There has been so much either swirling in my head or burbling from my mouth in hundreds of conversations during and after the seemingly endless race for 45th Presidency. I wanted Bernie Sanders, but when he didn’t get the nomination I knew that Hillary Clinton would be a capable president, and I voted for her. I didn’t even consider not voting or voting for a third-party candidate, or, forsaking all that is good and decent, voting for Trump.
When the startling and frightening news broke that he, the joke candidate, the snake oil salesman, the willing puppet on a string for Bannon and other con men, had actually become our President, I was stupefied, horrified, terrified. Now that he is carrying out his wrong-headed, racist, mean-spirited, hateful and dangerous schemes, I sometimes border on apoplectic. The progress we’ve made toward clean energy, saving the planet from climate change, rebuilding our infrastructure, avoiding World War 3, dealing intelligently and kindly toward immigrants, and on and on is being halted.
While he was on the campaign trail, Donald Trump was asked an intriguing question by Bob Lonsberry, of a local radio station in Rochester, New York.
Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life, sir?
“An eye for an eye.
If you wanted a quick glimpse inside Trump’s brain, that quote’s as good as any. It captures his narcissism, his thin skin, his exponentially cranked-up aggression.”
The same old Republican ideas are being exhumed, including “saving money” by cutting benefits for the poor, cutting Medicaid, cutting social security, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, privatizing public schools and the post office, “building up” what is already the largest military on the planet, cutting the deficit, blah, blah, blah. The difference now is that Republicans have a comrade in the White House, one who wants to go further than many of them do. Could it be that Donald is turning his back on what he constantly refers to as his base? Shocking! I’m shocked; are you? Are they…yet? And now, this “genius in the oval office” can take his whack at “obliterating Isis.” What could go wrong? Don’t even mention his half-assed Border Wall notion to me.
I need to back off, think about my health and try on a new perspective. As if I didn’t already know, a quick perusal of the obituaries in the newspaper shows me that I don’t have a lot of years left in my life. How do I want that time to be? I can’t pretend that the reign of “The Donald” has nothing to do with my life and just go whistling along. I care about my children’s and grandchildren’s futures, about immigrant’s rights, and the health of the planet, to name but a few issues. But, also, I want to enjoy my life – sing, write, paint, travel, spend time with my husband and my precious family, laugh, go on outings with friends, see movies, read novels, and much, much more.
I did what I had to do, googled for help. And, no surprise here, multiple articles popped up with this query, “how to take action and stay sane during Trump’s presidency.”
L. V. Anderson, of Slate Magazine, quotes lawyer and activist Mirah Curzer in How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: “Stop refreshing Twitter and reading the news. Stop feeling guilty when someone asks you if you’ve been following the latest story and you have to say no. Unplugging isn’t just about protecting your mental health; it’s about making sure you don’t get complacent about Trump’s actions.”
Curzer also champions the obvious forms of self-care that restore us when we are feeling overwhelmed: “sleep, exercise, therapy, good food, Netflix, books, time with friends. It’s obvious and mundane, but this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government.”
In a Rolling Stone interview, Direct Action author L.A. Kauffman discussed not only that “protest works” but “how to get motivated and fight burnout,” saying, “you may think you need to be doing something massive for it to matter, but the lesson is exactly the opposite. It's about pulling together with folks you know in a small group that is willing to actually do things – like show up at your member of Congress' town hall or office. Five or 10 people at a congressperson's office can mean much more than a rally with speakers that has thousands.”
She went on to say, “There's a lot of work that's going to be needed over these next four years. The temptation is to throw yourself in 110 percent right now because things seem so dire. But taking time to connect with friends, appreciate the things about the world that are worth saving – whether it's taking a hike in the woods, reading poetry or enjoying music – is as essential to sustaining resistance as learning specific techniques for how to do a direct-action blockade.”
Kauffman emphasized this very important point: “In this moment, one of the greatest dangers we face is the normalizing of all of these outrageous steps that Trump has taken and is planning to take. I think almost anything that disrupts the process of normalization has an effect. That doesn't mean it in itself saves our health care or affects the ethics rules, but it matters greatly.”
Drew Magary, of “GQ Magazine” advises, “Use the internet wisely. Don’t spend time reading twitter or comments by alt right zealots. Use it to find out about protest organizers, ACLU lawyers, your local congressman, and state officials. You know, people who can DO things. Then get off the Internet and help them do it.”
And, “Donald Trump has control of the nuclear codes. Don't you go trying to restore everyone's faith in humanity with some Hamilton mixtape linkage. Overcoming Trump, if it can be done at all, will be a grim, hard task.”
This from L. A. Anderson, of “Slate”:
When your baseline level of mental health is lower—either because you’re going through a tough time personally or because your country has been taken over by a megalomaniacal bigot—doing the things that make you feel good about being alive become all the more important for keeping you going.”
The movements that have been the most effective have almost all had humor, mischief and mirth as well as a celebration of community and each other. Those are the kinds of things that sustain people, and those are the movements that are the best entry points for people who are new to activism. That's why you see music, art and culture as part of every single movement that's been successful; those are the things that keep people going. Anger is necessary and righteous, but it's corrosive over time. Our willingness to make trouble, to make noise, to make disruption – that is our only hope for getting through these next four years intact. And if we don't have fun while we're disrupting, we're not going to keep it up for four years.”
In times of geopolitical crisis, it’s tempting to deride discussion of self-care by those of us lucky enough not to be personally affected by conflict. But self-care is not about self-indulgence. It’s about pragmatism. People cannot take useful political action—whether organizing their communities, going to protests, or calling their representatives—if they are feeling burned out, overwhelmed, or paralyzed. When we take care of ourselves, we are investing in our ability to meaningfully resist injustice. To that end, please excuse me; I need to close my laptop and go make a cup of tea.
So do I.