My first days-long immersion in real-time TV began on Nov. 22, 1963 It was early in my fleeting career with the San Diego County Welfare Department. As a mid-morning orientation session wound down, a woman burst in saying, “The president’s been shot!”
In that innocent time, the unthinkable didn’t compute, and someone asked, “The President of what?”
“The president!” the messenger insisted, “President Kennedy.”
Within an hour, county officials closed all public buildings and sent everybody home. I remember walking past a flag already at half-staff, driving home on a nearly empty freeway, hearing my husband’s car pull into the drive as I turned on the TV, and watching events unfold together until after the state funeral three days later. Real life had come to a standstill.
That sensation—the cancellation of real life and time—didn’t happen again, for me anyway, for nearly four decades. By then, 9/11/2001, I was working as a school counselor. Nursing a miserable cold, I called in sick to ask a clerk to reschedule my appointments.
“Do you have your TV on?” she snapped. I didn’t. “Turn it on and tell me what’s happening,” she said, and I did—just in time to see the South Tower of the World Trade Center tumble to the ground.
Strange … how traumatic world events sear into your memory details that, in more normal times, would be so mundane you’d never recall them: a tone of voice, a flagpole, the sound of a car in the driveway, the blank face of a TV not yet tuned in to the day.
There have been other traumatic national events, of course: assassinations, mass shootings, cataclysmic hurricanes, demonstrations against systemic injustice.
But now this …
January 6th, 2021
How do we make sense of it? Spurred by a sitting president, a mob seeking to block the validation of a demonstrably legal election, ransacks the Capitol, calls for the hanging of Mike Pence, desecrates the halls where bills become laws, loots legislators’ offices, and flourishes Confederate flags in their frenzy. Once again, I’m glued to the TV.
Once again, I’m struck by the sense that I’m living in another country, a country not my own. For a long time now, I’ve accepted the fact that this country is a violent one, uneasily hostage to gun-lovers and the NRA. But I’ve never thought … until now … that we would be threatened with insurrection, especially one triggered by a petulant sitting president. But here we are.
It’s discouraging. Unexpectedly, however, I stumbled upon hope. In a classic example of what therapists call reframing, Anand Giridharadas, author and publisher of The.Ink newsletter and several books gave his take on the storming of the Capitol in a conversation with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC.
“This is not the chaos of the beginning of something," Giridharadas said, referring to the plundering of the Capitol. "This is the chaos of the end of something. … It’s not the engine of history. It’s the revolt against the engine of history. … It’s a funeral for white supremacy, a funeral for a kind of outdated, outmoded male power, a mourning for a time in which certain Americans could claim to be the default of an American and not have to share … What we’re trying to do is build a country that has never existed—a minority majority superpower.”
Food for thought, a glimmer of hope. Led by a thoughtful, competent President, much work to be done by all of us.
Traveling in the Balkans a few years ago, I took a city tour with a local guide. I’m embarrassed to say now that I can’t be sure which country I was in at the time, though I believe it was Montenegro. Such is life on a cruise with way-too-brief shore excursions crammed into way-too-few days. Our city guide met us dockside, introduced herself and told us briefly about her background.
“I’ve never moved,” she said, “but I’ve lived in three different countries.” Thus she described life where unrest and fighting sometimes results in an area being taken over by another nation, which then imposes a new name and a new regime on the land in question.
Here, in my lifetime, we’ve had none of that. But still … though the land where I’ve lived my entire life hasn’t changed its name nor its political structure, for the last four years I’ve often felt as though I’m living in another country. But then, a couple of months ago, we had an election. I started to breathe again as I looked forward to sane, experienced leadership and—belatedly—for the first time, a woman (yay!) in the second highest office in the land. It felt like a homecoming.
But then … but then … the self-absorbed occupant of the most expensive government housing in the country decided he wanted to stay—the constitution, the law, and the time-honored tradition of the peaceful transfer of power be damned. And that, the peaceful transfer of power, never breached, is the keystone of this democratic republic.
As I write, I persist in believing that we’ll stave off this threat from the most ignorant and self-absorbed president ever to sully the oval office. I'd be even more optimistic if Republicans would follow the lead of their colleagues in Georgia. There, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger handled a one-hour phone call with the grace and aplomb of a diplomat as Trump demanded that he "find 11,780 votes" to put Trump over the top in that state. Later, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia voting systems implementation manager, offered up a detailed televised answer to all the accusations of voting irregularities.
I do worry about the Republican party as a whole, however. They brought us here and many of them are more than eager, even at this eleventh hour, when they should be ushering the wannabe tyrant out, to support him in his quest to overturn a free and fair election. The disregard for themselves, their constituents, and their constitutional duties is mind-boggling. Who do they see when they look in the mirror?
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”