There’s an ancient Chinese curse that states, “May you live in interesting times”
I don’t really know if this saying is ancient, and I am not even certain that it’s Chinese but the past 222 days that President Trump has been in office have made me fully understand why this sentiment is, in fact, a diabolical curse.
No matter on what side of our current political chasm you stand, I think we can all agree that these are, without a doubt, “interesting” times. By interesting I mean unprecedented, uncertain, uncomfortable, and unrelenting.
I cover my eyes and peek through my fingers each time I refresh my news feed (all day, every day). I fear what unpinned hand grenade will be lobbed by tweet or executive order into the political landscape and dread whose rights and liberties will be sacrificed when that grenade explodes.
Recently in Charlottesville, a racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic grenade detonated as white Americans rallied to promote hate with uncovered faces and zero fear of retribution. As a result, one woman was killed, and 19 people were injured when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors.
Donald Trump’s candidacy and subsequent presidency did not create the grenade that exploded this weekend. Deep hatred and ignorance have a long, unbroken history in this country. But his hate fomenting campaign rallies, his irresponsible use of social media and every act of white perpetrated terrorism that he has ignored since taking office, most certainly pulled the pin.
I am lucky. To date, my citizenship, health coverage, sexual orientation, and skin color have kept my loved ones and me safely outside the blast zone of both unhinged zealots and everyday discrimination. I have been allowed to live in a America with a winning narrative.
I believed that we have been on a steady, undeterred path toward true equality and justice for all. I thought that defeating the Nazis, producing legislation for women’s and civil rights, enforcing hate-crime laws and legalizing same sex-marriage meant that my country had come through its darkest times while marching steadily to an even brighter future. I have been allowed to be naïve. But this “interesting” year in politics culminating in deadly rioting has proven that my story of America, the one that I had always known to be true, was only part of this nation’s complex and complicated reality.
How many other grenades are out there? How many unexploded, un-tripped land mines have been laid down by the vile rhetoric of Breitbart and InfoWars and consequentially given credence and legitimacy by the man who currently occupies the Oval Office?
This year, it feels like the very underpinnings of our democracy are at risk as all rules of engagement have been set ablaze. It is easy to feel hopeless when the very ground beneath my homeland feels shaky, and the future of our democracy seems less than guaranteed. I cannot change our past, and I cannot re-pin the untold number of grenades hidden in plain sight in our current political landscape. But there is one thing I can do:
I am a writer. And I can change my metaphor.
Instead of depicting this nation as a battlefield littered with grenades that are about to explode, I can portray our body politic as an actual body…a body with a heart that is about to explode. Granted, this shift in metaphor might, at first glance, hardly seem relevant or useful in the herculean fight to save our nation – both an exploding grenade and an exploding heart conjure visions of blood and gore and mayhem.
Stay with me and let me explain.
You see, a grenade can only exist in one of two states: exploded or unexploded. Either there is calm, or there is mass destruction.
But a heart can be healthy, with blood flowing freely through the aorta valve; it can also be terminal, riddled with the artery hardening plaque that leads to cardiac arrest. However, it takes years for a heart to go from perfectly healthy to terminal. In that time, it still delivers blood and nutrients throughout the body even when it is not performing to full capacity.
With this new metaphor, the riot unleashed in Charlottesville can be put into a larger context. It was not an isolated incident but a dire symptom of a deadly heart condition which, if gone unchecked, will result in a full-on, nation-wide heart attack.
Before this “interesting” year in politics, Americans treated our bodies and our democracy in much the same way. We took them both for granted. We knew that we should attend town hall meetings just as certainly as we knew that we should exercise every day. But we avoided participating in local politics as vehemently as we avoided yoga.
We ignored the suffering of those in the farm and rust belts. We passively watched the gap between the haves and the have-nots widen to an arguably insurmountable divide. We allowed such vast sums of money to flood our government through campaign donations and lobbying that the greater good was too often supplanted by the greater profit. And in time, “We the People” had together left too many of us behind.
This year of turmoil has forced Americans from all corners of society to stand up and take charge of our democracy. Armed with a heart healthy diet of grassroots activism, we are coming together, raising our voices, and exercising our right to march. We are compelling our elected officials to hold town hall meetings, storming their D.C. offices and even getting ourselves arrested to make our demands heard. And these efforts are getting results.
Unconstitutional executive orders have been halted, and bills that would be harmful to the public have been defeated. There are even whispers of bipartisanship emanating from the halls of Congress! These victories are the direct result of an impassioned citizenry that is finally recognizing the power we can wield and the responsibility we must uphold to secure the health and well-being of our democracy. Heart disease is the leading killer in America and Apathy is the leading killer of a democracy. We are a more involved public now, and that is what a healthy democracy demands.
The riot in Charlottesville was horrific. The blatant, unapologetic bigotry that fueled the original rally is a symptom of a dark strain of heart disease that is much more widespread than the vast majority of us realized. But look at how many Americans, from every race, religion, and gender came out in mass to stand up against that hatred and denounce the untenable message of white supremacy.
Before the 2016 election, Americans everywhere ignored the glaring warning signs that our nation was on the verge of a massive coronary. But then Donald Trump came along.
For better and for worse, this president, like a human defibrillator, has jolted us out of our complacency and forced us to recognize that our democracy has been in serious trouble for quite some time. This one man did not break our democracy. His tenure might just prove that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Today, I choose to see our democracy as a heart in need of life support as opposed to a battlefield loaded with deadly hand grenades. Because a heart can heal.