Yes, We Still Can
It wasn’t that many years ago when, if I’d make a one-sentence mention or, at most, spend a paragraph in a movie review relating a plot point to a current political issue, and our readers would come down on us for injecting politics into criticism. “Not everything is about politics! Just review the damn movie!”
These days, it’s hard to write about much of anything without politics — of the election, social, or cultural variety — being a part of the equation. It’s expected (except, apparently, Netflix’s slate of rom coms). The most talked about show of the year, Roseanne, had everything to do with politics; Handmaid’s Tale reflects a dystopia we’re terrified of becoming (and this week’s episode was painfully, brutally prescient), and we view most of our celebrities now through the prism of the #MeToo movement. Even the competition between the Best Chrisses is tainted by politics.
Sometimes, I wish it could go back to the way it was, and I made the mistake of mentioning this, out loud, in front of my wife once, and she was like, “Oh fuck you and your white male privilege. I’m sure you do! I’m sure you’d be happy to go back to a time where you didn’t have to think about the effect that pop culture has on women, on people of color, and on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.”
That is absolutely fair.
But my God, it all feels so corrosive. Everything is an argument. Six or seven years ago, people used to complain about Facebook because we were tired of seeing pictures of whatever sandwich someone was eating that day. Man, I miss photos of sandwiches. Now, if you open up social media, all you see are arguments made against the other side, but the other side is not there to see them. They’re not listening. We’re all having arguments with straw men, whipping ourselves up into frenzies. My entire Twitter timeline is nothing liberals yelling at the other side, but none of those people are there to hear it. But if you check, say, Roseanne Barr’s timeline, it’s nothing but yelling at us, but none of us are there to read it, either. And with both sides, there’s a note of desperation in the way we make our arguments, as though we’re all clinging to the last vestiges of the America we want to live in.
It’s so bad that sometimes, I have to stop and remind myself that while I loathe the man in charge of it, I still love America. I think. Actually, I’m not even sure of that anymore. I studied journalism and politics in college because I loved our election system, the rat race, the competing ideas. I went to law school because I watched too much of The Practice and had these grand ideas about the Constitution and the American legal system. But it’s hard to see any of that now through the fog of hate. I wake up every day and someone else is being oppressed, or shot, or stripped away from their parents. And we all have this idea that if we change the man at the top, we can get it back to normal, as though changing our President will somehow change the composition of our country, that if we got rid of the Racist-in-Chief that we’d get rid of racism.
That won’t happen.
But I will say this: I miss the way that Obama tried to see the best in the country. We didn’t pay that much attention to him for much of his Presidency because we didn’t have to, but when he spoke, he spoke of hope, and renewal, and faith, and about the best in humankind.
On the other hand, every morning Trump wakes up and tweets that everything is terrible, that we’re on the verge of some existential cataclysmic threat, and only he can save us from it. That the Democrats are human smugglers and baby killers and that brown people are going to come in and rape and kill us all. He’s angry and temperamental and insulting, and while more than half the country may disagree with his politics, we’ve all adopted his tone. We’ve all fallen under the belief that if we yell the loudest or deliver the harshest insult, we will win.
And what if we do win? That just means we move from offense to defense, from yelling about how terrible they are to yelling in defense of them yelling about how terrible we are.
There is malice in the policies of Trump. He lacks compassion. His politics are designed with wealthy, white men in mind. He’s said and done a number of terrible things during his 18 months in office, but his most lasting legacy may be of the toxicity he has mainlined into our national discourse and the way in which he’s removed our ability to see the promise of America.
I genuinely have no idea what I’m trying to say here, except that I’m not as interested in “winning” as I used to be. The game is tainted. It’s like, I’m a huge Indianapolis Colts fan, but I don’t know how much I’d care anymore if they’d won the Super Bowl, because the NFL itself is so rotten. I want someone to come in and fix the game of politics, to make it less about winning and dragging the other side and more about improving the lives of everyone, and making everyone better people.
I know that potential still exists in the minor leagues; I still see it at the local level. During election years, people are always coming to my door to tell me about why I should vote for them or their candidates. They’re in great spirits. They’re hopeful. They lay out their plans for city or the state, and it’s never about beating the other guy to smithereens. It’s about improving our lives and lifting up those in need. In fact, a guy stumping for his gubernatorial candidate came to my door the other day, and I think I inadvertently tried to bait him into talking shit about LePage (who is reviled in progressive circles in Maine). But he wouldn’t even go there: It wasn’t about kicking someone’s ass. It was about doing better for the state. I miss that.
Getting rid of Trump, or at least neutralizing him in the midterms, isn’t going to change the composition of the country. But it might change our attitudes. 2018 and 2019 might even bring us another Obama, a candidate with soaring rhetoric, who speaks about hope and renewal. I don’t even care if it’s all bullshit platitudes — I just want to play a better game. Is it possible to get away from “Fuck you and your mother” and return to “Yes we can”?
Do you want to cry? Do you want to cry really fucking hard way, way down deep, in places that you forgot existed? Watch even just 30 seconds of this, 10 years removed. While it may remind you of everything we have lost, it will also remind you of what we can still be.
There has never been anything false about hope.