Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Writing prompt, day 2: What surprised you this year?
This question comes up as a Reverb writing prompt every now and then, and usually I respond by writing about happy surprises, unexpected little bursts of joy or even contentment, such as when my normally couch potato-ish dog hiked to the top of Jay Peak, or when I finished my annual mountain bike race with my cleats clipped into my pedals, instead of with my foot hanging off the side. Small blessings.
But I’m writing from a different place today. Earlier, at the gym, as I was thinking about what to write in this post, I noticed that the Y employees had gathered in front of the TV. The sound was off, but I could read the ticker: another mass shooting. At first, I thought the headline was a reference to the Planned Parenthood shooting from a few days ago; maybe new information had been discovered. But, no. This one was in California, in a social services building. And instead of the gut-reaction sadness I usually experience upon seeing such reports, my first thought was, Are you fucking kidding me?
You’re probably thinking, this is what surprised you? How could you possibly be surprised by a mass shooting at this point? Don’t you pay attention to the news?
Or maybe you’re thinking this: Are you really surprised that there hasn’t been stronger gun control legislation? Don’t you know who runs this country? The president? I don’t think so, chica. It’s the NRA.
These events, while distressing, are, sadly, not surprising. In 2012, after the Sandy Hook shooting, I remember thinking that if nothing else, this horrific massacre had to bring about big changes in gun legislation. That seemed obvious. And there were some changes, even here in my own little state. But there was also stockpiling of guns, a knee-jerk response to the fear that the government would “get all Australia” on its citizens and impose limitations, or—gasp—background checks. And Wayne Lapierre, the executive VP of the NRA, labelled the “emotional” response by those who wanted to see tighter gun control laws enacted “the Connecticut effect.”
Okay, but what’s the surprise? This year, what has surprised me most has been Trump-mania. I’m surprised and disheartened and disappointed, and maybe even disgusted, too. Up until a few months ago, the whole Trump campaign (I almost put the word campaign in quotation marks, as I’m still in denial about this presidential bid) was, for me, like a pesky no-see-um, one of those tiny little flies that comes out in early summer. It gets right in front of your face, and you swat it, flick it, blow at it, but it’s still there, until finally you can’t ignore it. And then you start swearing at it.
Biking home from work in September, I saw a Trump sign on a neighbor’s lawn. That surprised me. It was the first time I realized, or acknowledged, that there are people—a lot of them, in fact—who are willing to put their faith in this vitriolic, divisive, racist, unqualified spotlight-lover whose slogan proclaims he will “make America great again.” When asked “why Trump?” the typical Trump supporter will respond, “Because he talks straight.” I know what they mean: we as Americans are all weary of the rhetorical BS that pervades the campaign trail. But I know, too, that some of these folks also mean that Trump is just the kind of “tough leader” who will make America “safe” by “bombing the hell out of Syria” and closing the borders.
I’m surprised that this show—the Trump Show—hasn’t been cancelled. It was mildly entertaining for a while, but it’s become offensive and perhaps even a little dangerous. Although my politics tend to lean toward the left, I’m generally open-minded and tolerant of other views, because at heart, I’m an optimist: I believe that most of us are motivated by love for the U.S., not hatred of other political persuasions. But I’m finding that to be less true these days.
My friend Chris Dawson, who also blogs, posted an essay the other day on this same topic (Trump). Truth be told, when it comes to politics, he’s much more informed and articulate than I am, which is probably why my blog posts usually (though not always) tend toward the personal rather than the political. So, I hope he will forgive me if I borrow a passage from the end of his post:
We need to keep the words of Molly Ivins in mind: "When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as 'enemies,' it's time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and it is also a good way to wreck a country." We will not let anyone like Donald Trump wreck this country. And to prove it, I hope he wins the Republican nomination so we can once and for all reject what he and his supporters stand for.
I agree with Chris (and Ivins) here. We have only to look at the polarized countries in the Middle East, and Africa, for examples of “wrecked” nations. This way lies greatness?
“Peace,” wrote Albert Camus, “is the only battle worth waging.” Naive and overly simplistic? Maybe. But is aligning yourself with a rhetoric of hate voiced by an unqualified (and unenlightened) narcissist any less naïve?
I do hope that the presidential path brings fewer such surprises. Onward.