Sunday, September 3, 2017

We Won't All Survive This

"We will survive this," the title of a recent Garrison Keillor piece tells us. In it, Keillor proceeds to talk about how Donald Trump being president isn't actually that big of a deal. Life is still good, he tells us, as he writes about his high school reunion, the lives his former classmates are leading, and fresh tomatoes. Trump may be an idiot, but it will pass. Life goes on. Why sweat it?

If we take an existential nihilist point of view, Trump's presidency doesn't matter, true. Neither does AIDS, the Holocaust, or the fresh tomatoes Keillor is so fond of. That doesn't seem to be his argument. Rather, I suppose he's telling us not to get too bent out of shape because it's not like Trump can do that much damage, right? That's an appealing thought. We should all relax a little bit, and--most importantly--keep in mind that as bad as things might seem at first blush, everything will turn out okay.

The only problem is that it's totally wrong. Garrison Keillor may well survive Trump's presidency--and if he doesn't, it probably won't have anything to do with Trump--but many people will not, and many people have already died. That is because Trump's presidency is not simply an embarrassment or a spectacle, though it is undoubtedly both--most of all, it's an atrocity, precisely because of how many people will not survive it, or will suffer tremendously if they do.

One of the people who won't survive the Trump years is Heather Heyer, the protestor killed just a few weeks ago by James Fields, reportedly a Nazi sympathizer and Trump supporter. Trump wasn't driving the car, and has issued the politically required condemnation of Fields' terrorist attack, but given how he's helped promote bigotry and racism from a high-profile platform for the past two years and has often encouraged violence from his supporters, it's hard not to wonder if she would still be alive if it weren't for the monster in the Oval Office.

Nor will the 2,000 civilians reportedly slaughtered in the air war against ISIS survive Donald Trump. In his recent speech about Afghanistan, Trump boasted that he has "lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters that prevented the Secretary of Defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy." It's hard not to wonder what the correlation is between whatever changes Trump has made and the sharp uptick in civilian casualties that has already happened under his administration.

Trump's Affordable Care Act repeal plans have been thwarted for now, but should he succeed, there is no doubt that many people will not survive his administration as a result of that, as well. In short, "we" will not survive this, if "we" is supposed to mean everyone who could have expected to survive if it weren't for unholy creature that inhabits the White House. But then, maybe Keillor means "we" in a broader sense--not we as individuals, but we as a country, will survive this.

For some of us, that idea is hardly a comfort. The last thing we are looking for is some sort of preservation of the current system. But even putting that aside, Keillor might still be wrong. Trump represents the reaction of a disturbingly large portion of the country to the progress that's been made in moving toward greater racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and gender equality. That's not to say those are the motivations of everyone who voted for him, but those are the people who have rallied behind him and been all the more energized by his open displays of bigotry. They are uninterested in accepting the rights of people unlike them, and it's an insult to ask the marginalized groups they detest to try to offer them some sort of compromise. With a president that actively makes these divisions worse and shows no regard for any sort of limitations on his or his allies' power, who's to say that this will all blow over and things will go back to normal? Not that "normal" was that desirable to begin with.

In a time as politically ugly as this, retreat is a tempting option. And only the most steel-willed can do without taking some sort of temporary escape from this hideous nightmare from time to time. But adopting the comforting notion that if we go inside and close the doors, the storm will blow over, is a major mistake. The only way to minimize the negative impact of the disaster that's unfolding is to stay active and stay vigilant. People are dying, and they will continue to die. If you find that idea less comforting than Keillor's feel-good piece, that's good, because there's nothing to feel comfortable about right now.