“People are slow to recognize events taking place around them. They have other priorities, events happen invisibly, changes are incremental, people keep recalibrating.”
That quote, from an article in the November issue of Smithsonian Magazine, appears in the introduction to a story of a young Jewish girl’s diary written during WWII and only recently discovered. Her name was Renia Spiegel and she was murdered by Nazis when she was 18.
The quote jumped out at me because as 2018 was coming to a close I found myself increasingly concerned about the precipice we seem to be facing as American democracy steals ever closer to dangerous and perhaps irrevocable decline. The rapidity with which we are descending into unprecedented political depravity was alarming in itself, but so too was the fact that so many people didn’t appear to understand what was happening, or didn’t seem to care.
One can perhaps understand the lack of gravity among people too young to remember the terror of 1930s Europe or our own crisis of the 1960s and the Nixonian blight, but how, I wondered, could the worries of the present, and the warnings from those who witnessed WWII through the lens of global aggression, hatred, prejudice, and violence not be taken more seriously?
We are not, of course, the only country flirting with or openly embracing fascism. Almost all of Europe is now threatened with reprisal of a time, and a scourge, we thought impossible to repeat when the war ended. Many other regions of the world from South America to the Philippines are also facing threats, or the reality, of dictatorship. It’s a situation we all need to be aware of and to resist mightily. After all, to where does one flee when the majority of nations have succumbed?
But our country has other trouble signs that don’t exist elsewhere and they need attention and action too.
We are virtually the only “developed” nation in the world that has chosen to ignore the visible, verifiable science of climate change.
We are a country unable to enact gun laws that could keep our children from being murdered.
We are a country in which white men, like outrageous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, or crime partner Michael Cohen, can negotiate their way out of appropriate jail time despite serious crimes they’ve committed, while black men caught with a bit of marijuana in their possession a decade or two ago languish in jail, and women like Cyntoia Brown, a victim of sex abuse and trafficking who killed her 43-year old abuser when she was 16, gets a life sentence with a 50-year wait for possibility of parole.
We are a country that lets people die for lack of access to massively expensive healthcare, a country that stands by as our sacred lands and national parks are drilled, fracked, and mined, our water is polluted, and our kids can’t get a decent meal in school, which for many is their only solid meal a day.
We are a country in which decent people seeking safety and the dignity of work are torn from their children and an agency like ICE can detain and deport them at will while holding their kids hostage in cages and desert jails.
We are a country (although not the only one) where hate crimes and violent rhetoric and behavior have escalated dramatically in the last year, and where anyone perceived as Other is fair game for such crime and violence.
And we are a country where legislators try their damnedest to forbid women control over their bodies and agency over their lives.
It’s enough to take anyone’s breathe away and it makes it really hard to “go high,” as Michele Obama would say, because there seems to be no end to how low people who have no business in government are willing to go.
For two years I clung to the idea that surely, this event or that would be the one to end the dysfunction, cruelty, corruption, lying and various abuses we were experiencing and witnessing. I’ve tried to offer optimism and hope to people as their (and my own) angst has grown. And as 2018 faded, there were signs that we might see an end to the travesties engulfing us. The courts were holding, journalists were doing extraordinary investigative research while media was finding its voice when feet needed to be held to fire, and Robert Mueller was closing in. And that big blue, female wave in Congress and down-ballot was, I believe, a foreshadowing of the change that is possible, and I think inevitable – so long as we maintain vigilant and vocal.
All of that is encouraging. But there is still a tsunami coming toward us and the clock is ticking. The moment when it will be too late to hide or run get to higher ground is nearly upon us. So, while we cling to hope and optimism, we must never allow ourselves to let other priorities prevail or to miss noticing, or rejecting, incremental or invisible changes lurking below the radar. Perhaps most important of all, we must never, ever recalibrate our way into complacency, and thus ultimate collusion.
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Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues from Saxtons River, Vt.