OK, I’m back. Thanks for keeping the conversation going in my absence, although my eyes were starting to glaze over there toward the end of the comment thread. But that goes with what I’d like to say, and it’s this:
No more memes, lefty America. Memes are a cheap, easy way to defer actual thought. When you see one, nod and think “I’m just going to hit this Share button,” don’t. In fact, I won’t say “no more,” but maybe “far less” social media in general. It’s a great way to catch up with old friends, to reach a lot of people quickly and cheaply, to just fritter away a lunch hour if you don’t have a magazine. But it’s a piss-poor way to stay informed, and its crack-like effect on our brains is something we should be deeply suspicious of.
And look at what social media has begotten: Slacktivism, the sort of feel-good, do-nothing gestures that help no one but ourselves. Change your profile picture to “support” the victims of the Paris attacks, or “raise awareness” of this or that. Check in to Standing Rock to throw the FBI off the scent of the protestors who are there. And so on. Fuck that shit. Use it if you must to see what people are talking about, but learn to tell the difference between original sources of news and the aggregators and rewriters who attach themselves to real journalists like agenda-bearing lampreys. Sites that have and pay actual reporters to knock on doors and make phone calls might not always tell you what you want to hear, but that’s going to be far more useful information than what the lampreys give you, spun and crafted to match all your prejudices. You have enough of those. If you have trouble telling which sites are which, I can offer some tips.
No more open letters. For the love of God, will someone put a sock in Aaron Sorkin’s mouth? Open letters are the original concern trolling, a way to direct a high-minded lecture, ostensibly to one person but really to everybody else in the room, to polish your own halo because you are so, so worried. Just stop it.
No more disruptions. Go ahead and protest — it’s the American way — but be advised that every time you shut down a light-rail line or plug a freeway, you are providing a useful video clip to Breitbart or InfoWars or whatever other shitbag propagandist is interested. And you are inconveniencing people who just need to get to work, where they may be doing something very important, like delivering babies or cleaning bathrooms. Fuck your agenda, whatever it is; respect people’s time. The same goes for vandalism, window-smashing and whatever other bad business a mob can get up to. It’s the very definition of counterproductivity.
No more hoax hate crimes. I know, I know — there have been dozens since last Wednesday, but take it from me as a journalist and as a human being with a working brain who has been around for several summers that at least some of them will be proven hoaxes. Humans crave attention, and some crave it enough to try to stage these things. We all had no problem seeing through the woman who, in 2008, claimed she’d been assaulted by supporters of Barack Obama, who wrote “B” and “O” on her cheeks, only backward, you know, like you’d see it in a mirror? Be suspicious of the ones that don’t pass the smell test, like the ones that went up on social-media sites (see above) before police were called, if they were called at all. Like the ones where there were cameras and witnesses all around, but somehow none captured or saw the incident. Like the ones where someone’s car is “vandalized” with conveniently non-damaging soap on the windows. I stress: Some of these attacks are real. Yes. Real. But some are not, and every one that isn’t undermines 10 that actually happened.
No more fear. Many of you may be members of groups that have very good reason to fear the coming presidency, but screw your courage to the sticking place and be brave. Find others in the same boat, organize, tend your networks. But the more you quake in fear and tell the world how fearful you are, the more time you waste, time that could be spent making progress. Remember the popular vote. They have the power stick right now, but if they start using it to club people, others are going to speak up. This isn’t Nazi Germany, for god’s sake, and even if it were, don’t you want to go down fighting? I do. I remember reading a story about Meyer Lansky, the Jewish mobster, and his lawyer said that if the Jews produced more men like him, there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust. You can argue that, certainly, but I take his point.
As for me, I’m going to do my job. If the people of rural Michigan voted for Trump because they thought he would make their lives better, well then I’m going to be monitoring the progress. I’m going to keep an eye on our Muslim population here, and see if anyone’s stirring the shit to harass or assault people there. I’m going to keep my eyes open, my powder dry and my bullshit detector turned up to 11. Useful skills for the coming era include an open mind, a fair and just heart and a willingness to confront one’s own assumptions — all of them. I’m not giving anyone a pass, but I’m done feeling sorry for myself.
Remember “Gone With the Wind?” I often call it the best bad novel in the English language, and I’ve read it several times. The scene in the movie that ends the first half — “as God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” — plays differently in the book. Scarlett has just arrived at Tara, after the terrifying trip from burning Atlanta, only to find her home ruined, her father enfeebled, her mother dead. She walks to a neighboring plantation in search of food and finds a row of radishes in the garden, about the only thing left, eagerly unearths one and eats it, only to throw it back up almost immediately. She collapses in the garden and swoons for a long while. And then she pulls herself together:
When she arose at last and saw again the black ruins of Twelve Oaks, her head was raised high and something that was youth and beauty and potential tenderness had gone out of her face forever. What was past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as Scarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she had settled her own mind and her own life.
There was no going back and she was going forward.
Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.
That’s way too dramatic for what we’re talking about here, absolutely granted. But that’s kind of how I feel now. Time to settle the heavy basket over our arm and go forward. We’re going to need everyone to help.