I am not marching today, the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States. I feel far more conflicted about this than I expected. Today, my fellow women in all 50 states and on all 7 continents (yes, even Antarctica!) are marching in opposition to Trump’s stances on various issues. Among these women are dozens whom I’m privileged to call friends. My hearts are with them.
Marching — an action I’m not naturally quick to jump on — proved to be too logistically complicated on this particular weekend. Instead, I am protesting by writing. My two oldest daughters are protesting by going to see Hidden Figures (a film about three female African-American mathematicians who worked behind the scenes of NASA’s early space missions) with our Victoria. My two youngest daughters are protesting by assembling furniture with my husband. This morning, we all protested by driving up the mountain for some cross-country skiing.
Barack Obama began his first term in office when my firstborn was one year old. She rode on her father’s shoulders as we joined a jubilant crowd to watch the inauguration on a big screen in U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. We felt so fortunate that our children would be born into this historic era of hope and promise.
The hope and promise of that day eight years ago didn’t last, of course. And here we are.
I have now lived through 11 Presidential inaugurations. But never in my life have I felt the type of crushing sadness that I felt yesterday.
In trying to figure out exactly why I felt the way I did — why this inauguration felt so different from all others to me and many of my friends — here is what I came up with:
For me, this is not, first and foremost, about political parties, or even policies. I’ve seen Presidents from both parties come and go. Some have espoused views and policies that I agreed with, and some have not. There have been times in the past when I’ve been disappointed — distressed, even — over the person taking office. But I’ve always had faith in democracy and the political process. I’ve been able to take the view that “You win some, you lose some.” And while we’ve had some very flawed leaders on both sides of the aisle, for the most part I’ve had confidence that our government was trying to be on the right side of history, to do what would best promote freedom and justice in the United States and the world, even when those efforts proved sloppy or misguided.
No, my sorrow yesterday was not sour grapes; it was not whining because my side lost.
Nor were my feelings, at root, targeted anger towards Trump’s policies. Yes, he made campaign promises that, if he’s able to deliver on them, are incredibly alarming; policies that, if implemented, I believe will harm people I love, their children, and our nation as a whole. If some of these things come to pass, then you likely will see me marching. But the fact is that, as of yesterday, Trump hadn’t been in office. He’d made some troubling promises and nominated some troubling people, but he hadn’t really done anything yet. So I cling to a small strand of hope that what’s said on the campaign trail and what’s actually possible to accomplish are two very different things. I’m willing to wait and see what unfolds, instead of wasting my energy on “what-ifs.”
When I questioned my own sadness, I remembered a discussion that I’d had with my eldest daughter right after the November election.
She’d started saying, repeatedly, that she was “scared about the wall.” She meant, of course, Trump’s promise that he would build a wall along our country’s southern border with Mexico — and make Mexico pay for it.
Just where my daughter heard about “the wall,” I’m not sure. Certainly not from my husband or me: My daughters are so prone to fear and drama that I try to shield them from the darker facts of life, for better or worse. And honestly, for much of the election cycle my husband and I (foolishly) thought that a Trump Presidency was a logical impossibility, so we didn’t bother discussing anything he said in front of the children.
But wherever she heard about it, the fact remained that my daughter was scared about this idea of a wall. Finally, I asked her why: Just what was it that she was afraid of?
“I guess because it means that we’re just not that nice,” she said.
And that right there — my daughter giving voice to her realization that this election revealed that “we’re just not that nice” — that is why my heart broke a little yesterday.
We have just installed as the highest leader in our land a man whose entire career has been built unabashedly upon greed, self-promotion, and the objectification of women. A man who tweets out knee-jerk, angry, demeaning, juvenile insults at anybody who questions him. A man who has used the most offensive language possible to talk about women — and bragged about acting on that language. A man who, throughout his campaign and even in his inaugural address, has fed off of anger and fear — which, as any young Star Wars fan can tell you, basically means that you’re going over to the Dark Side.
There is a darkness around our new President. I cannot trust him to be responsible with his words or his actions, and thus I would not trust him — our country’s leader — in a room with my children. (And note that I’ve not even touched upon the possible dark deals with Russia and issues of business ethics.)
Have we had morally questionable leaders in the past? Absolutely. But in the past, they’ve always tried to hide their misdeeds behind polite rhetoric. And, when discovered, they usually apologized and paid the price in terms of loss of public confidence and votes. What’s different about this situation is that we knew all of these things about Trump before the election, and we elected him anyway.
I recognize that there may be value in ripping the band-aid off of the polite rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from our politicians. I recognize that the anger and fear that Trump tapped into have been simmering for a long time among certain citizens of this country, and that the needs of these citizens deserve to be heard and addressed. And yet, it feels as if we’ve sold our souls in a misguided attempt to save our country.
“We’re just not that nice,” my daughter said. “Nice” can be an insipid term, difficult to define. But when I think of my country, I think of a place that’s always tried (in halting, imperfect fashion) to enfranchise as many people as possible, to welcome refugees, and to fight for justice worldwide. “America First” may appeal to our patriotism, but it’s essentially a defensive posture, a circling of the wagons that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.
This is probably idealistic; the reality may well be that the United States isn’t “nice,” and hasn’t been for a long time. What breaks my heart, though, is that now my daughters know it.
Like any mother, I try to shield my daughters from the darkness. I attempt to preserve their innocence for as long as possible. I teach them that love wins, and that bullies and cheaters lose in the end: I teach them to be “nice.” So yesterday I mourned that, in order to continue to instill these ideals in my daughters, I now have to shield them from their President.
For the past two days, my eldest daughter has worn her Star Wars “Resistance” pin, which she promises she’ll wear daily for the next four years. We discussed what “resistance” really means, for our family. The answer, of course, is that to resist the slide into being “not that nice,” we will have to be nice.
So we resist by hugging loved ones, by having friends over to play, by going to church, by playing “Ode to Joy” on the piano, by finally getting our compost bin built. We resist by sharing meals, volunteering, donating what we have, reading March and listening to Hamilton. By promoting what is loving and beautiful and true. Until grander actions become clear, this is how we resist: Small things with great love.