So This Is What It Feels Like: Trying Not To Feel Powerless In Trump's America
During the Obama administration, I was fascinated by the intense paranoia and victimhood that characterized the Tea Party. I was continually amazed by their overwhelming sense that the apocalypse was perpetually at the door, and that a moderate, pragmatic, cool-headed President like Obama was always just minutes away from declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution so he could take awayeverybody’s guns and anoint himself supreme dictator for life.
These crazed conspiracy theorists seemed to inhabit a different universe than the one that I lived in. It was a world where Obama and Hillary Clinton were not corporate-approved moderates deeply committed to working within the system but rather bomb-throwing crazed Marxist Islamist terrorist sympathizers.
I was struck by the intense hatred directed toward Obama, by the way his mere existence as a brilliant, aloof black intellectual with power seemed to inspire not just anger or hatred but soul-shaking, all-consuming rage. It astonished me that white Christian men, a group that has historically wielded crazily disproportionate power in the United States, saw itself as powerless and the victim of people traditionally at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
I tried to, if not empathize with, then to understand, how people who seemingly have so much power can feel so powerless and overwhelmed and out of control. While I think the legalization of gay marriage and marijuana are wonderful things, I can see how if you grow up in a deeply Christian household where all of life’s answers can be found in the Old Testament, then something as seemingly unobjectionable as allowing people who love each other to get married regardless of their gender could feel like an intrusive and overreaching government changing the rules in scary and dramatic ways that do not take your fiercely held beliefs into consideration, and, in fact, sees those beliefs as not only wrong but bigoted as well.
If you grew up, as I did, with twelve grades of toxic propaganda about how a single puff on a marijuana cigarette would send you on a quick path to heroin addiction, then a government that historically locked up a whole lot of black men for the unforgivable crime of selling or possessing a leaf that doesn’t really hurt anyone, then the government legalizing marijuana is bound to send some confusing signals.
In my world, the legalization of gay marriage was a huge leap forward for Civil Rights but I could see how people conditioned to see homosexuality as a threat, to marriage and to family and everything else, could see it as an enormous threat. They felt like their way of life was being threatened. To my side, it looked like it was only their right to legally discriminate against people that was being threatened, if that, but to a lot of Conservatives the right to legally discriminate against people on the basis of their religious beliefs is a big part of their way of life. Guns are similarly a big part of these people’s way of life, and even if Obama never actually got around to taking everyone’s guns, the mere idea that someone might is enough to make our nation’s gun nuts feel like they’ve lost all power. In these people’s minds, if everyone can’t have every gun, then obviously that meant that their right to own any gun is about to be revoked.
The Tea Party felt powerless and desperate and people who feel powerless and desperate do desperate things like elect Donald Trump President.
Since November 9th, I’ve no longer had to imagine what it would be like to be afraid of the people in power. I feel it in my guts, on a molecular level. But where Tea Party folks were terrified of the government becoming so vast and corrupt and powerful that it swallows up everything in its path, even saintly, faultless corporations, I have an antithetical fear. My worry is that the new leader of the government is a man who, as one of his core principles (if a man like Donald Trump can even be said to have principles, which is a very big if), hates the government and wants to destroy it.
Alternately, Trump seems to want to recreate the government in his image so that it’s all sticks and no carrots, all military expenditures and money for police tanks and no more of those awful social programs. I am terrified of what Donald Trump might do to the United States. I wake up every morning with an intense feeling of powerless, with a sense that the government is doing things on my behalf that I not only do not agree with, but finding morally abhorrent and unforgivable.
So I’m trying to use this anger and sadness and hopelessness that I feel about the government and the President as productive fuel pointing in the direction of genuine change instead of letting hopelessness and despair lull me into a state of inertia.
Now I know what it feels like to wake up and feel like you’ve lost control and that the world is heading in a terrifying direction at a breakneck speed. This is particularly true of the attempts to repeal Obamacare, a program that plays a huge role in my family being able to just barely get by without having to move back in with my in-laws. An overwhelming sensation of powerlessness and fear feels terrible, but it also feels like a call to action. Thankfully, that’s a call for action that many of us are both hearing, and heeding.