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Where We Left Off

I woke up this morning and I could see the last four years resting in my hands. It was as if I could take all the experiences from the last four years and roll them up into a ball between my palms like Play-Doh. All the horrid emotions of living through the Trump era were right there, blended in with my life. Some things can’t be unmixed. The colors smush together and you’re left with a slushy gray.

These last four years have chipped away at my idealism, and my easy privilege, and my simplistic way of dividing people into “mostly good” and “a few bad.” Looking back from this vantage point, post-Trump, I can see that I’ve lost friends. Not in a dramatic fashion. But time will bear out what my heart already knows.

He said he cared about disabled people, but his actions proved otherwise.

He shrugged at Trump’s first term and went back for a second helping of cruelty.

She was happy enough to say nothing, to do nothing, to see nothing, when horrors unfolded.

My point isn’t that we can’t move forward. But I choose not to forget. Forgetting feels dangerous. In a world where so many people “go with the flow” the flow can shift so quickly that it leaves you gasping for air. We all thought we were better than the Germans in WWII, turning a blind eye to what was happening. But we’re not. We’ve had a taste of that in America, and it’s a fucked-up thing to go through. To see how corruptible your community is. To sit in mute shock while your government steals babies from the arms of refugees. To hear someone you know infer his daughter was a slut for dating a black athlete.

Holy shit! Where did this come from? Has it been here the whole time?

And our black and brown neighbors say in one voice: Yes. This is what we’ve been trying to tell you.

Last year, in Tennessee, a black friend of mine sat at a coffee shop while a huge confederate parade marched down the street outside. She looked around the coffee shop and saw that no one else even batted an eye. There are places in this country I no longer want to visit. My mind has formed a map, not of red and blue, but of safe and unsafe. And the lines aren’t as obvious as you might expect.

Back in 2017, there was a video circulating of a Nazi in Seattle. This was back before the events of Charlottesville, and the mere sight of someone openly wearing a swastika was shocking. In the video, the Nazi holds up his hands to the guy across from him, a “let’s be reasonable” gesture. The other guy punched him square in the face and knocked him out cold. The Nazi lay there, on the concrete, outside the rail station just a quarter mile from my house. At the time, I remember there being this big debate online, and in my own home, about whether or not it was right to use violence in that way. Is it wrong to attack someone before they’ve been violent?

I guess I’ve changed? I’d rather live in a place where literal Nazis are preemptively punched in the face, versus places where confederate flag parades don’t get so much as a dirty look from the average citizen. My tolerance ends at the line where genocidal ideologies live. I’ve seen where unchecked hate can lead, and you need to rip that shit out at the root. We came so so close to losing everything. Heck, we still could.

Biden wants unity, and I’m on board! But I think it’s important that we get clear on what we’re unifying around. And white supremacy ain’t it. Conspiracy theory ‘patriotism’ isn’t it either. In his speech, I think he made those boundaries clear. Let’s walk the talk, even when it hurts.

Today marks the start of a new era. The post-Trump era. May it shine! And having spent the last four years cycling between denial, bargaining, and anger, I feel like I can finally grieve what we’ve lost. Our innocence and arrogance, I suppose. Not to mention all the lives lost or ruined. Families torn apart. Friendships ended. And maybe after grieving, I can accept where we’ve landed?

Not accept as in “this is fine.” I’m talking about the kind of acceptance that says “We live in an unjust world, filled with selfish and ignorant hearts, including our own.” An acceptance that insists there will always be work to be done to make ourselves better. A “let’s get busy” kind of acceptance.

I am not the same person I was before Trump rose to power. That’s hard, but it’s also good.