It is impossible to get away from it.
The guide for my bike tour brings it up, unprompted, in the context of the upcoming Dutch elections. “We have a Dutch Trump,” he says with a sigh of resignation. We nod sullenly.
At the museum, the turbaned security guard almost lights up when he finds out I’m from the U.S. “It’s scary over there,” he exclaims as he peruses my small backpack. “And it’s only been two weeks.” I concur.
I hear chatter every single day from my hallway at work, mostly the American colleagues as they recap in excruciating detail the latest items on the newswire. From a couple of doors down, it sounds like a circlejerk of righteousness, of outrage – a genuine echo chamber.
I’m fatigued, personally. I don’t really feel the need to talk about it anymore, at least not for now, not aloud. How many ways can one express anger anyhow? Or frustration or despair or concern. How many times can one be affirmed by like-minded friends or colleagues, even strangers, without actually moving forward?
I’m already too deep in as it stands*. I clutch for my phone in bed, refreshing Twitter or the New York Times or Reddit at 1 am to see if the President has done anything further to destroy the country I loved, far too blindly, before I go to sleep. I do the same in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep. That seems to happen more these days.
I don’t think I can do this for four years. To think this way, to feel this way. To wake up with a sense of dread and despair. I tell myself it will not last four years. But who knows, really? What if it’s eight?
There are other aspects of it I’ve been thinking more recently. Maybe it’s a stages of grief thing. Maybe I’m just compelled by a need to make more sense of it all, to not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
It says something us as a country – about me as an individual – that it took this to squelch our collective apathy. There, after all, exists an ironic undercurrent in our outrage: of ethnocentrism, of nationalism, of an affirmation of the kind of American exceptionalism that the rest of the world finds fanciful if not altogether repugnant.
I cannot help but see that it is only in the recognition of the fragility of our progress and our institutions that most of us finally seem to understand the fragility of all progress and all institutions. It is only in our despair that most of us are compelled to movement. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter how or when we got here but only that we are here now.
This whole environment is strange. It feels wrong to be selfish in times like this. To be concerned for instance about impending professional uncertainty, to dwell upon intense personal emotion, to muster care over any number of matters, some more frivolous than others. There are far more important things going on.
Then again, there always have been.
I don’t know. I think that’s what it comes down to. I just don’t know. The spectrum of possibility is vast. The possibility for disaster ever-present.
I ponder when people talk about the banality of evil someday if this will be an example that they cite. If there is or will be a line crossed that all of us will only recognize in hindsight. If there will be enough pieces of America left for the next administration to pick up and try to make whole again.
Like I said, it is impossible to get away from it.
It is ubiquitous, all-encompassing, penetrating. Not confined to newspaper stories or small talk or social media posts. No, it is a part of life now – of the way we think and see and feel, almost every second of every day.
So I wonder. In these trying times, I wonder if maintaining a sense of perspective will come at the cost of losing myself in the process, of invalidating everything to do with the immediacy of my own life.
It seems like a selfish thought. It is. But maybe I need to feel selfish again too. To feel just a twinge of normalcy amidst this most abnormal time. To have a center from which I have again a sense of footing, and can try to make sense of the environment that surrounds us all.
(Photo by C. E. Price [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)