In September 2016, I wrote a list of promises to myself should Trump thread the needle and win that year’s election. I figure that I owe myself a check-in.
We now enter our first full winter under the Trump presidency, and I fear that — after an exhausting year of resistance, with occasional moments of bright success — it’ll feel very dark and cold for a while. A thick mass of Trump-enabled cruelty seems likely take smothering hold soon, including but not limited to the “tax bill” that torpedos much of the Fairey-tinted hope of life under Obama, shredding American support for nationwide health, education, and opportunity in order to further enrich the already-richest. I know I need to light a candle against it. I have to live through this, and help my loved ones through too.
Well then, according to the rubric laid down by my naive, pre-election self, how’s my footing? Taking it point by point:
“I will stay calm.” I did need to hire help with this part, very soon after the election. There came a day just before Christmas of last year where I felt things spinning away from me, and I called the first therapist from the little list of those accepting my wife’s insurance. Happily, he worked a three-minute walk from my office, and we met that day.
So, yes, the wryly reported spike in therapist traffic due explicitly to Trump-driven anxiety was real, dear reader, and I was part of it. Happily, I can report that the therapy helped. A year later, I continue my visits, the frequency gradually decreasing from weekly to every month or two.
“I will accept my feeling sad and scared. Corollary: I will accept my friends and family feeling sad and scared, too.” When I wrote that two Septembers ago, I recalled how angry I felt during the majority of George W. Bush’s presidency. I vividly recalled walking down the street listening to his voice in a news podcast, not noticing the stream of foul language I emitted until some minutes in.
Somehow, though, I figured that fear, not anger, would rule my emotions during a Trump presidency. Bush was a fool who made one disastrous decision after another, but at least he had a moral compass, and he tried his best to be president; Trump, meanwhile, is a transparent sociopath who adores nothing more than stirring up chaos and drama to keep the spotlight on himself.
And I did feel scared, on election night. I will always remember how my wife and I held each other in the darkness, shivering, for a long time. But then the sun came up. And since then? I’ve mostly felt some mix of angry, sad, and disgusted. Sometimes with a frisson of genuine disbelief: How can this be happening. How did we get here, when things seemed to be going so well.
Weirdly, I just can’t work up anything like sustained fear over any of the things Trump’s world gives us to fear. Even the increasing prospect of nuclear war just makes me angry at how the evil men who’ve hijacked this train gaily shovel all our national potential into the furnace just to keep themselves toasty-warm, forgetting their mission to move us all forward. I hate them, and I hate all this.
So: A category error, on my part. Do I accept it? Well, I suppose so. I’ll hardly deny my friends’ right to feel angry, let alone my own.
“Internal resistance: I will not give in to despair or nihilism.” This has been harder than merely staying calm, and my head does dip under the inky waves now and again. Sometimes I say things in public I regret. Just yesterday a friend said “Stay strong” to me in a text chat, one hundred percent unironically, because I had been typing up such a dark streak. I get myself into situations where I need to be told that.
I have only recently admitted to myself that Twitter has become poisonous. I still need it, I haven’t bailed on it, but I try not to take long attention-focused pulls of it any more. Furthermore, I actively avoid all Twitter users, even ones I used to adore, who have succumbed completely into the comfortable all-is-lost nihilism that sings to me, too. They represent a personal danger more subtle than that of the neo-nazis lately and more famously insinuating across the same network.
“External resistance: I will seek out movements keeping American hope alive.” Well, I had hoped the Obamas would emerge as resistance leaders, but of course they’ve gone in their own direction, and I can hardly blame them.
I don’t really feel like I have any political leader right now, though I have increasing admiration for my state’s outspoken Senator Whitehouse, and I’ve recently subscribed to the Washington Post, which changed its slogan at the beginning of the Trump presidency to overtly stake out its mission in a new, gloomier era. They help.
I have written about engaging in modest “earn-to-give” philanthropy, and I do continue with this tack, though it all feels rather passive.
“I will keep doing what I love.” In this respect, I have found the most success. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve redefined and greatly improved my attitude towards my self-employment day-job, delivering the best work I can for my two core clients, and actively investing time and attention into improving my management processes.
In the meantime, the non-profit I preside over ends its first calendar year having met most of its goals, including running its first — and quite successful — program-specific fundraiser. Having established itself, IFTF enters 2018 holding new second-order public-service goals which I quite honestly look forward to helping it achieve.
IFTF began during the sunset of the Obama era, and at the time I wondered if it represented a waste of energy; why expect support for a new digital arts organization now when one should really focus on, say, defending civil rights? But today, I recognize that cofounding IFTF will likely remain one of the best things I’ll have ever done. I helped create a protective bastion for creative energy just as a long darkness settled in all around. That’s important, very important and good, and my continuing to serve it gives me a lot of the light I need to keep going.