump victory has left me strangely contemplative, almost calm.
Like so many others, I have terrible forebodings about the upcoming presidency. It requires little to imagine the start of mass immigrant deportations and gross violations of civil rights for Muslims, journalists, and all of us who object to Trump’s ascendance. He will further empower and enrich the crassest of the wealthy class and, simultaneously, he will profoundly disappoint those who put their faith in him. He will accelerate the degradation of our planet and the degradation of our culture, legitimizing bigotry of all kinds. He is already installing neo-fascists, like Stephen Bannon, within the heart of our government. And the Bannon appointment probably foreshadows alliances with right wing governments in Austria, Hungary, Russia, France, and many other nations. Is this the time when democracy is dumped into the trash heap of history? The possibility is all too real, all too immediate.
Maybe, as thoughtful policy analysts like Steven Kinzer suggest, Trump will also have some positive effects, chief among them diminishing the chances of nuclear confrontation with Russia and backing off of the idea that we are responsible for world economic, social, and political order. Hillary Clinton, after all, is but a warmed over cold warrior, and it’s time that we rid ourselves of bankrupt foreign policies, based on American exceptionalism. It may be that Trump’s victory awakens our youth. The world, with its massive demographic, political, and climate shifts demands a response of comparable dimensions.
There are lots of fine people telling us to resist and organize now. Take this moment as a blessing in disguise. Carpe diem. It is only when the world is disrupted, in disequilibrium, that you can change it. Isn’t that the message of all modern change theorists, from Prigogine in physics to Stephen Jay Gould in evolutionary biology to Eleanor Duckworth in education. How else can we respond the vast demographic shifts brought on by migrations, droughts, genocides—and the shadow of the twentieth century when Hitler and Stalin, alone, murdered tens of millions of people. We are a world that’s ready for a change—but change for the good is only one possibility.
All of this volcanic activity seems, in the short run, to have had a paradoxical effect on me. It seems to have released me from the external chaos and turned me deep into myself. The campaign’s outcomes are too raw, too painful to contemplate head on. If I read the news at all, it’s to hurry through, to almost turn my head so I don’t see. Having withdrawn from the news and from the anxious build-up to the November vote, I find myself calm, even relaxed. I am pretty sure that this is momentary but that does not make it less true.
It’s like entering a personal monastery, taking vows to remain until I find a new place for myself, a new way to see the world and my relation to it. Even though part of me thinks this is bad, amoral at least, I am going to remain in my monastery until I’m ready to emerge.
To the extent that I am paying attention to world events, it is as an almost disinterested observer. It doesn’t feel like we know enough to spring into action. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing about the marches, the calls to resist and organize. They have fed me all my life. But I need to see what the Trump people are doing. I need to get oriented. There will be time and reason and urgency enough to organize over the next several months, years, and decades. The rush to action may be soothing—do something, anything to avoid feeling like a passive victim—but I don’t think it will have much of an impact right now.
It would not surprise me, for example, if Donald Trump is impeached within the next few years. He criminal activities are unbounded. His impulsiveness is likely to frighten even the most rabid Republicans. We could be at war within a year. If he is impeached, then Pence will be president, the type of outcome the Republican Right has wanted all along. Short of impeachment, he may simply find himself in power struggles within his supposed party—he’s not a Republican, after all—struggles that will try his patience, leading him back to the businesses that he’s not supposed to attend to during the presidency. Or, in the face of political and journalistic opposition, he may fully show his fascist colors, trying to dismantle democratic institutions and traditions.
In the meantime, I am more aware than ever that the upcoming fight is not primarily my fight. It is not the fight for my generation. It is the younger generations that will have to step forward. They will have to lead. This moment signals the passing of the guard. We can—we must—support their leadership but support will be our primary role. We will have to adjust to our loss of position, our loss of face, our many failures.
But I digress. All along I have intended to say that I have retreated in order to gather myself. And I wonder what the retreat will mean. I wonder if it is time to pay more attention to questions of the soul. These last few days, my pace has slowed. I pay attention to the people who are close, to the food that I eat and the air that I breath. I have substituted philosophical texts for the political columns that kept my heart rate up.
Is this a failure of nerve? A cop out? Will I abandon my monastery before I am clear what to do? Maybe. But it feels good. The rest has helped. And, in the meantime, what can I do to stop the tide of history. Why shouldn’t I take comfort in the next generations taking their rightful place in the defense of civilization.