Ditch the Magical Thinking About How to Stand Up to Trump

Last week I walked into a Taco Bell in San Francisco’s Financial District where the cashier greeted me with an ebullient, “Welcome to Taco Bell, where anything is possible!” I giggled nervously, ordered, and stood there wondering if I hadn’t failed a test. Maybe he’s, like, a genie, or an alien, or just someone with special powers. Maybe anything really is possible and I wasted my wish on two crunchy tacos… that I had to pay for. I should have asked for two crunchy tacos, $21 billion, to have the last 18 months wiped out, and what the hell, throw in that coffee table I’ve been admiring at EQ3.

A lot of us are prone to magical thinking these days.

Which is to say, where’s the return on investment for all the sympathy I’ve been asked to pull out of my reserves? Since September, I’ve been asked to find sympathy for coal miners and factory workers, West Virginians and Missourians, Israeli settlers, Ayn Rand acolytes, cops, and the Montana mother of a neo-Nazi. All of these people, supposedly forgotten and ignored, who are now in power. The urban millennial coastal elites are out of touch with the heartland — and now we’re going to make them suffer, seems to be the refrain from the Trumpist right (and particular strands of the Sanders/Stein left).

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My first job out of college was a data entry position at what was then TV Guide. It wasn’t interesting work and it paid poorly (even for Philadelphia), but it came with full benefits, including great medical, dental, vision, and a 401k. I was a millennial — though not one in search of the participation trophy everyone claims we crave — just looking for some security. I made it through the rounds of layoffs that came like clockwork, said a few prayers during the 2008 economic crisis, and tried to ignore the constant “improvements” to my workflow that came at the cost of my sanity.

I spent six and half years in an hourly job I disliked; one that wouldn’t even let its core workers work from home during bad Northeastern weather (executives exempted). A job that installed key tracking software on our computers to see who was stealing bits of personal time while at the office. A job where we were first told we were taking too much time trying to be “too perfect” and then, when quality fell, that automation would make it easier for us to be more perfect.

Somedays I would look around at people who’d been in this job for five, 10 or 25 years in various forms (who had been in that same office when I’d stomped around it as a toddler, when my dad was an editor at the publication) and wonder if they’d expected to end up as 45-year-olds treated like problematic kindergartners. I stayed at this job because (despite the cliche of the urban millennial dreamer who lives at home, waiting for a fulfilling job to fall into her lap,  a burden to her parents and to society) I needed it. I needed to pay rent, and manage my health care, and save for a retirement I assume will probably never, ever actually come. I only managed to escape by the dumbest stroke of luck; a right-place-right-time joint that took me away from Philadelphia to the laid back, pot-scented, booze-soaked land of IPOs, catered lunches and $9 avocado toasts.

But I still think about how I worked in a white-collar factory ,  one that has since automated and outsourced the job I spent half a decade hating. Those jobs are not coming back, no matter what Donald Trump thinks. He’s never had to work at a job he hates simply because he needs a job. His advisers and cabinet picks are the outsourcers and the automators, something we’re supposed to ignore. The very people who stripped the factory jobs of their dignity, who gutted the unions in order to cut back any reason someone might take that kind of job (like, say, good insurance, a living wage, and the chance to eventually move on to something that didn’t kill your body or your soul), and then decided that even those meager conditions were too beneficial to Americans and automated them or moved them overseas — we’re supposed to take them at their word that they’re looking out for us?

So, believe me when I say I do have sympathy for those who have lost their way of life, their dignity and their ability to even see a doctor when they have the flu. And yet not one thinkpiece or elected official has asked the Trumpist right why it encourages them to hate me simply for liking good coffee and bike-sharing and being a secular Jew who votes for Democrats.

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Almost everyone I know has spent the last few months in some combination of stunned and terrified. Some have found refuge in denial, some in action, and some in drugs, drink and therapy, while I have found mine in reruns. Shows, books, movies, songs: if I’ve experienced them before, I’m happy to return. There’s a comfort in the known world, the sane world. The Obamacare repeal news has hit some friends harder than others. The possible rollback of LGBTQ protections has rattled others, while the likelihood of violent ends to Black Lives Matter and environmental protests has settled over the rest. “These people want me to undergo conversion therapy!” someone marveled to me the other day. “I know, and they want you to go into medical debt for the privilege,” I quipped.

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A family I used to attend synagogue with has made their allegiance to Trumpism public and notable among the diaspora of our small, central New Jersey Conservative Jewish circle. One of the daughters still lists that she was president of a high school (or maybe college) Holocaust remembrance organization on her LinkedIn and I was flabbergasted that she proudly voted alongside the Pepes and alt-rightists of the world. At the same time that internet frogs were sending me tweets urging me and my family to find our way into an oven, she was deciding it was Obama who was the threat to the Jews!

I have no idea what’s coming next, I just know that I’m not ready to give up just yet. Even after the election, and the Holocaust-baiting, and the uncertainty, and most hilariously, being called “an amateur cunt” by a Pepe online (I corrected him of course; I’m a professional cunt), I still love the promise of this country. I’ve been reading Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address, and I keep coming back to this passage:

Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs. Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

As I said to my friends the other night, in a rare moment of earnestness from a hopeless devotee to irony, “I’m in it with you, I’m here for you, and I’ll fight for you.”

This sentence still embarrasses me, truthfully, though I suppose it shouldn’t. I’m not used to, you know, being vulnerable or nakedly emotional without a heavy veil of what I can only describe as “shrug emojiness.”

So here’s a more comfortable way for me to express myself in ironic millennial terms: we all of us are playing Oregon Trail for real this time, and there’s no way in hell I’m letting the world blow its budget on bullets only to end up dying of scarlet fever after trying and failing to ford that river. The oxen are dead, but we can still walk.

So let’s walk.

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