that brief period where I tried to hold on to my sanity: news blackout in the time of trump
by nikki meredith
I took a break from life in the mainstream – a six-month break to be exact. After the election, I dug a hole in the sand, firmly planted my head in it and vowed that I wouldn’t pull it out until there was evidence that my husband had won the worst fight we ever had. Let me explain.
On that dreadful morning when the country, at least the civilized portion of it, was trying to comprehend what had just happened, I looked across the breakfast table at my husband and noticed that he didn’t look terrified. “Don’t you dare not be undone by this,” I said. “I don’t want to hear any of your optimistic bullshit. This is a disaster of disastrous proportions…there is no good face to put on it.” He, nonetheless, dared: he said he continued to believe that our checks and balances were, eventually, going to right the ship. I told him he was dead wrong. The Republicans controlled everything. It was over.
The fight escalated from there until finally, and I’m not proud of this, I shouted that he didn’t know a god damn thing about either checks or balances in this country because he’s a Canadian and Canada didn’t even have a constitution until 1982. My main fear, of course, was (is) that the thin-skinned, impulsive half-wit who was soon to move into the White House was going to blow up the world. Next in line of fears was that said half-wit was going to accelerate the degradation of our environment right along with accelerating the degradation of human rights. None of this is news. I can hear readers going “Well, duh…” so I’m not really sure why I’m repeating what everyone knows. I guess I’m still having a hard time believing that more than 60 million of my compatriots could be so ignorant and/or mean-spirited that they filled in the box next to his name. And don’t give me any of that bullshit that it was a vote borne out of desperation from a beaten down working class. I can believe it’s true of coal miners and groups whose jobs are being automated out of existence or moved overseas but those downtrodden people do not represent the majority of Trump voters. They are doing just fine, thank you. According to a June 5th article in the Washington Post, the majority of voters in both the primary and the general election were affluent Republicans.
When you read comments on pro-Trump websites and you look at the supporters at his rallies you don’t see poverty or oppression, you see anger, you see homophobia, you see xenophobia. When I read columns written by David Brooks and his ilk urging Trump critics to reach out and listen to the grievances Trump supporters express, I say, “Nyet.” You reach out. They have nothing to say that I want to hear. In fact, if I could figure out a way of suing them for harming our world and the people in it, I would.
I didn’t see the movie “Life is Beautiful” but I knew the premise and I decided that the only way for me to stomach the next few months was to take a page out of Roberto Benigni’s script. I was going to pretend it hadn’t happened — Obama would continue to be my president. The only way I could maintain that fiction was to cut off from mainstream everything. A few of my friends, thinking I wasn’t serious, continued to fill me in on every fresh horror until I finally said, STOP. This is torture. Instead of informing me that he’s nominating Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, just water board me. It would be less painful.
Some friends tried to be understanding, others were pissed at me. How could I turn my back on the country? I said I wasn’t. I blindly signed every petition that came my way from groups I support and I donated to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law center. But the activists were going to have to march without my help.
One friend continued to send news articles trumpeting the worst actions until I told her she had to understand the depth of my fear. I was more frightened than I had been during the Cuban Missile Crisis when I stopped studying because I was so sure the world was going to be over by week’s end. (In truth, I didn’t study much in those days anyway but I also stopped washing my hair.) Actually I was more frightened now. During the Cuban Missile Crisis we had a well-educated president with a whole brain and sound mind. She said none of us had the luxury of hiding. “Don’t you know what danger lurks?” she said. Yes, of course I knew. That’s why I was hiding. Please, I begged. No news. Stop firing those poison bullets in my direction.
I not only quit reading the three newspapers we have delivered, I avoided the mail for fear of seeing depictions of the man on the cover of magazines. If my husband was downstairs watching MSNBC and I needed to retrieve something from the kitchen, I would stick my fingers in my ears and sing la-la-la-la-la, the way I did as a kid when my brother was taunting me and I didn’t want to hear.
Since I no longer watched the news while I ate my lunch, I started streaming old movies or TV series. The best choice, in terms of distraction, was the first Hangover. I still think the naked Asian gangster (played by actor Ken Jeong) with only his boots on who pops out of the trunk of the Mercedes and starts beating the guys with his cane is the funniest scene in any movie I’ve ever seen. The worst choice was streaming West Wing. President Bartlett reminded me too much of Obama – smart, wise, funny with perfect comic timing and same with Mrs. Bartlett who reminded me of Mrs. Obama…witty, smart, sarcastic, kind. Imagine that. Kind. I will never completely forgive Obama for not prosecuting torturers but it’s going to be difficult to condemn him for it during the next four years
Most of the time, I managed to live quite happily in my alternate universe. The one thought that routinely pierced my blackout bubble: What would I do if I’d been alive during the Holocaust? Did I have the luxury of turning my back? Wasn’t this a holocaust of sorts, a holocaust in the making?
The worst part was watching my friends suffer and not being able to commiserate. And, boy, were they suffering, especially the women. (Insomnia seemed to be the most frequent manifestation of their pain.) I hate to perpetuate stereotypes but the men I knew were able to compartmentalize. They weren’t celebrating but they weren’t mourning either. Actually, the day after the election that wasn’t true. There was an expression of stunned grief on the face of every man I knew.
I might have felt worse about not joining the sisterhood in our common grief if it weren’t for one thing: talking to my friends made me feel worse. If all of these women I respected were this upset, it had to be as bad (if not worse) as I feared. We were in big trouble. It was awkward because I really did want them to shut up. About a week after the election I was meeting three friends for dinner. I e-mailed ahead of time, indicating that I would be about a half-hour late and I was hoping that would give them enough time to have a partial ventilating session. I knew it wouldn’t be enough time to get it all out but perhaps, enough time to blow off sufficient steam so we could talk about something else during dinner. “I don’t know if this is fair to ask, but I’m going to ask anyway. Please get it out of your systems so by the time I arrive we can talk about something else.” Clearly, it was too much to ask. They were too upset to talk about anything else. So at one point, I escaped to the ladies room and spent so long in one of the stalls I’m sure people thought I was having myself a little party. I wasn’t but it would have been an excellent idea.
It was a lonely six months. My husband was too affably Canadian, my friends were too frantically American. The only source of comfort was my dog. She didn’t provide checks but a whole lot of balance.
What returned me to the land of mainstream living? Remember, I said losing the argument with my husband would do it. I needed evidence that a check on the half-wit in the White House had emerged. Finally, there was one.
(By the way, in my regular life, I have never, ever called anyone a half-wit but I don’t want to say his name and I have to call him something or you won’t know who I’m talking about.)
You might think that the bipartisan uproar over the firing of Comey was enough to bring me back. It wasn’t. Comey was a dick. He didn’t like the increased scrutiny of police officers and said so, essentially blaming Black Lives Matter for the uptick in violent crime. This infuriated me. Yes, we needed a discussion about the issues. The situation is complicated. But did he bother to think what kind of ammunition he was arming cops with? Did he care? Had he ever heard the expression “words have consequences?” We soon learned the extent to which he’s not a consequences kind of guy and we may be paying for it every day… forever. What did he think would happen when he characterized Hillary’s email server situation as evidence that she was “extremely careless.” I know it’s ancient spilt milk and who knows if it was calculated to bring her down. Those are enough words about him, for now. He’s been punished though we’ve been punished more. I hope he regrets verbally shitting on Hillary. I hope he regrets it in the deepest way possible…the kind of regret that worms its way into his gut like a hook worm, fastening to his intestine and hanging on for dear life…his dear life. But no, that’s not what brought my head out of it’s self-imposed sand hole.
May 17, 2017
Over breakfast my husband said, “Please pass the toast and I think you’re going to want to watch the news today.” I was stunned. I had told him that there was one event, aside from proof of a legitimate “check,” that would justify penetrating my news blackout, no questions asked: “regime change.” (I hope you’re able to decipher my coded language here. I’m cautious because I picture NSA listening with red flags at the ready.) I said, “Even if ‘regime change’ [wink, wink] happens at 3 a.m. and even if I haven’t slept for two weeks, wake me up.” My husband winced. He doesn’t like that kind of talk, even euphemistically. It’s the genial Canadian in him…actually, there’s a huge exception to the non-violent geniality of the Canadians. It’s called hockey.
For decades I have watched my husband land in the penalty box on a regular basis…one time he’d been such a bad boy that the referee exiled him along with the hot head with whom he’d tangled on the ice. He didn’t even get to cool-off in the penalty box. The ref sent him home. So it must be acknowledged that he’s no Gandhi when it comes to non-violence but he nonetheless cringes when his wife talks about the thing “regime change” is a proxy for.
So if not regime change, what in the news suggested that my husband had won the argument? What was the evidence that there was a check on the power of the man who was living in the White House? The answer: The hiring of the special prosecutor to probe the Russia connection. I felt like throwing my hat in the air, Mary Tyler Moore style. Okay. My husband was right. There is possibly a check on the insane power this country handed this infantile adult.
And then, a couple months after I had settled into my old news-consuming habit, along came the Joe Arpaio pardon. I considered re-retreating. Can you imagine what a blow that pardon was for the men and women he had so horribly brutalized for so many years, all with the support of the voters? And then, finally the voters bounced the bum. Finally the victims got their day in court. And then, once again, their hopes were dashed. Now we knew, the special prosecutor’s work would be for naught. The barbarian in the White House will pardon everyone, including himself.
Ultimately, I decided to keep my head out of the sand. And I guess I’m glad I did. Otherwise I would have missed the news report that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort. Those pardons aren’t going to be so easy. So maybe there’s hope. If he manages to not blow up the world first, maybe there will be a check on his criminal behavior past, present and future. So, I’m back to consuming the news…I have to admit, though, given the peril he’s put us in on all fronts, it’s cold, cold comfort.
Great one Nikki. I did try not to bring you back to the news at the time although I remember failing once or twice. Very good article and captures the despair and fear and incredulity of him as president.
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As an Irish man, who once lived in America. I live happily in Ireland never to return. Ireland and most of Europe either laugh or are saddened at the president of the USA. It is a shame because of such strong connections with the USA, Ireland and much of Europe. On one hand I feel sorry for the many Americans who think like the rest of the world in that this is ridiculous, on the other hand, I am surprised by the many that encourage it. I just just hope it goes to term peacefully. Nice article to read 🙂
I no longer recognize much of the rhetoric in this country but it’s been a comfort to me that Europe and Canada were different. However, I recently read an article in the nytimes by a Swedish grad student who infiltrated the alt right. His conclusion: this is not an American phenomenon but a western one (thanks to the internet) and the goal is to normalize these extreme views in North America and Europe. Apparently among an increasing number of young people, it’s now hip to be a neo-nazi. Like so many Americans, I feel a kinship with Ireland and would love to think the alt right is not expanding there too! Thank you for your comment.